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Post Grad

NYC During the COVID-19 Crisis

Changes disrupting daily life have emerged faster than a New York minute over the past week. In the course of three days the city has begun to shut down. Life as we know it is evolving to the quick changes implemented across the world. But that doesn’t mean people are taking the hint.

Let’s start on Wednesday, March 4. I was offered an extension on my internship that would technically turn into a paid, temp position (yay!). The position entailed my support at a slew of events planned with the museum in tandem with the conjoining city-wide events with Frieze Week, one of the biggest art shows New York holds every year. I felt so happy that the Development team understood my work ethic and wanted to keep me on board for additional time. I texted my mom – excited to share that I would stay in New York until late May (hoping this opportunity would definitely turn into a PT or FT position).

A couple of days later on Friday, March 6. I was attending the Armory Show with some of the other Guggenheim interns. This is the other big art show New York holds every spring – hosting an average of 55,000-65,000 attendees each year. The general sentiment at the time was that this virus was not as serious as everyone was making it out to be. People were still somewhat mindful that ‘something was going around’, but no one was fully practicing extra health precautions. The first confirmed case in NYC was not announced until March 1.

Going around the Armory Show there were about a couple dozen people I saw donning masks and gloves, and even one wearing lab goggles. Hand sanitizer stations were posted by food outposts and restrooms, signs reminding attendees of good hygiene practices. Booths and works were clustered close together. People were mindful of avoiding personal contact with one another. But there was no fear what-so-ever.

Saturday night, March 7 I went out. It was the first time I went out at night since living in the city. I spent an evening with a fellow cohort mate of my master’s program, Marissa, who lives and works in NYC. We strolled across the Village for a half hour or so looking for a place to eat that wasn’t a two-hour wait. We ended up at a gluten-free Italian place where I enjoyed overpriced bruschetta and a glass of red wine – that had every table full of happy and loud people. Then we shifted closer to NYU and went to a two-story bar that only reminds me that I was glad to be out of college. We spent 45 minutes or so there. I can’t tell you how many people I was around, but I can tell you that I later regretted the decision to potentially expose myself to someone with COVID-19.

before the COVID-19 outbreak, using dishes that would need to be washed

Before and after implementing food service changes

after the COVID-19 outbreak, using dishes that should be thrown away after use

Living in an all-women boarding house the staff were smart to decide that they would immediately implement safe food serving and cleaning practices. Our meals were served cafeteria-style with an additional soup and salad bar set out. Now everything is prepared and served behind the counter. They have silverware already wrapped up in napkins ready to go, all food items are prepared by food service staff, and our drinks must be poured into provided containers instead of directly into our own personal water bottles or mugs. Just a couple of days ago they transitioned into single-use plastic and paper products instead of washing dishes. Common spaces and bathrooms are cleaned multiple times a day. The risk is too high.

Sunday, March 8 I visited the Whitney Museum of American Art. I used the High Line to get there since I live right next to Hudson Yards where it begins/ends. There were many visitors to the museums, cramming in to see their coveted exhibition, Vida Americana. Truth be told I was there solely for that reason as well. After discovering their permanent collection (I forgot about Demuth’s My Egypt!) and their temporary exhibition, I wandered out to the balcony to bask in the sun. It was such a great sense of carelessness. I was living in the moment. Pinching myself over the views, the weather, and the overall sense of happiness I was experiencing.

Monday, March 9, it was a normal day where I caught my 9:20ish E train to WTC and it was nowhere near as crowded as it would have been on a typical morning. I had no concern about finding a seat or worrying about someone cramming in the middle seat next to me. I ate my lunch outside in Zuccotti Park (remember Occupy Wall Street?) since it was such an abnormally warm and sunny day. Again, I did not have to worry about finding a seat since there were not as many people there as usual.

Wednesday, March 11 was my first (and last) day stationed at the museum just to shadow the public-facing membership desk on the floor. This was built into my schedule two weeks ago so this was either good or bad planning. Before opening to the public, sanitation workers were already deep cleaning all high touch surfaces (doors and door handles, countertops, elevator buttons, etc.). We also spent some time wiping off our desk countertops, credit card readers and buttons, computer keyboards, etc. Over an hour into opening we had maybe, maybe 150 people come through our doors. I spent only an hour and a half at the desk which resulted in interacting directly with two members (being handed their membership card or photo ID). Yes, I immediately used hand sanitizer following those interactions.

