It’s been 11 weeks since I left my Times Square office, got the subway back to my apartment, and stayed here. It’s been 77 days quarantining in my downtown New York abode, working from home with no human contact ever since my roommate left to escape the city.
Back in February, I watched a video of a young Irishman leaving Wuhan on an emergency plane. The Irish government helped citizens evacuate the province of Wuhan because the Covid-19 outbreak was escalating so quickly. I felt for him, thinking it was a unique experience that no one that young should have to go through. I choked up when he mentioned how he didn’t know if he was ever going back to Wuhan, where he’d set up a life for himself. His mother waited with tears in her eyes when he got off the bus at Dublin airport. It was all so foreign and unclear for them. It was all so tough to watch.
As I write this, New York’s numbers are almost 4 times more than Wuhan ever was.
In March, the Irish Department for Foreign Affairs made an announcement to urge Irish citizens without a stable situation (job, health insurance, etc) to return from New York, as the positive Covid-19 cases were racking up and the city went into complete lockdown. The Irish news covered the overflowing NY hospitals, the funeral homes that couldn’t keep up, and the busiest streets in the world, now desolate.
Should I leave Manhattan? Loads of my friends were waving goodbye to life as they knew it. I stared at the Aer Lingus site for 40 minutes and couldn’t decide what was right or wrong. It felt like a big risk. I would be facing hundreds of people on a packed plane who could potentially give me a virus that could kill me, or I could pass it on to someone else along the way. I’d have to rent somewhere to quarantine alone for 2 weeks before seeing my family. But my whole life is in the US now and I didn’t know how I felt about leaving it. My brain was buzzing.
I’ve been in New York for 4 years, I thought. My job was as busy as ever and my health insurance would mean I could get into a hospital if I needed to. I felt that traveling home would be, as my Dad remarked, “out of the frying pan, into the fire.” Sure I wanted to see my parents, but with the US borders closed, it was unclear as to when I would get back into the country. Logically, it made every bit of sense for me to stay put. Emotionally, I was torn.
The weeks went by both slowly and very fast. Nothing happened, yet everything changed. I woke up every day with a heaviness that I blocked out. I forced myself to watch the news so I could understand the facts (thank you, Cuomo), but it was bad news…day in and day out. Trump threatened to halt immigration and for 24 hours, my stomach was in knots. Was he going to boot us all out? I was also in the midst of a new visa application that was already put on hold. Depending on Trump’s next move, I could’ve lost thousands of dollars and potentially be put a step back in my career. My situation felt so trivial but it mattered to me. My friend watched Trump’s address that day where he announced the immigration update. I was too nervous to see it for myself. She text me to say it only affecting green cards and that meant it didn’t affect me. I was still annoyed (but not surprised) as to how he used an immigration ban as a remedy for the increasing cases in the US, but that’s a different conversation.
We’ve seen almost 350,000 positive Covid-19 cases in New York, with a heartbreaking 22,000 fatalities since our first case on March 1st. Manhattan’s streets are still empty, the retail stores that line 5th Avenue are boarded up, and seeing someone without a mask is a rare sight. The city that never sleeps is empty for the first time in history. I’m humbled to see New York go through this historic time, but also saddened by the lack of life around me as a constant reminder of this vicious virus.
As each day passes, I am slowly but surely feeling as though life as I used to know it has become a thing of the past, as though we’re never going back and that we will need to start fresh. I feel anxious about life after quarantine. Will it be restricted to a point of misery? Coping with the unfortunate truths is distressing and as conversations on ‘reopening’ continue to creep to the top of Governor Cuomo’s daily briefings, I can’t help but feel more nervous coming out of quarantine than I did going into it.
Regardless of what the government says, myself, my job, and most of my friends are set on staying safe for the foreseeable. Afterall, coronavirus isn’t leaving us anytime soon. There will be no birthday celebrations, no Hamptons getaways, no rooftop drinks, or no summer romances. No networking events, no office camaraderie, and no visits from family. There will be loads to miss and plenty to grieve. But, if we keep positive, there will always be lessons, love, and life somewhere to be found.