What Life is Like in NY, the U.S. Epicenter of the Pandemic

Date: May 28, 2020 

By Fathima Lye, Youth Advisory Council member

Fathima Lye is a college junior in NYC. She is an advocate for school-based health centers and works to spread awareness on youth-centric issues and doing what she can to help. She hopes to engage with health professionals and youth across the country and impact lives for the better. 

The following reflects Fathima’s lived experiences, thoughts, and opinions on the coronavirus. 

It’s been over two months since life was “normal” and I know I’m not the only one who thinks once this is over, life won’t return to how it once was. 

Is it weird to say that I was already expecting the school closures and restricted travels? Prior to any formal action taken by the authorities, keeping up with the novel coronavirus led me to believe in the unexpected.  

The novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 started with one individual in Westchester, NY which turned into four then to 21 then to the hundreds and thousands of cases we have today. Now, no one expected such a rise in the numbers. With the rising numbers, I was expecting to hear news of school closures but was shocked when it actually happened. It’s like a dream that could be far from coming true, but it came true (not in the best way).  

I remember the day exactly, March 12th, 2020. I was on my lunch break from work at my college when I saw the tweets from the City University of New York (CUNY) stating that all colleges would close starting March 13th, 2020, and they would begin implementing distance learning for the remainder of the semester. Even though I was expecting this news, it took me by surprise. This was it. This was the last day on campus and the last time with the two friends that were there at that time, for who knows how long. As distance learning and new stay at home orders took place, it was a challenge to adjust. No one was to go outside unless essential, stay 6 feet apart, and not to mention the wearing of gloves and masks. The world and life we knew so well seemed to turn upside down so fast. Soon enough, the news I kept hearing was unbearable.

The world and life we knew so well seemed to turn upside down so fast.

For someone who is quite used to being home, quarantine wasn’t a major deal. It was nice to wake up a little bit later than usual and have a short break from school. Like others, I got bored most of the time in the beginning and relied on shows, puzzles and playing with my cat to pass the time. That only lasted so long, before the assignments hit me left and right. Being in the classroom and listening to lectures online are completely different. The structure I had of being in class and at work at a certain time left me. The student in me kind of left since this whole thing started.  

“New York City Region is now an epicenter of the coronavirus”. 

“Record high of 731 deaths due to covid-19”. 

“It is heartbreaking that 226 New Yorkers were lost yesterday to COVID-19”.  

“Tragically, three young New Yorkers have died of what may be a COVID-related illness in children”. 

I’m usually not the person who always stays on top of the news. However, every day since the rise of COVID-19, all I hear about are the deaths that surround me. 

I’m usually not the person who always stays on top of the news. However, every day since the rise of COVID-19, all I hear about are the deaths that surround me. In the beginning, I kept track of the number of cases and deaths in NY, and tuned in to hear New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s and Trump’s Task Force briefings, but, as time went on, it was unbearable. It was overwhelming to always hear the deaths and its rise, so I stopped listening. It took a toll on me. It wasn’t the easiest to focus on (online) school while being distracted with what’s happening around me and globally. I started to wonder, how are students expected to keep the same energy as we would in the classroom while many unseen factors are taking place in their lives?!  

For instance, my parents became ill, unrelated to COVID-19, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it wasn’t a scary time. I was the caretaker of the house, and it’s very unlikely that they both get ill like this at the same time. Nonetheless, they were out of work and I took care of all the house duties from cooking to taking care of their well-being. School was not my main priority. However, I did keep track of all my assignments and had most done prior to its due date so that I had some sort of a “break.” Despite the circumstances, it’s not in my nature to ever be late on school work. It was a tough two weeks. Fast forward, they became well (thanks to the most high) and were able to get back on their feet. Now, work for them was different as one can expect from times like this and they had to adapt quickly as they are essential workers. Many people lost their jobs due COVID-19 and it’s unfortunate. I, for one, was out of work. A job that I just started and began to really enjoy. I still don’t know where that stands today. 

