COVID-19 Social Impact in New York City

I was thinking about the ways that the COVID-19 experience has changed the way we live our lives in New York City. Beyond the obvious continued closures I mean.

As a kid, when I would come here to visit family, the crowds and noise were part of the appeal. Staying up late and seeing and hearing the traffic outside was exciting. It felt alive and a little dangerous. It felt like there were endless possibilities waiting for you as soon as you hit the concrete outside your building’s front door.

Not so much now. A lot of businesses are reopening, but a lot will never open again. Businesses that are open are limited capacity. Same with restaurants. You have to book reservations for something you used to just walk into at will. You have to provide your name, ID, and contact information to dine inside. It feels arduous and invasive and kills the vibe.

To be honest, I never really did much shopping in person before, but I did like to wander around book stores and comic book shops. Old record stores sometimes too. And there was something fun about just sitting in a cafe, talking and people watching. You can’t really do any of those things now. You’re corralled and then rushed through the experience to accommodate occupancy restrictions. So, why bother? If I can’t enjoy the experience, why make the trek down to the store? With all of the traction that online retailers got during the lock down, I wonder how much in person retail shopping will come back in New York City over the long term?

Will people fall back into old habits or maintain new ones? I read somewhere that moments of change in people’s lives are the best opportunity for companies to change shopping habits. That’s why expecting mothers get bombarded with ads for example. The COVID-19 pandemic and lock downs were pretty big moments of change so it was a great opportunity to cement new shopping patterns.

With the lack of restaurant dining and easily accessible amenities like museums, art galleries, and theater performances, with being shut up at home all the time or going from home to work and work to home, it was like a curtain was drawn back. New York City without all of the extras is pretty unpleasant. High rent for a shoe box apartment to live constantly surrounded by high crime and filth isn’t that appealing when you can’t justify it with amazing dinners out and the ability to just pop in at a world class art gallery on a whim.

Movement control orders. Lock downs. Quarantines. Flying restrictions. Travel restrictions. I’m reminded of a book I read about the development of the passport in Europe during a time when travel beyond one’s own village was extremely uncommon and made a person suspect. It feels like we’re going back in time. It’s becoming ever more difficult to simply travel to another State or country after a long period of increasing mobility.

I wonder if there’s anything to that? Accustoming people to being ordered to remain in place in spite of Constitutional guarantees of free movement. Getting people familiar with receiving food rations. Making people feel like it’s ok to have their privacy invaded in exchange for a seat inside a 33% capacity restaurant. That’s a lot of extra government control of our personal lives.

And I get it to a large degree. It’s a trade-off between personal autonomy and collective well-being. There has to be a balance there. But I wonder if the amount of rights and information we’re being asked to give up is greater than the threat we’re facing? Are we doing good or creating an un-legislated set of PATRIOT Act style COVID-19 rules?

I keep coming back to how there was no spike in COVID-19 deaths after the riots and mass protests that started in June and have continued unabated in some areas of the country since. Shouldn’t all of those people congregating together have caused COVID-19 rates to skyrocket, if not among themselves then in adjacent vulnerable populations?

I understand that this is conspiracy theory territory. I know the virus is real. I’m not going to subscribe to the idea of the government using COVID-19 testing to insert microchips in people’s heads or bloodstreams, or to the idea that COVID-19 testing is actually COVID-19 infecting, but I can’t help but wonder if this was overkill.

The virus was in New York City since November or December of 2019 at least. Our numbers were high because the virus had time to spread before we started testing. If it was going to spread like the plague it would have caused a lot more damage before the city shut down in March, but it didn’t. Why were we fine on March 1st, but we suddenly needed refrigerated trucks for the deceased on March 31st?

Anyway, a lot of people are fleeing New York City or changed their minds about coming here in the first place. Unless things improve drastically in the next few months, I’m going to start looking at moving to another part of the country. I’ve been hearing news about COVID-19 spikes in Brooklyn and Queens and different news sources have been telling us for months that the virus could spike again in the Fall, leading to another round of shutdowns. I don’t know if I want to go through that again. Things haven’t been normal in the city since January already.

Coronavirus Journal: Day 18

The more I read about the coronavirus impact in the United States and here in New York City in particular, the less inclined I feel to go outside if I can avoid it. I think the numbers below speak for themselves:

That’s about a 1% death rate here in New York City. I think the average globally is 4.5%. It’s a good thing governments are taking measures to isolate people. Even if only 1% of Americans died, that would be 3.3 million people. And it would definitely be worse than that because hospitals would be overwhelmed and people with other illnesses would be denied service due to lack of capacity, causing even more deaths.

Shopping time!

