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Living in New York City during COVID-19

The Great Realization: Living in New York City during COVID-19

I was infected with COVID-19 and have recovered. The urge to go outside, meet with friends, hug them, and be with them is eating on my consciousness. But I can’t, because New York City is still on pause and has been since March 22, the date that New York State Governor Cuomo ordered all non-essential businesses to close and public events and congregations to cease.

By Jako Douglas-Borren
My reality now is a five-block radius surrounding the apartment building, where I live with my partner and our two dogs. We only go outside to walk the little mongrels or to buy groceries at the store a couple of blocks down. Like many people in New York City, we live in a small one-bedroom apartment and although I’ve heard from many that they are about to climb the walls because of annoying roommates, we manage pretty well being in each other’s presence twenty-four seven. It’s not always easy though, and we do get on each other’s nerves from time to time. Mostly about small things, like being too loud when the other wants to sleep or forgetting to put the cap on the toothpaste – the usual stuff. But also, about not having an opportunity to be alone without stumbling over each other. However, being ill and getting through it together and finding acceptance in our current situation also strengthened our bond in a way.

It started late February. I suffered from the common flu as far as I could tell at that time. I can’t recall the last time I had the flu so in a way, it was a new experience for me – fever, coughing, headaches, nauseous – but it was just the flu I thought, and after a couple of days, I considered myself recovered and went about my daily routine of going to work, hanging out with friends, going out for dinner, dancing at the club, and enjoying life. A week later – it was on a Sunday morning around 4am – I woke up with intense chest pains and it would not go away. I told my partner that if it did not subside by Monday morning, I would call my doctor. Of course, it did not, and when I called my doctor, she told me to go to the emergency room, because it might be heart related.

At that time there was no significant talk yet of the novel corona virus and when we got to the hospital, I was rushed to the front of the line under the assumption that it might be a heart attack. After a full day of tests and probing, the conclusion was, that it was a pneumonia. The attending physician, who was not wearing a face mask nor gloves, prescribed me antibiotics. Two days later, I felt recovered enough to go back to work.

That was not the end of it though. About a week later, by the time the novel corona virus had started to hit the headlines, my partner and I started to feel feverish, had headaches, could not sleep, and we lost our sense of taste and smell. We tried to get tested, but COVID-19 testing was reserved for people who were hospitalized. It took us about three days of suffering and then we felt fine again, except for the sense of taste and smell — that still has not come back 100% to this date.

In the days following more information on COVID-19 become available and we now believe that we were part of a large group of people who had relatively mild symptoms and recovered. We have no proof of that yet and we are in the process of arranging the COVID-19 antibody test.

We reside in Brooklyn, NY. New York City has been hit hardest with more than 13,000 deaths to date and Brooklyn has the highest number of cases among New York City’s five boroughs. My neighbors from downstairs – an elderly couple – passed away in a matter of a week as a result of COVID-19. I wonder how many more people I know who have passed on unbeknownst to me.

The area where we live is relatively residential. A few bars here and there, but not like in Manhattan or Williamsburg, where you usually stumble over tourists during the day and party goers at night. When I go outside for a stroll with our dogs, not much seems different at first sight. The street we live on is a busy through way and that has remained with cars and trucks coming and going. Also, the usual number of people are walking the sidewalks, except that most now wear face masks. People try to remain six feet apart and that is not a problem on these wide streets. It’s more of a challenge in the grocery store with its narrow aisles to stock as much merchandise in this high rent business space. Other than that, the few bars in our area are closed, and our preferred liquor store only takes online orders for pickup.

The situation is different in Manhattan as I understand. I have not been to Manhattan in over seven weeks, when normally I would find myself there a couple of times per week, either for work meetings or to go out. But from what I’ve heard, the situation is a day and night difference. Quiet streets, businesses are closed, and people remain inside. Must be eerie.

Both my husband and I were able to keep our jobs and are now working from home. But that is not the case for a lot of other people. So many have lost their jobs and although the government has given out a one-time stimulus check for residents, that is only a band aid.

Work keeps me busy, with some days filled with back to back video calls. I have to admit that all these virtual meetings are starting to get to me. I read an article somewhere that video meetings take much more energy than in-person meetings because we are missing certain non-verbal communication cues that we now have to interpret on screen. I’m considering taking a day off to go fully offline – no phone, no laptop, no internet for a full day. I wonder if I have the discipline to actually pull this off.

Although my work and personal life are now combined in the same space, I do make a concerted effort to separate both. I start my day of with a workout routine followed by breakfast. Then I take a shower and get dressed — the same way I would as if I was going to the office. I work from our bedroom and my partner works from the living room. Some days we hardly see each other during the daytime. When I’m done with work, I leave my bedroom workspace in an effort to transition to personal time. That now consists of binge-watching shows on tv, video chatting with friends, or joining the occasional virtual dance party from the comfort of our apartment. And when the weather is nice, we take our dogs to the roof of our building to play some music and bath in the sun for a couple of hours.

The COVID-19 crisis and social distancing definitely has an impact on our mental health, but at the same time, it has also taken away some stress. In normal situations, there is always something to do in New York City and the fear of missing out is huge. Now that all events are canceled and businesses are closed, there is nowhere to go, and it is finally ok to do nothing – what a relief.

I saw this cute video today, titled “The Great Realization.” It was of a future dad reading a bedtime story to his kids. The story was about the time before 2020 when the world was consumed by constant growth and mass production, work-life balance had gotten lost, and although people could reach each other with the click of a button, they never felt more alone. The corona virus changed that. The earth could breathe again, people started to appreciate the outdoors and had learned new ways to connect with each other on a more meaningful and personal level.

Amidst all the pain that so many people suffer, I can see that sparks of hope are emerging, and I wonder what other lessons we can learn from this unprecedented experience. Until then, stay safe!

Jako Douglas-Borren was born and raised in The Netherlands and has been living in New York City for almost 15 years now. He came to New York City to study, but found love and decided to stay. Jako is now happily married and lives with his husband and their two dogs in the borough of Brooklyn, where he also works for the local LGBTQ+ community center.

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One comment

  1. Very interesting (and for most part recognisable) look inside the personal live of a NY inhabitant. Thx Jako!

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