Diary of a Disease

A woman who tested positive with the coronavirus is brought to the University of Nebraska Medical Center on Friday, March 6, 2020. She was transferred from Omaha’s Methodist Hospital in an isolation pod inside an ambulance. . Image © Chris Machian/Omaha World-Herald via AP.

March 20, 2020

I am in New York, “the epicenter of Covid-19,” the news on TV keeps blaring, as if proud of the achievement. New York has always been excessive, so why not now? More cases, more hospitalizations, more ICU admissions, more intubations, more deaths. The news is terrifying and at the same time completely at odds with the day-to-day experience of the city, which has become so strangely quiet, so peaceful. No traffic, no construction noise, no annoying car alarms, no random screams in the middle of the night. Even the ambulances are mostly silent without cars to fight against. The birds wake us up in the morning. Who knew there were so many birds downtown? There are not even parks around here and only a few trees. But maybe they came in as residents packed up their cars and left for their houses in the countryside or the beach—leaving behind a neighborhood of empty streets just like in the 1970s, when artists occupied abandoned, barely habitable lofts and there were no stores, no restaurants, and hardly anybody in the street. These same artists, at least some of them, are still around and now much more visible with all the newcomers and tourists gone. You see them in the little Korean grocery store on the corner, with their masks on, carefully selecting their vegetables, or walking slowly in the street with their dogs, or picking up take-out from restaurants. But it is the buildings themselves that have become the main actors again, the real occupants of the streets. The character of each one jumps out, etched in astonishing detail, constantly changing with the light. Could that beautiful abandoned New York return?

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