That being said, grocery stores are listed as essential for a reason and I had to head down to Key Foods and Antillana today. As nervous as I am about contracting coronavirus, I was pretty stoked to get outside the house for a bit. I’d actually considered going to Trader Joe’s at Union Square yesterday. I need ghee and they don’t sell it around here. But I changed my mind. I don’t want to get on the train just for ghee. I guess it’s a good thing I did, because they shut down that store when an employee tested positive for COVID-19. I probably dodged a bullet there.

The situation at the local grocery stores was about how I expected. They were almost fully stocked. No surprise there. While I was shopping, both stores were actively restocking the shelves.

There were a few things still out of stock, like some brands of flour, ginger at Key Foods (but not at Antillana), some canned beans and canned vegetables, and ground beef at Key Food for some reason. I didn’t even bother to look at the toilet paper and soap aisles because we still have plenty of each.

I saw this awesome Gudetama Chicken flavored Top Ramen while I was there. LOL. I almost bought it just for Gudetama.

When I got home, I stripped everything off down to my drawers and then washed my hands. I put away the groceries and then washed my hands again. This stuff can live for hours on surfaces. I wonder how long it can live on my jacket or pants? Maybe I should be throwing everything directly into the washing machine.

I thought about saving my face mask to use a second time but decided to just trash it. We aren’t going outside that often and we have quite a few. It would be pretty stupid to get coronavirus from reusing a face mask.

Anyway, I’m trying to find things to keep myself busy. I want to spend a bunch of time playing video games, but mostly I’m just writing my blog entries and studying foreign languages on Memrise. The rest of my time is cleaning, cooking, some more cleaning, and trying to stay abreast of current coronavirus news. Reading too!

It’s really amazing how fast a day can go by. Even during the coronavirus shutdown there’s not enough time in the day for everything I want to do.

Coronavirus Journal: Day 17 of State of Emergency

I was reading the news yesterday and I saw that Cuomo had come down to New York City over the weekend and had expressed some concern over the numbers of people that were gathering in city parks in close proximity to each other. Like I predicted, he threatened to shut down the parks if people don’t start practicing the 6 foot physical distancing required by social distancing.

We can still go out. We can leave the city if we want. We can still get groceries and wander around for exercise. We can buy lotto tickets and hit the liquor store. There are lots of people out walking around like nothing is going on. It’s really weird. A weird contradiction.

I guess I thought a quarantine would require people to stay in their houses except for medical emergencies. Perhaps that’s what other people were thinking too and that’s why so many people were panic buying and stocking their pantries with weeks and months of supplies, because what we’re doing right now doesn’t make sense if it’s meant to stop the spread of the virus.

Every trip to the grocery store is a trip into an enclosed area where sick people might be. Checkout requires interacting in close proximity with someone who has been in contact with dozens or hundreds of people over the course of a work shift. When our car is up and running again, I’m going to go on a huge shopping trip so if this goes on for a few more months we can minimize contact with other people.

Each trip on the train is putting yourself in an enclosed space with poor ventilation, often in physical contact with other people. I haven’t been on the trains in a few days so maybe things have changed since last week, especially now that the 100% shutdown of non-essential businesses is in effect. Maybe not?

Anyway, the cases of coronavirus are skyrocketing. There are 25,665 cases in New York State and 14,904 cases in New York City as of a bit earlier today. 131 deaths in New York City according to De Blasio’s COVID-19 update today:

The numbers seem to be exploding, but all I get from this is that we should have started testing sooner and we should have shut down businesses and started social distancing sooner. We tried to put our pinky finger in the hole when the damn was already crumbling. Too late now.

An picture of a temporary closure notice at Ulta on 86th Street
Retail stores like Ulta, Sephora, H&M, and Banana Republic were all closed last week when I went to 86th Street. They’re definitely closed now with the new orders from the governor.

And is it really smart to keep people inside? I can’t help but wonder if anyone in my building has it. The air in apartment buildings travel from apartment to apartment. If one person gets it, it’s going to run through the entire apartment building more than likely.

President Trump has lost his mind again

It’s hard to believe, or I guess not that hard to believe, that Trump wants people to just go back to work anyway as soon as possible, regardless of the virus and the consequences. He would rather just say to hell with it and tell Americans that millions of people are going to die due to the hospitals being overwhelmed, but that’s ok as long as the economy picks up again. Essentially, he’s prioritizing the stock market and rich people’s portfolios over the lives of American workers. That’s complete trash.

Instead of telling Americans they’re on their own, the government needs to cut those Trump Checks. And not just based on 2018 tax data, but for every single American citizen. You don’t even have to be a socialist to understand that not doing it is bad for the economy. And you don’t have to be a stable genius to know that putting Americans in a position where millions will die would be worse for the economy than the quarantine.

