View from New York – light at the end of the tunnel or a train coming the other way?

Anybody I know who has lived in New York for any length of time has remarked in recent years that we don’t have shoulder seasons anymore. One day it’s winter and the next day it’s not. Nobody wears a spring or autumn jacket like we used to; your winter coat gets stored away at the end of April and re-emerges sometime around Thanksgiving in November. Well, it certainly felt like last Saturday was the day the Weather Service pulled a giant lever and summer returned. Just maybe. Over the weekend, temperatures peaked at around 27 Celsius (that’s 80 degrees in old money) under classic cobalt blue New York skies, and with that out came the hordes of people who have been cooped up in tiny cabin fever inducing apartments for the last two months.

Depending on how your working-from-home routine is structured, the weekend is still the weekend for the majority of people. I have a very flexible schedule and accordingly I have had the luxury of timing my weekday visits with my dog to the park across the way to make the most of emptier wide open spaces and lesser trodden paths in the wooded areas. Last weekend however it was mobbed, although I have to say people by-and-large adhered to the social distance guidelines. Six feet for humans, less for dogs and squirrels. Anticipating the surge in visitors, the City had taken the precaution of closing miles of streets to traffic around public spaces, essentially expanding the size of the parks, but it turns out it wasn’t necessary. According to news reports, enforcement of social distancing and face-covering rules varied from place to place. In some boroughs the Parks Department was handing out masks and welcoming people with friendly advice, in others picnickers were being summarily dispatched by the NYPD. In one grim incident, a cop was filmed beating a citizen in a social distancing related incident. He’s on desk duties for now.

With the albeit still horrific Covid-19 infection and death rates noticeably falling in New York at last (something like under 300 deaths a day down from around 800 a day), and the longer this pandemic goes on without anyone close or related to me succumbing seriously to the illness, I have noticed my levels of anxiety abating somewhat. Appalling as those statistics are, I believe we have almost become inured to them. The hospital ship has gone, the field hospital in Central Park was decommissioned, and ditto the one in the massive exhibition centre in Manhattan. I’m not hearing as many ambulance sirens outside as I did before (correction, there’s one now). Instead, I hear a neighbor in an apartment across the courtyard who sings opera every evening with his windows open, now the weather has improved. I guess he’s a professional singer rehearsing at home. Seeing the crowds of happy people enjoying life in the outdoors yesterday was a teaser that normality (or normalcy as they say here) might not be that far off in the future. Here’s hoping. Meanwhile, back in real life my office informed us on Friday that they don’t expect to have staff back in until June at the earliest, and even then in smaller rotational groups, wearing PPE.

I keep hearing that regular life can’t resume without testing, testing, testing. I’m agnostic on that because the way I see it you can test negative on Sunday and get infected on the way to work on Monday, but I’m not an epidemiologist. Until very recently only about 1% of the population of the United States had been tested but officialdom in New York estimates between a quarter and a third of us have had it, even if we were asymptomatic. My doctor of 18 years (as opposed to my 18 year-old doctor) has already diagnosed me as “presumptive”, and she and dozens of her patients also suffered a Covid-like affliction. However, tests are becoming more widely available and out of a mixture of boredom and curiosity last Friday, and based on my history of having had all the symptoms when I was extremely sick in March, I walked into a medical centre and stumped up $130 for an antibody blood test. There are two tests, one for the virus and one for the antibodies, but here’s the rub… a little light online research tells me that almost none of the tests nor the labs conducting them in the US have been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). I attended a well-established national diagnostic company who do bloodwork for everything from cholesterol to HIV. The small print on the company’s website cautions that the tests are not necessarily accurate and that antibodies from four or five other corona viruses could trigger a false result, amongst other factors. I got my result this morning. It was a four page report and the first line said, “COVID-19 Immune Response Result — Negative. Your test was negative, this indicates that you did not have IgG antibodies as an immune response to COVID-19 at the time your blood was collected.” The next four pages consisted of various legal disclaimers and caveats that the test was not to be relied upon in any way for basically anything Covid-related. I find it darkly humourous that anyone from my generation who lived through the 80s and 90s would be disappointed that their virus antibody blood test did not come back positive.

A note on managing anxiety. Despite my usual obsession with news media, I have found that being disciplined about how frequently I check the headlines helps alleviate stress. Having said that, I had a quick gander at the BBC and The Guardian websites with my coffee this morning and was infuriated to see that the first and foremost headline was that Love Island has been cancelled this summer. Because that is what really matters right now.

But while my Covid-related anxiety might be dissipating, I have a new obsession to keep me awake at night. A raccoon has taken up residence near the entrance to my building. Maybe it’s the lack of human activity on the street that brought it over from the park. Most evenings when I take my dog out for her final walk of the night, a stand-off ensues between us when I return and try and gain access to the door. It has a cute face and has the same proportions as a medium size dog but don’t be mistaken! These trash pandas are rabid, wild animals that have been known to bite canine and human alike. Stories abound of Brooklynites returning to their apartments to find their window screens opened, pet food kibble scattered around the kitchen, and maybe even a kitten eviscerated in a pool of blood on the floor. Accounts of people waking in the night so see a raccoon staring in through the bedroom window are giving me new nightmares. My fire escape is right next to my bed and I have resolved never ever to open that window, even when we are sweltering in the midst of a 38 degree July heatwave. That’s 80 Fahrenheit in old money.


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