NYC in a Time of Lockdown

By Marivir R. Montebon

A day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered to close bars and restaurants and reduce their services to takeouts and deliveries, the first to disappear was my favorite halal street food cart. At first, I presumed that my warm, delicious $6 chicken-over-rice would still be accessible on Broadway because it only served the hot meals on-the-go. But I was wrong. When I walked down to the corner before the 96th Street subway station to buy my dinner, the food cart was gone! Since then, I’ve been missing my halal chicken.

I also missed the days when coffee shops and restaurants were open until late. It’s the best place for work colleagues and friends to hang out to unwind or discuss work. For sure, small businesses, which comprise 50% of the business in NYC, have been hardest hit by the lockdown since early March.

Small business owners were first to cheer after a moratorium on eviction of renters who couldn’t pay rent as a result of the recession is being implemented for three months. That moratorium is until June.

So now the city that never sleeps is actually taking intermittent naps. Until when? Maybe until July or August of this year. I don’t want to hurry. I have tried to make complete sense staying at home. It’s not just an eat-sleep-Netflix-repeat kind of life.

I have managed to perk up our virtual chat rooms on Facebook just to be in touch with everyone. Our FilAm Press Club NY has its chat room. My nuclear family has our own, and another one for my huge clan who are scattered in NYC, California, Cebu, Mindanao, and Siquijor. Then there is my high school chatroom and college chat room and a NY girlfriends chat room as well. So far, I have managed to be sane inside the new apartment in Manhattan.

The internet, despite all the many crazy things it has allowed such as the proliferation of fake news, has redeemed itself in the time of coronavirus – by linking people when physicality so prohibits.

On my workstation, which I call my war zone, is a huge picture of beloved daughter Leani Alnica, who passed on to a greater dimension, in November 2019, due to colon cancer. Staring at her picture, from time to time as I write, is actually energizing. Her smile eases my grief, and I think that perhaps, if she’s still around at this time, it would be doubly hard for her and me. I miss her everyday, but thought that God’s time is always perfect, always meaning to make things better for us.

As I write, my aunt is confined at the Elmhurst Hospital in Queens for she tested positive of COVID19. She was rushed to the ER for fever and hard breathing. Being diabetic and elderly, she is a vulnerable case.  Queens has the most number of COVID19 cases in the five boroughs here.

We have gone crazy in checking her out, through our cell phones and chat rooms. So this is how a COVID19 attack looks like: you cannot go with your loved one to the hospital, she is all by herself. You can only hope that she answers her cell phone or the doctor answers your call.

At the time of my aunt’s confinement, her older sister, who’s left at home was also running a fever. And we could not easily get an acetaminophen for that. Amazon had refused to take more orders for that day that I tried to order online. There was chaos and prayers of hope in my clan’s chatroom.

Now my aunt at Elmhurst is responding well to medication. But she is not yet out of the woods. She needs to be tested again if the COVID19 went away. Doctors said she is still contagious and must continue to be isolated. Meanwhile, my other aunt had to continue to hydrate and take immunoboosters big time, to keep the fever at bay.

A disturbing reality these days in NYC is the spate of suicides. This week, two incidents of suicides have been reported in the Upper West Side alone. And the siren of an ambulance that happens too often triggers my worry (I used to be annoyed by sirens in the city).  Another one goes to the ER, I’d reckon and say a prayer.

My thought goes to the thousands of nurses and doctors and staff in the frontlines of this war against an invisible enemy. I am in personal contact with friends and cousins who are nurses and doctors, and indeed could vouch for their alarm on the shortage of PPEs. It is ridiculously true.  The pandemic is not a political concoction of bringing down Pres. Trump, as right-wingers say. Frontliners are dying and they have to be given enough ammunition to fight the virus and save lives. By the end of this contagion, I don’t like to say it, but doctors and nurses may become among the rare species.

New York admittedly had acted late. The US acted late. No wonder it is now horrifyingly the epicenter of this new virus.  Decisive leadership is of the essence. And also, more importantly, community cooperation is needed. People should behave as prescribed – social distancing.

‘Stay at home’ is the rule every person has to follow. It is both simple and difficult, because New Yorkers are used to moving about so much. But this is the simplest contribution each one of us could do to contain the pandemic. Of course, wearing gloves and masks are a must as well.

Government projects that the worst is yet to come in the months of April and May. So, I sigh, God help us. And we have to be responsible too.

On the brighter side, locking down New York means having to keep the house immaculately clean and to change perspectives – that all we need is to be clean, to have only the essentials – food, water, vitamins, and to exercise (thanks to my nieces in Cebu who dance the tick tock like they’re my dance coaches!).

Money may not even be a main worry now, especially if rent and mortgages are suspended further. In New York these days, what matters is a clean home, a kindly relationship, and enough food supply. Hopefully, we all will become better after learning the lessons a virus has taught us.

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