Life is chaotic, more so in my mind while being very unsure of the future. With all the COVID-19 news, I was in disbelief when I found out the passing of my classmate’s mother due to this virus. I hear numbers all day but it surprised me to hear that this happened to someone I know. Not long after, I heard my best friend’s aunt passed away due to COVID-19. My best friend described her aunt’s condition and it saddened me. She described how the process of acquiring the body took way longer than any would expect and had a hard time doing so. However, once they got past that, she described how the body was carelessly thrown into the body bag and into a big refrigerated truck. She came to find out that IV’s, ventilator tubes, and other injections were still intact to her aunt’s body, and seemed to have just neglected the human body once claimed deceased. She also mentioned how her aunt’s husband was denied any information on his wife regarding her status and treatments prior to her death. I was upset when I heard that because I feel that the immediate family should know everything that’s happening.

Life is chaotic, more so in my mind while being very unsure of the future.

If the patients themselves do not know what is being put into their body or can’t make decisions for themselves, it is the family member’s right to be informed of such things. It is the staff’s job to update the family on treatments and so on. I didn’t know how medical professionals dealt with COVID-19 death cases but when I heard this, I was disheartened. I know it’s not easy for medical professionals, but this is not the first time I’ve heard about the neglect of staff for individuals with the virus. There’s many videos surfing the web on how medical professionals are “taking care” of their patients. However, this is the first and only time I’ve heard from someone that I know. I’m not attacking medical professionals in any way but it is awakening even to hear them speak out on their procedures and what they are told to do despite how unethical they may be (Daily Mail News)

On May 10, 2020, NY Governor Cuomo stated that “All nursing home staff must now be tested for Covid twice a week. This rule is not optional- it’s mandatory” (@NYGovCuomo, Twitter). I’ve personally heard that this also applies to assisted living facilities. This raises many questions for me. We’ve been told that NY has a testing capacity that’s greater than any other state in the US. If this is the case, how is it that those individuals who are ill and are waiting to get tested are still unable to? How do you expect workers in elderly care facilities who are well and are asymptomatic to get tested twice a week? I understand the elderly population is more vulnerable for this virus and they should be protected. If they want to protect the elderly, they would equip residents and staff with consistent access to masks, gloves, and sanitation products, separate those infected with the virus, and take more preventive measures to protect residents and staff from contracting (and spreading) the virus. Yet, there are cases where some facilities fail to maintain these precautions.

While some hospitals are being proactive and testing their workforce, it’s not universal across the city and the state. 

As important as testing is for elderly care workers, those on the front lines of fighting this pandemic are in dire need of the same testing frequency. Doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals who are working tirelessly, coming in contact with COVID patients, and are not being tested as regularly as they should, if at all. Is that even fair? I’m pretty sure the risk is higher for them than elderly care workers. I personally don’t find that fair, and two times a week? C’mon now, have you seen the way COVID-19 testing works? It’s definitely unpleasant and to do that 8 times a month! I can only imagine how much damage it can possibly do to your throat and nasal canal. There are many people who are in need of a test and can’t, yet here we are capable of giving two tests per week for nursing home and related workers (Reuters US). While there is a lack of testing for hospital workers, some hospitals like NYC Health + Hospitals are providing testing for their workforce. They have started testing in phases, starting with employees who are symptomatic and are in home isolation to employees who wants to take the test (NYC Health + Hospitals). While some hospitals are being proactive and testing their workforce, it’s not universal across the city and the state. The testing capacity for hospital workers does not equate to the level of emphasis being placed on nursing home like facilities. I don’t understand why there is no mandatory requirement for testing for those on the front lines. Not only that, but there are some faults in testing as well. Perhaps, it’s gotten better over time, but it goes unreported. According to an article on USA Today, Hospitals receive more money if a death is stated to be a COVID-19 case (up to $13,000 if COVID related pneumonia and even more if they’re on ventilators). Can you believe that? It’s frustrating. With all of the holes in the healthcare system, government, and economy, it’s hard to believe what’s true and what’s not.  

Our current situation has me questioning the steps those in authority are taking and how life will look like moving forward. I am worried about the future; it looks like a scary situation to come. I’m trying to stay hopeful that things will get better but I feel like that’s a long shot, at least right now. Despite the circumstances, I’m keeping myself calm and collected in the midst of all this chaos. Being mentally strong is important now more than ever, and that’s exactly what I’m doing. With all the information I’m acquiring, it helps to stop and take a break. That doesn’t stop the world from running, but you can’t function if you’re all burned out. It’s safe to say that nothing is “normal” anymore.