The Way The Lucky Ones Live During A Pandemic

I have a new routine. 

I wake up at 7:45 a.m. and roll out of bed, out of my pajamas and into my day leggings. I brush my teeth and wash my face and do a 30 to 60-minute workout in a mat-sized space I’ve carved out of my tiny living room to use as my “home gym.” I check in on Slack with my colleagues. I write. (Some days, this goes better than others.) I Zoom into a meeting. I cook something (probably an Alison Roman recipe). Maybe I FaceTime for social interaction. Maybe I watch something on Netflix. Maybe I livestream some yoga. Maybe I run out to buy food and try to stave off a panic attack at the grocery store. I drink a glass of wine. I take off my day leggings and change back into pajamas. Some days, the whole schedule thing goes to hell because it can be impossible to be productive during a global crisis and I’m just trying not to lose my mind. I go to bed. Repeat. 

If you’re also privileged enough to be able to work remotely and practice social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic, parts of my routine may feel familiar to you. (It is a truth universally acknowledged that a millennial woman stuck at home must be in want of a banana bread or a sourdough starter, or at least a decent Netflix queue.) This is how we live now if we’re very lucky. 

Of course, we — the white-collar working class of New York City and the other cities across the nation and the world that have been hit hardest by this pandemic — are the lucky ones. The ones who have the great privilege to practice social distancing and work remotely. The ones who have apartments that are comfortable enough to work and maybe even play in. The ones who have health care. The ones who have savings and/or access to a regular paycheck. We can order many essentials online and have them delivered to our doors, or we can mask up and walk a short distance every few days to gather food and pharmacy items by hand, only worrying about trying to stay 6 feet away from others and hoping that the last bag of lentils hasn’t been snagged by other shoppers yet.

The beauty of this city is that you can be alone while surrounded by people. You can cry on the subway without interruption and share physical space with people on a daily basis that you will never actually know. Now everyone — friends and strangers alike — must be viewed as potential carriers of a deadly virus, or a potential recipient of whatever dangerous germs you may be carrying around unknowingly. 

There is something fundamentally jarring about watching a bustling place become still all at once. My Apple Health app cruelly reminds me that I’m “taking fewer steps on average” than I was last year, which is … an understatement. At last check, I had taken just 269 steps today. On a more normal day, I would be running down four flights of stairs to get out of my home and onto the subway, down another two flights of stairs and then back up again on the other side. I would pass hundreds of people commuting like me from Brooklyn to Manhattan. I might traverse three boroughs in one day. Now, I jog around my neighborhood with a scarf over half of my face, turning down side streets to avoid as many human beings as possible.

Some telltale signs of city life remain: The muffled sounds of neighbors. The blaring sounds of ambulances. And the fact that you can get a batched cocktail and a roll of toilet paper delivered to your door. 

The sirens seem to get closer with each passing hour. A few nights ago, I went to take the recycling out — the first time I had left my building in nearly three days — and parked outside, lights flashing, on my normally quiet residential block, was an ambulance. I wondered who was in there. I wondered what building they were coming from. I wondered if they would ever see their loved ones again. During our Zoom meeting the next day, my co-worker told us that on her short daily sojourn outside in Manhattan, she had passed at least four ambulances. Emergency dispatch calls have reached volume levels not seen since 9/11. On Wednesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo referenced a model that projects 16,000 New Yorkers will die from the coronavirus. You could nearly fill Madison Square Garden with 16,000 people. 

If you don’t already know someone who is very sick with COVID-19, you inevitably will. People always say that New York is so small for being so big. In a city of more than 8.5 million people, you will always run into the ex that smashed your heart into a million tiny pieces. Now, that uncomfortably small big-ness means you are just waiting for more bad news: for your friend or your family member to test positive, to wake up with chills and body aches, to stop being able to breathe on their own.

And in the meantime, we are trapped without access to the coping mechanisms so many of us have developed to combat anxiety and depression: namely, human contact with our friends, family members and therapists.

As the instructor of the workout class I was able to stream to my Roku television said the other night, “Things aren’t great, but we’re OK.” 

I’ve been thinking about these words a lot, especially as it becomes increasingly clear that things aren’t great for anyone, but those most vulnerable among us certainly are not OK. The coronavirus has laid bare the economic inequalities and systemic inadequacies that have always existed in this city and across the country. More than 10 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in March. Our health care workers do not have access to enough protective gear. The richest among us have fled to vacation properties by the beach or the countryside, while the poorest clean our now-empty offices and deliver our groceries and our Amazon packages.

There is hope that some good will come out of this tragedy. Perhaps people will finally understand why fighting climate change right now is so imperative. Perhaps more employers will extend paid sick leave to their contract employees. Perhaps there will be greater support for policies that decouple health insurance from employment altogether. Perhaps many of us will take a beat and learn to be a little kinder, a little more grateful, a little more thoughtful about the way we move about the world and interact with the people in it. 

I can see it now: a day when we’ll emerge from our cramped homes, breathe in the fresh air without a mask on and look around at other people doing the same with understanding instead of fear. What a beautiful day in the neighborhood, we’ll think.

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