Covid City: Diaries of a New Yorker During the Coronavirus

subway rush hour3/13/2020, 9:05 am

I am on a morning rush-hour train in which half the seats are empty when normally there is standing room only. I love how CUNY is chugging through, how this behemoth institution will continue serving the community of New York City no matter what, but it’s ludicrous to require the entire staff to take public transportation to an office (mine in Midtown!) when most of us can work from home. I can’t imagine this policy will last through the weekend. Even if it does, I am not returning next week; my makeshift bedroom office is ready to go.

Still, there’s an energy on campus like one I’ve never felt before. People are not standing in hallways talking the day away. It’s amazing to see my coworkers rally like this. Teachers turning entire curricula into online lessons in just a few days. IT guys working around the clock, setting up complicated systems, running training sessions every hour. Advisors rushing around, ensuring all students have access to computers, internet, food. Union members talking on the phone until 11 pm, hashing out protections for hourly employees, writing demands for our long-term safety.

As the train approaches Manhattan, seats do fill up a bit more but not fully. Only one person is wearing a mask today; I think the message that they’re useless has sunk in. It’s impossible to keep the recommended 1-2 meters of distance from one another, and so we smile as we lean away. We are all in this together.

I’m fascinated by the juxtaposition of how quarantining, social distancing, and all these cancellations feel anti-community but are actually measures to protect the community. While we isolate ourselves in our apartments, we can no longer pretend that I the individual is more important than the we the group.

Of course it’s terrifying for those who are homeless, food insecure, sick, or working low-paid jobs in one of the many industries currently crashing. There are so many reasons why we’ve been out in the streets protesting, long before Trump took office. Our system was built on a broken foundation. And now that we need the system’s services more than ever, it has crumbled, leaving those who need the most with nothing. 

No surprises there.

That being said, I’m impressed by the systems that are still working. Chug on, CUNY! While the slow response to creating a remote-work plan for staff has been frustrating, I am so grateful for my job, especially now that the governor banned gatherings of over 500 (as he should have), leaving my husband, an audio engineer, unemployed.  

What will happen to our economy? To our upcoming elections, especially considering the fact that COVID-19 will return next flu season before a vaccination is in place? What about our school system, which I’m sure will be closed by next week, leaving millions of people stranded at home?

covid-19-image-1

The thing is, we need each other right now, and so we have to be proactive about setting up ways to continue our community. I’m in the process of scheduling regular video chats and phone check-ins with my people. It’s been recommended to start and/or join online groups and forums; I spend too much time on Instagram already so I’m good there. What I’m most excited about is the fun plans I’ve made with my immediate family – we stocked up on art supplies for a crafting idea L came up with, and now that Dave has all this free time, he’ll be turning part of our living room into an at-home recording studio.

All that being said, I know it will be challenging to get work done in a small apartment with two kids and a disillusioned husband all on lockdown together. That’s why positivity and connection is more crucial right now than ever.

***

Check back this weekend for my next entry on how we’ve been talking to L (my anxious and perceptive four year old) and how I’ve used meditation to keep us all sane. 

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