Story and photos by Bo Zauners
When the Pandemic bit the Big Apple
Not one car and not a single pedestrian.
It was early April 2020. I was standing at a window in our midtown Manhattan apartment, overlooking Park Avenue, usually brimming with traffic and now completely empty.
The coronavirus pandemic was running rampant in New York with reported cases hovering around 10,000 daily. Every day Governor Cuomo held TV briefings, giving detailed accounts of what was happening. He also advised us as to the precautionary measures we must take, such a wearing a facemask and gloves, keeping a safe distance, washing hands frequently, and even washing packages, and, at all costs, avoid large indoor gatherings.
Things had come to a weird standstill. Quarantine was more or less required. Most businesses except grocery stores and pharmacies were closed and other than the frightening sound of sirens, silence reigned throughout what had become a ghost town. Since subways were no longer a good option, Roxie, my wife, moved her studio office from Long Island City to our living room. In June she returned to her studio, walking most of the way and taking the ferry across the East River.
April and May are also remembered for the tributes made to essential workers. Every evening, at seven pm, I would hand Roxie a saucepan and a large metal spoon. She would lean out of the window, bang the saucepan and, intermittently, at the top of her lungs cry out “THANK YOU! THANK YOU!” Neighbors in nearby buildings joined in, and cars honked.
Wearing a facemask became the thing to do in New York City. Even statues such as Patience and Fortitude outside the New York Public Library at 42nd street, and Atlas at Rockefeller Center on 5th Avenue did it - not to mention the giant dalmatian balancing a yellow cab on its nose outside the hospital at 34th Street and First Avenue.
If they can do it, so can I. By late summer almost everyone wore a mask.
People had left our building, mostly young professionals going back to their parents’ homes in upstate NY, or maybe Ohio, or Virginia, and others left for summer homes on Long Island.
Because indoor dining was not allowed, many of the restaurants that hadn’t closed moved outdoors filling the sidewalks and even parts of the streets.
One good thing: as you can see on the chart below, New York flattened the curve enormously.
When will it end, I asked a year later? Nobody knew.
Since then, two years have come and gone. The curve has morphed - up and down. The sidewalk restaurants are still blocking traffic and causing a cacophony of honking horns - mixed every now and then with the sound of ear-shattering sirens.
The large number of signs on the sidewalks as you enter stores, banks and offices, demanding that you keep a distance of six feet, have been almost totally ignored, and for a long time, fewer people have worn facemasks. I’m reminded of a protest march a few months ago that I watched from the window of our apartment. Thousands of people were all crammed together, and very few, as far as I could see, were wearing a mask. Which, in turn, reminds me of how the influx of tourists hasn’t seem to have diminished recently; if anything, the usual tourist spots have been more jammed than ever.
But things have changed again. As variants of COVID keep coming back, facemasks are returning – some can even be seen on mannequins in window displays.
Notably, there are now many little stations and kiosks offering COVID 19 testing. Practically every street corner has one, and in some places two or three are lined up in a row.
Nearly a hundred years ago, the surrealist Rene Magritte painted “The Lovers,” in which a barrier of facial cloth transforms an act of passion into one of isolation and frustration.
Maybe he had a strange inkling of the nature of things to come.
Will it ever end? We still don’t know.
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