Silver lining to coronavirus shutdown:

I discovered this Twitter account, which is great!
  • getting more reading done
  • leveling up my cooking skills (cookies pictured above, for example)
  • blogging more
  • more progress in learning Japanese, Spanish, and Tagalog
  • finally doing yoga again
  • even playing some video games

I really want to ride my bike down 7th Avenue since there’s no traffic to speak of (if the Twitter and the news are accurate), but it’s not worth the risk. I don’t want to end up on a ventilator in an ICU because I wanted to ride my bike. I’m going to be pissed if I get coronavirus and didn’t ride my bike down 7th Avenue, though.

What’s next?

The number of cases is supposed to peak in 14 to 21 days. It can only get worse before it gets better, but hopefully, if we stay inside as much as possible, we’ll weather the pandemic.

Looks like business as usual in New York City

You look at what Governor Cuomo is saying, and especially Mayor De Blasio, and you’d think that death is literally stalking the streets, as if it would be like this if you went outside:

But instead, it’s almost like nothing is going on at all. I think people are mostly not traveling out of their neighborhoods if they can, especially on the trains, but people are out on the streets in force, especially now that it’s the weekend.

Heading downtown yesterday to 86th Street, the train actually felt crowded for 1:30 PM. On the way home, the platform was mostly empty, but the uptown 4 was standing room only when it arrived. It definitely wasn’t as crowded as it normally is at 2:50 PM, but it was still shoulder-to-shoulder.

The uptown 4 train platform at 86th street on 3/20/2020, almost completely empty of people
The uptown 4 train platform at 86th street on Friday afternoon 3/20/2020, almost completely empty of people

I think this says a lot about neighborhoods and socio-economics in New York City. People from the Bronx have to take the trains because most people from the Bronx don’t have jobs that they can do from home. You don’t see a lot of people getting on the train at 86th Street because most of the people that live in that area are able to stay home and/or work from home.

Proving the point, the train heading out of the Bronx this afternoon (Saturday) was almost empty.

An empty 4 train today 3/21/2020
An empty 4 train on Saturday afternoon, 3/21/2020. Photo credit: Marie Farless

86th Street and Central Park are are both packed, though. My wife couldn’t believe how many people are out. She said it looks like a regular weekend, as if nothing is going on.

A large crowd of people jogging and walking in Central Park today, 3/21/2020
A large crowd of people jogging and walking in Central Park today, 3/21/2020. Photo credit: Marie Farless
People in Central Park today, Saturday 3/21/2020. Photo credit: Marie Farless

You’d think most people would be at home or at least keeping their distance from each other, but they’re all bunched up in crowds.

I look at these people and think to myself, they’re out there huffing and puffing and blasting viruses into the air and then the next person is going to run through that. I read that coronavirus can hang around in the air for 3 hours, so if you’re running behind someone carrying the virus, you’re probably screwed, especially if there’s no breeze, but you won’t know it for about two weeks and in the meantime you’ll be infecting everyone you know and come in contact with.

Anyway, based on what Cuomo was saying today, everything except essential services will be shut down as of 8 PM Sunday night. I wonder if that means restaurants too? No more take-out? No more delivery? No more runs to the liquor store?

Plastic shielding and a sign at the entrance of a liquor shop requiring customers to remain outside
A liqour shop on Ave B and 14th Street in Manhattan, NYC with plastic sheeting and a table at the front door, creating a makeshift take-out window.

I wonder if that will push more people into panic buying at grocery stores today and tomorrow? And if more people will be congregating in parks afterwards?

A little history of Central Park…

Anyway, this situation with Central Park reminds me of when and why the park was originally built. In 1850, wealthy merchants and landowners argued that they needed somewhere to go for scenic carriage rides in the city. Another argument they presented to justify the expense of creating the park was that it would give working class people a healthy alternative to going to the saloons and hanging around in the streets.

Before Central Park was built, people just had nowhere to go besides their ratty tenements, the streets, or the bars. Battery Park didn’t exist at the time. Neither did the paths along the rivers. Those were all shipping docks and commercial areas, or simply didn’t exist because the land reclamation hadn’t been done yet.

Central Park probably didn’t work out that well for working class people back in the day because working class people wouldn’t have been able to afford the transit cost to get to there. Travel was harder and more expensive compared to wages at the time.

Everything is getting shut down

Now, with the coronavirus pandemic, people have nowhere to go because the “saloons” and other restaurants are closed so they’re finally gathering in Central Park and probably other parks across the city. After Sunday, even more businesses are going to be closed so that’s even more people with time on their hands and maybe heading to the park. I imagine it won’t be too much longer before Central Park is closed too.

We started out with gatherings limited to 500, then 50, then 10, and now you can’t even have a 5 person game of basketball according to Cuomo. De Blasio is calling for the military to be brought in. It looks like they’re pushing for martial law and De Blasio has been fighting to restrict people to their homes since last week.