The night before we had already decided to cancel our March 27 Art After Dark program. We planned to send the email blast that afternoon. Unfortunately, our email inbox was still receiving questions about the event or people already asking for refunds. After lunch I transitioned upstairs to the office space for membership to assist Huong with typical inbox and phone inquiries to alleviate those concerns before the inbox was inundated with ‘please refund my tickets’ emails. We were warned shortly before the emails went out and within 5 minutes, the inbox was flooded. I felt so stressed and helpless to the team because I was not allowed to assist with that project. Surprisingly, people were only making phone calls in response to the mailing they recently got to renew their membership early and receive an additional two months (our normal renewal cycles).

Thursday, March 12 I stayed in my apartment the entire day, applying for jobs, seeking solace in career ambitions. I also spent time planning my ‘final day of fun’ for the next day where I wanted to swing by before being confined to my apartment building for the indefinite future.

Friday, March 13 was a day I needed for my mental health. I did indeed take the subway, but for the least amount of time possible. I wore gloves, sat away from everyone, and rode the quickest trains. I first went over to Brooklyn to drop by DUMBO, take in that one photo sans Empire State Building between the legs of the Manhattan Bridge because it was so cloudy. There was only a couple other people there that I had take my photo (to which I wiped down after they did that), and nannies out walking children in strollers along the waterfront. There was a deep sense of gloom. Not only because of the weather, but the pure lack of people and signs of everyday life.

Continuing on in the direction of the piers spilling out into the East River and the bay, I walked to pier 5, out towards the water. I spent about 15 minutes or so watching the fog roll off Lady Liberty’s upward arm. The clouds slicing FiDi’s buildings in half. An ominous chill sweeping up from the Atlantic. At that moment, I felt compelled to check my email. Lo and behold two emails from my Guggenheim account declaring my deep suspicion 1. since the museum is closed indefinitely, interns cannot telecommute or work remotely; and 2. that my extension was no longer needed for the Advancement team.

I was not surprised. These documents merely confirmed my deepest fear – what is going to happen? I am still in the dark. My spring internship is supposed to go until Friday, April 17. My flight home was planned for that Sunday, April 19. At the bare minimum most NYC public institutions are closed until at least the end of the month. After that who knows? The city is not closed. There is a great sense of pressure to do so. But the state of New York is under a state of emergency. Mayor de Blasio is being called upon by City Council members to #ShutDownNYC, including the decision to close restaurants and bars. Although, New Yorkers can sign up for text alerts by texting COVID to 692-692… Live updates are found here.

Tourists and locals alike have proven that they either do not care or are fully informed with how serious this situation is. The problem lies in the people that act reckless because they think are causing no harm by being out and about, exposing themselves to anyone and everyone. By unknowingly becoming a vector in carrying the virus, you can risk infecting immunocompromised individuals that will most likely not survive the consequences of getting sick from COVID-19. People packed into bars and restaurants Saturday, March 14. Ages across the board represented with an infant as well as folks in their 50s. People that are panic buying a lifetime supply of toilet paper. I don’t get it. There is a reason why work and schools have shifted to remote communication! It really feels like the beginning of a horror movie.

At this time, I think it is best that I try to return home as soon as possible. I just received an email from HR at the Guggenheim (as of 8:31pm Sun. Mar. 15) that an employee at the downtown office, who was there Monday morning, is showing symptoms that are presumptively COVID-19. I was there Monday morning… This is why you must remain at home! It can take up to 10 days for people to be symptomatic.

Given how quickly changes are being made everywhere, I wouldn’t doubt that domestic flights are going to be severely limited or discontinued indefinitely. It makes the most sense for my mental and physical health to go back to Kansas. Not to mention the financial benefit of not paying NYC rent and inflated prices for an additional month.

What have I been doing? Finally writing some new content for my website, finishing the series I’ve been watching on Netflix, taking long naps, watercoloring, getting up to the rooftop of my building for some vitamin D, and reading. It is in everyone’s best interest to stay inside. The city will always be here, and I shall return home.