Our New Reality

New York is now the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., and life in our crowded metropolis is unlike anything we have ever known before

24 Mar 2020 | 11:01

Not long ago, New York as it is now would have been unimaginable: Times Square without tourists. Empty streets and subway cars. Previously packed bars closed for happy hour. Millions of New Yorkers holed up in their apartments, waiting out a public health crisis that has shown no sign of letting up.

New York City has quickly become the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, with one-third of the country’s confirmed cases. As of Tuesday morning, some 15,000 New Yorkers have tested positive for COVID-19. That number represents nearly 60 percent of the state’s cases, which totaled 25,665 on Tuesday, with 210 dead. In Manhattan, 2,646 cases have been confirmed. All of these numbers are expected to grow.

“For a disease that most of us had never heard of a few months ago, that seemed to just have the smallest presence in our city just weeks ago, it now has become the dominant reality and we're all trying to make sense of that together,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference Monday evening.

Drastic Measures

The dominant reality has forced the city and state into implementing measures that have turned the most densely populated city in the country into a place where public spaces are largely vacant. The mayor is even deploying the NYPD and other city agencies to ensure that’s the case.

“We're New Yorkers: We're used to crowds, we're used to being close together. Not anymore,” said de Blasio. “We're not going to allow crowds to form. We're not going to allow lines where people are tightly packed next to each other. We're not gonna allow any indoor space to get overcrowded. We're not gonna allow outdoor spaces to get overcrowded.”

A particular focus will be the city’s parks where larger groups continued to get together over the weekend, much to the ire of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Any groups will be broken up and asked to disperse. If the city finds that people can’t follow the rules, the mayor said stricter rules regarding parks and playground may need to be enforced.

“It really is incumbent upon all New Yorkers, to do your damnedest to live by this new reality,” de Blasio said.

'Defensive Shopping'

Trips to the grocery store have become an anxiety-inducing task in this new reality. Shortages of home and pantry staples such as bread, pasta, eggs and toilet paper have been rampant across the city’s grocery stores. But also, the necessary errand can make some feel vulnerable to contracting the virus.

After reading about fistfights breaking out at supermarkets across the country, Jon Friedman, who lives in Stuyvesant Town, prepared for battle on a recent grocery haul.

“I entered my local Gristedes-turned-D'Agostino's on First Avenue at East 21st St. with trepidation and the sound of the Rolling Stones' "Street Fighting Man" playing in my head,” said Friedman. But, luckily, he found a much different scene.

“Everyone was well behaved (even me) and respectful of one another,” he said. “I felt compassion for the checkout clerks, overburdened in normal times in this bustling store. Now, they had to worry about their health, on top of everything else. I tried to make stupid small talk and they seemed to appreciate the effort. I really appreciate them.”

One Upper West Side resident has become wary of his fellow Fairway shoppers, particularly those wearing masks.

“I’ve started waiting to shop until late in the day, usually around 8 o’clock or so. These days, it’s not very crowded at that time, but there’s still a problem: Shoppers with Masks,” he said. “Weirdly, I’ve discovered that people wearing surgical masks seem to be more likely to commit other no-no’s of social distancing while shopping.”

He’s seen mask-wearing shopping distracted by their cell phones, loitering in the middle of aisles while they scan the shelves, and bumping into others as they rush to leave the store. Very few opt to wear vinyl gloves.

“Perhaps this admittedly anecdotal evidence of selfishness isn’t surprising, given the good argument that at this point asymptomatic people with access to masks should be donating them to undersupplied medical professionals,” he said. “But it’s made me start to think about my daily trip to Fairway the way I’ve always felt about driving a car in New York City. I now refer to it as ‘defensive shopping.’”

On Monday, the mayor said the coming week would be a decisive one in how the city proceeds with social distancing rules. He said his administration will be monitoring how successful the current restrictions are and whether it will be the best way to move forward.

“It really is incumbent upon all New Yorkers, to do your damnedest to live by this new reality.” Mayor Bill de Blasio