I get that COVID-19 is serious, but it seems like the response they’re demanding is exaggerated. With about 45,000 tests done, New York City has found about 6,200 people that already have the virus. That doesn’t really tell us much about how rapidly the virus is spreading in the city because the testing is still trying to catch up to the actual number of people that are already infected. But let’s say there are 10,000 cases in New York City. That’s about 0.12% of the city’s population of ~8.4 million.

I suppose they’re trying to prevent New York from winding up like Italy, but if the bar is so low, I wonder what’s going to count in terms of successfully overcoming the current situation. What I mean is, how few people have to have the virus before we can all get back to our regular lives?

And, more importantly, how are the state and federal governments going to overcome the economic hurdle they’re creating?

De Blasio, Cuomo, and the Federal Government need to figure out what they’re going to do when this situation drags on for weeks and months. People really aren’t going to be able to pay their bills. Putting a moratorium on evictions/utility cutoffs/etc. doesn’t even help, because once the moratorium is up, the evictions and cutoffs will start. You can’t expect people to suddenly have money after 3 months of not working just because the virus is gone and you declare the moratorium to be over. This situation is going to turn into a disaster. And maybe even sooner than 3 months if people run out of money to buy food.

A little more corona madness

I was downtown in the East Village this afternoon. I was a little excited to see what was happening down there. I also had to get a power cable we need for a work monitor and I wanted to drop some stuff off at my Mom’s place.

I keep going outside with this expectation that the city is going to look completely deserted, like it did in downtown Manhattan after Hurricane Sandy. It was creepy as hell at night back then because there was no power downtown. We had to use flashlights to get around and one night, it looked like my wife and I were the only two people on 14th Street for two blocks in either direction.

Today, though, you wouldn’t think anything out of the ordinary was going on. It just looked like a typical afternoon. Maybe a Sunday afternoon instead of a Tuesday afternoon, though. And there was noticeably less traffic on the road for a weekday. But there were plenty of people out and about and only a few of them were wearing masks.

I wore an N95 mask while outside today. It was kind of nice because people gave me a lot of extra space on the train bench, platforms, buses and on the street, just in case I was sick I guess. I might keep wearing an N95 mask for a while after this thing dies down!

It’s hard to reconcile what I’m seeing on the street with what I’m hearing in the news about Italy. Who knows how bad this will all get here, though? I read that cases of corona virus more than doubled to over 1200 between last night and this morning. I doubt things have even come close to peaking in terms of the virus running its course.

I went with my Mom over to C-Town on Avenue C. I think she asked me to come with her just in case the crowds were more than she could handle on her own. It wasn’t too bad when we got there but it’s like the crowd followed us.

The near-empty bread shelves at C-Town

The shelves were just about wiped out of pasta, fresh cut meat, bread, tortillas, canned soup, and some varieties of cooking and olive oils.

The tortillas were wiped out at C-Town

I still can’t understand what the hell people are thinking down there. I didn’t bother to check to see if they had liquid hand soap or toilet paper. We don’t need any.

Toilet paper and paper towels at Key Foods in the Bronx
Hand soap at Key Foods in the Bronx

In the Bronx, by contrast, the stores are still relatively well stocked. The shelves at my two local groceries were empty of bottled water and some hand soaps, but there is plenty of toilet paper, paper towels, and more importantly fresh fruits and vegetables.

Plenty of tortillas available at Key Foods in the Bronx too

I’m a little curious to know how this is all going to play out. I mean, Trump is saying this corona virus situation is going to continue through July or August. New York City is limiting gatherings to 50 or less and pretty much all venues are closed. Restaurants are limited to take out and delivery. Gyms are closed.

Can businesses afford to be closed until August? Can people who work in the service industry afford to be out of a job for 5 months?

I saw on Twitter than the government is talking about dropping some cash on the masses, but the figure they’re throwing around is $1000.00. For a large portion of the country that might be ok if the situation only lasts 2 weeks. In New York City that isn’t even rent, even in the bad parts of town. It certainly isn’t going to do anything to help people who suffer from underemployment or unemployment for 5 months.

Not that I’m surprised, but with the economic situation this dire, most people are losing their minds because Trump referred to COVID-19 corona virus as the Chinese Flu. So what? No one cries that the 1918 flu is called Spanish Flu. And we all know it came from China. It doesn’t even matter what it’s called. If people want to be ignorant and abuse Chinese people, they’re going to do it regardless of what you call the virus.

People seem to like getting themselves bogged down in minor battles over ideological purity. They lose the forest for the trees. And I think Trump does this stuff just to troll people. I think he trolls people just like other trolls troll people and for the same reason. Imagine the rush you would get if you could make millions of people have fits over a word choice that isn’t even offensive because it might, maybe, possibly, cause someone to be mean to Chinese people.

I don’t even care. I’m going to ride this out and then I’m going to head to Chinatown and pig out.

BTW, here are some pro-tips for people out panic buying:

  1. You can wash your hands with bar soap
  2. You can wash your butt with water