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Thursday, April 30, 2020

COVID SIDE OF LIFE. Day 45: Saved by the Buzzer…

Pandemic Log: Thursday, 30th April 2020

Our buzzer rang as it often does these days, but unfortunately for the moment it is a one-way street, as we cannot hear the person seeking entry at the other end of the intercom.

So, other than when we have ordered a meal from a local restaurant or are expecting a scheduled grocery delivery, it is mostly scrambled guesswork to determine if it is the mailman, a package being delivered early or some random person seeking to gain entry into our building.

We were awaiting packages from Amazon and Walmart but neither was due today, but as both have delivered earlier than the estimated date, we again assumed it was one of them.

About forty-five minutes later I got dressed to go down and pick it up the package. As I opened the front door, I was greeted by a lonely looking Shake Shack bag sitting on the floor, in front our of apartment door. Nobody had knocked and there was nobody around.

I walked downstairs to see if there was someone waiting for an Uber Eats delivery, and not seeing anyone, I checked the name on the delivery receipt. I found a phone number but no address or other details. The name was not familiar to me, and I know everyone in our building.

So I called the number in the hope that I could return the food to its’ rightful hungry owner. Turns out the number was not the customers but for Uber’s customer service. My first attempt at following the recorded prompts led to failure. The message at the end of my menu options said there was nobody available to take my call, and that I should try calling later.

More than the customer (who will likely get a refund or re-delivery), I felt sorry for the delivery person, as I was not sure if Uber would and make them pay for the re-delivery or refund.  I continued to try and get in touch with customer service but after three more failed attempts to reach a human being, I was at a loss to find resolution.

Yesterday was our wedding anniversary, which I had forgotten and my wife just happens to love Shake Shack…I guess this is what they mean when they say “don’t look a gift-horse in the mouth.”

Sunday, April 26, 2020

COVID SIDE OF LIFE. Day 42: What Passing-bells for Those Who Die of Covid?

New York’s Hart Island; where unclaimed bodies are buried

NOTE: title is co-opted from one of my favourite poems “Anthem for Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen.

Pandemic Log: Sunday, 26th April 2020

Living can often be a lonely business in New York City; especially for older people who never married, have no kids or family members still alive. At the best of times this life can be cruel for these older warriors but now Covid has made it even crueler.

We live in one of five buildings and many of the apartments are rent stabilised, so quite a few are occupied by these older, single tenants who have lived here since the early 1970’s. They are retired teachers, healthcare workers and city employees. We share a building superintendent and handyman, so over the years we have gotten to know many of them; if not by name then by face, and through various neighborly interactions or shouting matches with the building super.

Those of us who skew younger tend to check-in on our older warriors that reside in our block. One of these warriors died yesterday. He lived two buildings over but I had been introduced to him a couple of years ago by another neighbour. His name was Richard.

I remember Richard vividly. I would see him walk up our street on summer evenings carrying two heavy bags filled with stuff. He always carried the same two bags. One a cloth tote and the other was one of those old supermarket plastic bags, before they switched to the cheap, flimsy plastic that rips by the time you get home. It was clear that both bags had seen better days.

The bags looked very heavy and he would pause numerous times, resting them on the ground, along the roughly two hundred yard distance from the corner of the street to his apartment building. I once offered to help him carry his bags but he declined, saying he could manage and thanked me. I always wondered to myself what he was carrying in them; where he had gone and where he was returning from every evening.

The neighbour who introduced us had a dog, and our dogs were friends. So on summer evenings we would sometimes sit on the steps into the building and talk about life and work, as our dogs entertained themselves or scared passing dogs by ganging up on them.

It was on one of these evening that this neighbour introduced me to Richard. That evening too he had made his slow and precise journey up the street with his two bags and multiple rest stops. Richard told me that he thought my dog was very cute and asked if he could pet her. As he enticed her to come over, I asked if he had a dog. He told me that he was a cat person but that he generally liked animals and found them to be kinder than most humans in this city.

After that I do not remember the specifics of our conversation but we probably talked about how unfriendly people could be in this city or the unusually hot spell we were having. But I do remember one other detail. He wore the same sneakers every day, but that day I noticed for the first time that his right shoe had big hole around the toe area. I remember that it made me feel sad, and my instinct was to offer to buy him another pair but I did not know how to make the offer; so I never did.

After that day, we would greet each other every time we met and he would put his hand out to beckon my dog over to pet her. But we never had another real conversation.

It turns out that Richard had been dead for over a week. The police and coroner had to remove his body wearing hazmat suits due the possibility that Covid had caused his demise.

Last night when I was out walking my dog, a police van suddenly zoomed up and parked in from of Richard’s building. I saw three cops proceed into the building with masks, protective gloves and long sticks. My neighbour informed me that they had come to round up Richard’s cats.

It turns out that prior to this pandemic about 20 to 25 people died every day in their homes, but since March that number has increased to more than 200 people per day. However, we know that Covid has been far more deadly for those over sixty-five years of age and is likely decimating our old, single warrior population that Richard was a member of.

It breaks my heart to think that at the best of times these warriors are lonely, but now Covid has snatched from them the one lifeline of human contact they had, at their local library, supermarket or from greeting their neighbours on the street.

I wonder what is crueler; dying during normal times and fading from existence because there is nobody alive that knows you, or to be remembered as a statistic of a global pandemic.

