COVID-19 in NYC: CSU Global Faculty Member’s Perspective

By David R. Veras, MBA - June 1st, 2020

New York City skyline

New York City! A city that’s awake 24 hours per day, seven days a week, with nine million people crammed into 302 square miles. Yet, I would not give it up for any greener pastures in the world. New York City is my hometown. Frank Sinatra said it best: “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” New York City is the place that saw me grow up, become a healthcare professional, and start my family. It is a city that runs deep through my veins, and is as much a part of me as I am of it. New York City is a lively city, a busy city, a loud city, a FUN city — a city where dreams are made and destroyed, all in the same breath. Then COVID-19 happened, and my city began to hurt, and every New Yorker began to hurt along with it.  

In March 2020, New York City was hit with its first documented case of COVID-19.  While completely confused and still learning about this virus that made its way to our streets from Wuhan, China, we were all entirely blindsided when we realized that, in a blink of an eye, the city that never sleeps would soon be taking an extended nap against its will. In less than two weeks after seeing its first COVID-19 case, the city became a different place — unrecognizable, quiet, slow, CLOSED. The once loving, lively, vibrant New York everyone knows and aspires to one day visit, was no longer itself. We were on lockdown at the governor’s orders.  

I was in shock, denial — I never thought I would see this in my lifetime. The last time New York City was even close to being this still was during Hurricane Sandy, in 2012 — and even then, the storm didn’t stop us. If 9/11 didn’t stop us, we weren’t going to let a few raindrops and wind stop us. Yet, somehow, this microscopic virus that we did not understand brought New York City, my city, to its knees with no remorse. We didn’t know what to do, how to cope, just that it was time to adapt to the new normal, for now.  

COVID-19 surprised everyone in New York State, as much as in the city. While we knew the seriousness of the situation, New Yorkers have the mentality that this “thing” will not stop us, “we got this.” (spoken in our thick New York accents). I was in denial, telling my wife that we ought to be more afraid of the flu than this virus. Then, the case numbers began to rise – practically overnight — and I got the scariest phone call of my life: My best friend of 30 years, my partner in crime since the age of 13, my brother, was positive for COVID-19. And then, one after another, the people I love and respect test positive for COVID-19. My level of uncertainty begins to set in — What’s going on? Every New Yorker asked themselves the same question.  All of a sudden, in the blink of an eye, businesses are closed and flights are canceled. Bars, restaurants, barbershops, nail salons, hairdressers, schools — everything is shut down. Then the World Health Organization labels this problem a PANDEMIC. Now, we’re scared. Now, I’m afraid.  

I had recently left my job and was in the process of beginning my own business — something I had wanted to do for a long time. I planned to take a couple of weeks off then start working with a new client I had just signed. My daughter was on spring break, so the timing was just right. But due to COVID-19, my plans were put on hold. Nonetheless, trying to stay busy, I decided to take a temporary administrative job at a drive-by COVID-19 testing center.  These centers were set up throughout New York to help with the rapid increase in demand for COVID testing, and were put in place just one week after the city shut down. 

At that point, our hospitals were already becoming overwhelmed with emergency room visits. Keep in mind, New York City has 62 acute care hospitals in only 302 square miles. That is, almost five hospitals per square mile. Yet, they weren’t able to handle the number of patients. 

At the testing center, my job was to make sure the documentation was correct and to log all samples ready to be sent to the lab for testing. If you wanted to be tested for COVID-19, you’d basically drive to the testing center and stay in your cars with the windows rolled up. A nurse would come to your driver’s side window and ask a series of questions, then have you sign a form. The nurse would swap your nasal cavity by basically jamming what looks like an oversized Q-Tip up your nostril — I would hear the screams of many people being tested. Then, you’d roll up your windows and drive home to wait for the results. On a daily basis, hundreds of cars would line up for hours. The lines were never-ending. While the centers were a great resource, they didn’t come with a manual, and there were a lot of problems. New Yorkers encountered long-wait lines for the chance to be tested, and many were sent home without tests or were bounced from center to center, then from hospital to hospital. Testing centers were often short of, or missing supplies,  and had incomplete and damaged kits. Tensions were high because of frustrations with the system, the lack of coordination, and general anxiety. The whole process was a complete disaster.    

By week three of the lockdown, public schools throughout the state, as well as all private and catholic schools, and colleges, universities, trade schools, daycares, babysitting — you name it — closed. Then the panic began. While my child was on spring break, our concern, as well as every other parent’s, was what would happen to my child’s education for the rest of the school year. Who would care for my kid if I still had to work? Would my kid fall behind? Online schooling? How?  What do we do with the kids that need extra attention? OMG, the graduating class of 2020? What about them? Anxiety was high because of all the unknown logistics. Not to mention that as more news of COVID19 was coming out almost hourly, New Yorkers had the growing sense that this pandemic would never end. There was, and is still, a sense of despair, hopelessness.  

This despair is tough to handle; this hopelessness is not something we, as New Yorkers, accept well. You see, we gain our strength from our communities, our schools, our churches, our religious leaders, our people. That camaraderie and strength were beginning to diminish as we lacked that interaction and sense of community. This is why we live in “the city that never sleeps”: Because, at any given time, we can find someone to relate to and share a pleasant conversation with. The notion that New Yorkers are rude is not a thing we understand, because we understand each other perfectly. Where a simple nod of a head to a stranger is telling them, “Good Morning. Have a great day.” It is our unspoken language that only a true New Yorker can understand. Yet, this pandemic has even taken that away from us, thus making us feel hopeless and angry.  

However, even at our lowest moments, we still refuse to be defeated, and through the gray clouds, we find sunshine, and I can say with eyes wide open, we find resilience in every bad situation. New Yorkers have a thing wherein we tend to band together in tough times, regardless of differences. This is where you’ll see  people out shopping for their elderly neighbors or a front-line workers who did not have time to shop. I know an Uber driver giving free rides to nurses and doctors. Restaurants and bars were getting creative by either giving to the community or to the hospitals so our doctors, nurses, and hospital workers don’t have to worry. Friends of mine created headbands that masks could attach to — to give the ears a break from long hours of having elastic cut into them — to donate to nurses at the hospital  Then, in a single gesture of gratitude, every day at 7 p.m., people go outside and simply yell THANK YOU, or cheer, or play drums, or clap. For all of the front-line workers that have given up their lives, their safety to make sure we all are safe in our homes as they battle this pandemic.  

I have to say that most New Yorkers are proud of the work our mayor and governor have done. Although some feel their response was, at first, slow, and that there have been many times when the two butted heads, when it came down to it, they both put New York first.  

After six weeks into quarantine and lockdown, New York City is slowly beginning to show small glimmers of its old self. As the weather gets warmer, people are slowly heading back out, and the streets are slowly starting to become alive again.  However, things have changed. While other states are fighting to open, and other cities’ people are arguing over wearing, and refusing to wear, a mask, here in New York, most people are being compliant and not complaining. We may not like the new normal, but we are coping and dealing with it. We all wear masks, and we all keep our distance – from strangers at least — and, at the same time, we’ve all come to realize how important we are to each other. And, as a city, we are all in this together. 


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