fbpx

New York City Has Become A Strange, Social-Distance Ghost Town

[additional-authors]
April 2, 2020
NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 01: Ambulance drivers walk with a gurney outside of Mount Sinai Hospital which has seen an upsurge of coronavirus patients on April 01, 2020 in New York City, United States. Hospitals in New York City, which has been especially hard hit by the coronavirus, are facing shortages of beds, ventilators and protective equipment for medical staff. Currently, over 75, 000 New Yorkers have tested positive for COVID-19 (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Walking on Sunday afternoon in Central Park, we encountered a small village of white tents under construction in a space called the East Meadow around 99th Street, adjacent to Fifth Avenue across the street from the Mount Sinai Hospital complex. 

It is being assembled to treat the overflow patients from Mount Sinai. This “field hospital” contains more than a dozen tents and will house 68 emergency room beds and 10 intensive care unit beds. I was born in Mount Sinai Hospital 64 years ago. I did not like seeing it. Too real and too close. 

The Javits Center has become an emergency hospital with 1,200 beds supplied by the Army Corp of Engineers. It’s as if Hawkeye Pierce from “M.A.S.H.” were deployed right next door to Hudson Yards and The Highline. 

The U.S. Navy ship “Comfort” moored at Pier 90 on Monday, on the Hudson River at 50th Street. It holds 1,000 Navy medical people, 1,000 hospital beds, and a dozen operating rooms. The plan is for the Comfort to take patients who do not have the coronavirus, to allow other hospitals and medical facilities to focus on the pandemic. That plan might have to be reassessed. 

There are white tents and refrigerated trailers outfitted as mobile morgues now parked at Bellevue Hospital at the FDR Drive at 26th Street.

There are white tents and refrigerated trailers outfitted as mobile morgues now parked at Bellevue Hospital at the FDR Drive at 26th Street, near the medical examiner’s building. That’s a block away from the Asser Levy Recreation Center and swimming pool. The Asser Levy Center occupies the site of the public baths built in 1904-1906. The Roman revival bathhouse still stands. At the turn of the 20th century, the Lower East Side of Manhattan had only one bathtub for every 79 families. Not conducive to containing contagion. 

A deceptive surface calm belies the tension of living in Manhattan these days.

It is not just that restaurants, bars, churches, synagogues, museums, theaters, concert halls, most stores and other public places are closed. It is not just the uncharacteristic quiet. Not just the vastly reduced pedestrian and automobile traffic on all the streets and avenues and the East and West side drives. The sense of approaching danger and rising fear discommodes our thinking, reading, listening, communicating, Zoom meeting, planning. We keep trying to fuggedaboutit, but it won’t go away. 

The sense of approaching danger and rising fear discommodes our thinking, reading, listening, communicating, Zoom meeting, planning. We keep trying to fuggedaboutit, but it won’t go away. 

Free parking spaces on the streets are abundant: a multi-generational dream-come-true for New Yorkers. Alternate side of the street rules are suspended, so no need to abide by a Monday and Thursday or Tuesday and Friday cycle. 

Irony and sarcasm are harder to swallow and less effective than in olden days (last month). Belly laughs are in short supply. Cathartic laughter is scarce and cathartic release of any kind is difficult to achieve. Laughter through tears and nervous laughter remain plentiful. The sun comes out, but there’s more than just Spring in the air, and of course that’s the problem. 

Masks proliferate, but not in stores. For weeks we were admonished not to wear masks unless we were sick, but the scuttlebutt has shifted and now the talk is of universal masking. Crafty confined people are making their own. I searched vainly in pharmacies and one of the few hardware stores that remained open in my Upper West Side neighborhood, but medical and painters’ masks were sold out. 

A woman pushing a baby in a stroller protected by a transparent plastic windshield heard a pharmacy employee telling me through the glass front door he had opened just a crack that they were completely out of masks. Keeping her six feet of protective distance, she flashed a confidential look and told me, in conspiratorial tones, that there were masks for sale in a drug store 10 blocks south. 

I thanked her with genuine gratitude and started power walking in that direction. They did indeed have masks for sale, but not the coveted N95 masks that are all the rage. Just thin, single-use paper masks, individually wrapped. Normally these sell in packs of 50 for around $15. This drug store offered to sell one per customer for $10. I bought one.

Supermarkets, groceries, pharmacies and liquor stores remain open, (just the essentials) although in recent days they have begun lining people up on the sidewalks, six feet apart, and letting in only a limited number of people at a time. Many restaurants still make deliveries or allow you to come in and pick up take-out orders, but a growing number no longer allow patrons to enter at all. Instead, they insist that you text, call, or order online, and then pick up the bags they leave on the sidewalk with your name on them. 

Subways and buses are running, albeit on reduced schedules, but the news keeps delivering images of empty buses, subway cars and stations. Still, we see some hardy souls stepping gingerly in and out of the subway entrance on the corner next to our building. 

The newspapers are still delivered every morning, but not to your welcome mat, only to the lobby where you go the pick them up. The construction crew at the building across the street has continued to work each day, scaling the scaffolding, pointing and tucking brickwork, replacing a concrete belt course around the 20th floor, and the bronze-veneer railings and thick plexiglass panels on the upper floor balconies. The job is almost finished and they have begun to remove parts of the scaffolding. When they did not show up for work today we wondered when they would return. 

We walk the dog, and we see everyone else with their dogs out on the streets and in Central Park, but we only smile and wave now, keeping our social distance. 

Did you enjoy this article?
You'll love our roundtable.

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

Are We Going to Stop for Lunch?

So far, the American Jewish community has been exceptional in its support for Israel. But there is a long road ahead, and the question remains: will we continue with this support?

More news and opinions than at a
Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.