Friday, April 17, 2020

COVID SIDE OF LIFE. Day 33: The New Normal?

(Image: Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Pandemic Log: Friday, 17th April 2020

I read today that one of the conditions for airlines to start flying people again will be that they cannot sell middle seats to passengers for the foreseeable future.

It got me thinking about what our new normal might resemble, once countries begin to re-open their economies for business and pleasure as they end the current lock downs.

The one thing abundantly clear to me it that there will be no semblance of 'pre-covid' normalcy in our daily lives and activities until we invent a vaccine, and have mandatory vaccinations for people; we are still twelve to eighteen months away from an available vaccine.

So, once we start to re-open the economy, in order to prevent a 'second wave', this what I believe the new normal will likely look like, at least until the end of 2021 because it will take that long vaccinate enough people to achieve herd immunity.

ONE: Temperature checks at our places of work, malls and maybe even movie theaters and restaurants. Employers will also require access medical records to track employee health; this will require temporary updates to current HIPPA guidelines.

TWO: We will be administered antibody tests in order to be cleared to resume work. Those who have not developed antibodies might need to be tested weekly. According to a Harvard professor this means that the US will need the capability to administer at least 500,000 tests per day. Currently, at the peak we are managing only at 145,000 tests per day.
THREE: Bluetooth-based contact tracing will be used to track, and inform people when they come into contact with someone with Covid. Those who came into contact will be required back into 14 day quarantine. Interestingly, privacy advocates, healthcare experts and elected officials agree that contact tracing is critical to preventing future outbreaks; they just need to agree to data privacy protections that need to accompany such a system.

FOUR: It will be mandatory to wear face masks in public spaces, on public transportation and probably anywhere there will be more than five people gathered.

FIVE: Social distancing rules will need to be observed at offices (hooray, to the end of open office concept), restaurants, grocery stores and movie theaters; likely anywhere that people congregate.

SIX: Those who are vulnerable, like older folks and the immune-compromised, will be required to continue to curtail their activities until they are vaccinated.

Basically, unless you are Larry David and believe this is what normal should always have been – we will all need to adjust the new abnormal.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

COVID SIDE OF LIFE. Day 27: Terror in the Hood


Pandemic Log: Saturday, 11th April 2020

Out walking the dog this afternoon and one block from us there was some serious police activity underway.

The entire street was shut and there were literally dozens of fire trucks, police cars and ambulances everywhere. Uninformed police officers and the NYPD’s Counter Terrorism Unit had cordoned off the street at both ends and nobody was being allowed to enter; even if they lived on the block.

A friend who lives on this block texted to tell us that the cops told her that if she wanted to leave her apartment, she would not be allowed back again.

Reporters were on the scene from at least one major network but they could not tell me what was happening. However, one journalist asked if she could take a picture of my dog!

I tried asking one of the CTU officers about what was going on, he hesitated for a moment and then simply said “they are investigating an incident”.

As part of our walk we came around to the other end of the street because that is where our fruit vendor is located. This was when I saw the bomb disposal unit truck.

We took pictures as we walked by and did not stop but that was not true of a number of my fellow New Yorker's; many had started to gather.

There was by no means a large crowd; as there might have been during normal times but more than there should be gathering during a pandemic that requires there to be no congregation of people.

I guess after having been locked down for close to a month, there is a desperate need for some action or more likely desperation to get a more exciting Instagram video.

As we picked up our groceries and started back home, my wife texted to say that her friend who lived on the street called to say that a fireman told her that they had discovered a pipe bomb...

UPDATE: turns out an emotionally disturbed person made 911 call about a suspicious package, which they claimed was a pipe bomb. It was not.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

COVID SIDE OF LIFE. Day 24: Strangers in the Night

Pandemic Log: Wednesday, 8th April 2020

Since the lock down began a few weeks ago the streets around our neighbourhood have started to get more desolate, and I have noticed some sketchy men wandering around at night.

Last night, when I was out waking my dog I saw a man walking towards me. He was behaving very erratically and looked threatening, but as I turned onto the street, he kept going up the avenue.

From the corner of my eye I spotted a young woman walking alone in the same direction that the man had just walked off in; instinctively I doubled back towards the avenue.

Sure enough the man had started to menacingly block this woman's path. Clearly scared she crossed the street to avoid him but he proceeded to follow her;,crossing diagonally so that he could stay a few feet ahead. As she proceeded, he moved to block her path again. She said something and then turned and started to walk faster, and he picked up his pace to follow her.

Again she began to cross the street and again he followed; now openly chasing after her.

At this point I picked up my dog and walked into the middle of the street, to meet her halfway, and said to her, "Walk with me."

She was visibly shaken but grateful as we started walking together. He had again followed and was now approaching us head-on. She told me that she said to him that she was not carrying money, but that he just kept coming at her. I told her that, I had noticed him behaving erratically.

As we walked past him, I put myself as a buffer between him and the girl and looked him in the eye, at that point he mumbled something about looking for someone and then crossed and skulked away.

She kept thanking me and saying me how grateful she was, and how she never felt unsafe on the Upper West Side before. I told her I was happy to walk as many blocks as she wanted, but after about three blocks when it became clear that he was not turning back, she told me she was fine.

She thanked me again, and I told her it was not necessary, but added that I had seen a lot of strange folks wandering around out at night and it was probably better to walk during the day, for now.

Nobody should feel unsafe walking our streets at night, but these are strange times...