The United States now has the most COVID-19 cases out of any country in the world. According to the CDC, the U.S. had identified 776,093 positive cases as of April 21st, 245,580 of these came from the state of New York alone. New York City has been at the center of the Coronavirus epidemic in the United States, as it has been hit harder than any other area in the country. It seems like news is breaking every second in the city, while the rest of the country and the world hears NYC’s woes from various media outlets. What has life been like for New Yorkers since COVID-19 took a stranglehold on their city?
Michael Caplan, a Brown University graduate who moved to lower Manhattan in late June, says that some people are still going about their daily business and may not be practicing social distancing as best they can; “Last weekend it was nice weather and a lot of people were out at parks. I think people were aware of the whole social distancing thing, but they probably could have been doing a better job.” Corey Kurylo, his roommate, added, “I think it took too long for people to take it seriously. Initially when coronavirus was going on, Central Park was elbow-to-elbow with people. This was after people should have known better. I think it took people literally dying for people to take it more seriously.”
That being said, the two of them agree that most people are trying to practice safe social distancing measures, but a severe lack of resources is preventing the city from flattening the curve. Caplan says this lack of resources has been an issue for years, but it isn’t simply caused by a surge of COVID-19 patients. “Since 2000 or so, around sixteen hospitals have closed in New York City and have been re-developed into luxury condos for the most part. The resources were drained out of the system on purpose. We don’t have the resources now, but it’s not by accident. It’s because the medical system has been carved up and sold off.”
However, medical resources aren’t the only thing the city is lacking. They say that New York City is suffering from a lack of many resources that other parts of the country still have access to. One of those resources is grocery delivery and pick-up. Caplan and Kurylo described their own experience, which represents a more widespread issue that many in the city face: the inability to safely obtain groceries. Caplan and Kurylo both felt mildly ill recently and while they weren’t experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, they felt it would be best to stay away from the grocery store out of extreme caution. When they tried to place an order for groceries, a strategy that is catching on rapidly in other parts of the country, they found that the service wasn’t available.
Kurylo said, “We tried to order groceries. We tried to find grocery stores where we could make our order and go pick it up, so at least we could just go to the door and then leave, but they literally are not offering these services. And if they are, they’re on back order for a week or so.” Caplan described how all of the commonly used grocery ordering apps, including Whole Foods and Instacart, had absolutely no availability. Thus, the two were forced to do their shopping in person to avoid running out of food.
“I’m going out as little as possible. Mike and I did everything we could to not go to Trader Joe’s. Before we went there, we had masks on of course, we went first to a pharmacy to buy protective gloves. After we got to Trader Joe’s we switched gloves because as soon as you touch something with gloves it’s spreading to something else. But yeah, I don’t feel good about going out whatsoever,” Kurylo described.
Another hot topic in New York City is the leadership of Andrew Cuomo. Many people who criticize President Trump’s response to the pandemic have applauded Cuomo’s. They have deemed him to be more effective and trustworthy than President Trump and look to him for leadership through this crisis. Caplan and Kurylo both agree that President Trump’s handling of the pandemic has been inadequate, but they certainly aren’t happy with Cuomo’s either.
Caplan referred back to his earlier point about a lack of medical resources, criticizing the fact that Cuomo had just cut back $400 billion from hospital budgets in the midst of a crippling pandemic. Both of them feel that despite his presence in both the news and on social media, Cuomo’s words haven’t provided much real guidance to the people of New York. “In order to flatten the curve,” explains Kurylo, “you have to do more than just talk about flattening the curve. You have to give guidelines, and we’re not getting anything. We go on and we just learn about how many more people died, and until it happens to you, you don’t know how to deal with it.”
Caplan felt the same way, “He sounds good on TV, but he has literally done absolutely nothing to help this. This is a good point I saw made online: Andrew Cuomo has the worst coronavirus outbreak in the world. Why are you looking to him as the guy who is handling coronavirus correctly?”
Kurylo also spoke about the difficulties of both finding work and filing for unemployment. Despite many states loosening restrictions on claims to account for COVID-19 related layoffs, Kurylo was still deemed ineligible to receive benefits. He ran into many snags while applying as well, including not being able to access the website for an entire week.
After successfully filing, he received eight documents in the mail that he needed to fill out and send back. The documents were unclear and required him to perform many complicated calculations. Kurylo said that many people are facing the same difficulties as him, if not worse.
When asked about when they think things will return to normal, Kurylo predicted August or later. But even then, he sees the city and the world returning to a new normal instead of business as usual. “Trump keeps talking about how the economy is going to explode after this. I don’t see restaurants being full right away. A lot of people aren’t just going to return to their jobs. There will still be cutbacks, so maybe that’s the ‘not normal’ that I’m speaking of.”
In terms of how people will react once public spaces are reopened, both agree that some people will develop long-lasting fears. They also predicted that some people will become more germophobic than they were prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. “There are certain people who are like that already, but I think we’ll only get more of them,” Caplan added.
Despite having to take precautions and worry about the spread of COVID-19, Caplan and Kurylo have still found ways to live their everyday lives and stay, at least somewhat, entertained. Caplan purchased a bike and says it has given him the freedom to be outside while still maintaining space from others. “There’s not really that many germs when I’m chillin’ on my bike, as far as I can tell.”
Kurylo has “returned to his former Minecraft glory”, but that’s not all. He’s been working out, playing guitar, reading, and making food more than he normally does. While he’s enjoyed having more time for these activities, he says that ultimately “you’re still bored at the end of the day. There’s no escaping that.”
While there are signs that the spread is slowing and the curve is beginning to flatten in New York City, it’s clear that there’s still a long road ahead. It’s crucial that people in the city and all across the country continue to practice social distancing and assist in further slowing the spread of COVID-19.
One day, hopefully sooner rather than later, people will be able to gather again and resume their lives, but until then, Caplan and Kurylo will be doing their part to flatten the curve with the help of bike riding and Minecraft.