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RBC | As of today, March 31, my partner, John, my little dog Milo, and I are entering our 22nd day of coronavirus isolation inside our 650 sq. ft Manhattan apartment. This week, I was supposed to fly to Meeker for my quarterly dose of family love and mountain air. Instead, I’m writing to you from New York City with a first-hand account of life at the epicenter of the global coronavirus outbreak. I don’t want to scare you — I want to empower you to protect our beloved Rio Blanco County community, before my reality becomes yours.
Today, the count for total cases of coronavirus in the state of New York, according to the New York Times, is 75,795 (up 9,000-plus from yesterday). This is almost 5x more cases than the next closest state, our neighbor, New Jersey at 16,636; and 10x more cases than in California (7,425), the third most affected state.
COVID-19 first felt real to me when I got an email from my employer mandating I work from home until…indefinitely. Life has been helter skelter since then — a co-worker told me he fashioned a desk for his home office out of an ironing board and another recounted the chaotic story of taking paid time off to make a final pilgrimage to the laundromat before all essential business ceased (many NYC apartments don’t have laundry facilities).
We started quarantining 22 days ago, and since, I have not spoken face-to-face to another human being, besides John (and Milo, if you count her). I only leave our tiny apartment for two or three dog walks each day, bagging the clothes I wear outside, and re-sanitizing all surfaces, door handles, and light switches upon return. We haven’t been to the grocery store in 16 days, but we’re low on coffee beans, so the clock is ticking.
Restaurants that are still open are restricted to delivery-only orders. A bar in my neighborhood is offering to-go cocktails, and desperate for business, they’re throwing in a free roll of toilet paper with every $30 spent.
Last weekend, I ordered cookies from a bakery. I opened the door to the delivery man who had propped my order on his backpack which he placed on my landing. He waved to me from the other end of the hall and yelled “sorry!” Dressed head to toe in black, including his mask, he looked like a warrior, which he was. I only wished I’d asked him to risk life (literally) for something more meaningful than a glutinous late night craving…
The less amusing changes to life feel dark. Yesterday, my friend, a nurse, cried to me over the phone before her shift. She was too tired to be scared, she said. The Javits Center, a massive NYC events venue where I’ve been to many a conference, has been converted to 2,500 overflow hospital beds and the UNSN Comfort, a 10-story-tall military medical ship, usually used in humanitarian efforts abroad (hurricane and earthquake relief), is docked on the Hudson River…waiting.
Today I expect to get the news that the White House will shut down all roads in and out of New York City, preventing anyone from entering or leaving.
Together, despite the great divisions of our time, New Yorkers have forced ourselves into a frustratingly rigid routine of stillness and patience. Ironically, its equalizing effect has delivered us to a place of unity through the understanding that our only hope is to trust each other to do the right thing, to stay home. New York has been here before — and while we’ve lost more people to coronavirus so far than we did on Sept. 11, 2001, we’ll persevere with the same familiar resiliency.
One of my favorite authors, Brene Brown, has taught me that there is a uniquely human need to separate ourselves from people who have experienced things that we fear. There is a need in each of us to believe things aren’t true because it hurts too much or we’re too afraid. As a person living in the eye of the storm I can tell you, we are beyond the point of choosing comfortable ignorance. Coronavirus is here, it’s personal, and it’s goddamn humbling.
Earlier this week I learned of my fourth friend who has tested positive for COVID-19, ironically, a fellow Meeker High School graduate. I mention this to impress upon you that the question you should be asking yourself is not “if?” or “when?” but “what now?”
The answer is simple: sit tight.
I know it’s hard and I know it feels unfair, but, selfishly, I’d give a lot to trade the space and beauty of Rio Blanco County for my 650 sq. ft. on the Upper West Side, even if that meant I had to stay home. The words “quarantine” and “social distancing” are reminders of the things we can’t do, but let me be a reminder of what you can do (even, and I cannot emphasize this enough, in a mere 650 sq. ft.): You can hug your partner. You can call a friend. You can write a thank you note. You can go for a walk, or a jog. You can take a nap (and you can deny it). You can cook, and clean, and read, and listen. You can forget about the hustle and division of our world. You can even ignore your least favorite house chore, just please please, I am unashamedly begging you, stay home.
In New York we’re going to be just fine, and here’s how I know: a couple nights ago I was finishing my dinner on the couch (because, as John says, no need to sit at the dinner table during the end of the world). Through our open living room window, we heard the growing rumble of clapping and cheering. Craning my neck out onto our fire escape, I saw people hanging out of almost every window in the surrounding buildings, smiling, waving, and filling the barren street with jubilee. A single delivery man, riding a bike directly down the middle of the avenue, put up his fist and gave it a couple of pumps. The cheering exploded, and I, of course, began to cry.
For the last three days, at 7 p.m. sharp, our city has stood up, thrown open our windows, and ovated for two whole minutes in honor of our essential workers, be they ER doctors, grocery staff, and even food delivery workers — the true heroes during this pandemic. We cheer together and for each other, because nothing else matters. We’ll do it again tonight, and every night, as long as we need to.
So I leave you with a plea: please stay home. I am asking you to do this for the essential workers whose lives depend on it, for New York City, for America, for my immunocompromised family members, for me, and for you.
The only path forward is straight through, and the only way through is together. Stay home. Stay safe.
Meg’s Top Five
things to do at home
- For Podcasters:
Dolly Parton’s America is a brilliant mini-series by my favorite studios: WNYC & RadioLab.
- For Netflixers:
Tiger King, a truly absurd account of the wild world of illegal exotic animal trade in the US.
- For non-fiction fans:
Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino, or anything by Brene Brown.
- For fiction lovers: Red Rising (series) by Pierce Brown
- For uninspired quarantine cooks:
@HalfbakedHarvest Recipes from a favorite Colorado food blogger!
By Meg Nieslanik | Special to the Herald Times
EDITOR’S NOTE: Meg Nieslanik is the daughter of Joe and Ellen Nieslanik of Meeker and a 2009 Meeker High School alumnae and the founder of the Rural Pathways, a scholarship program for MHS graduates. Nieslanik lives and works in New York City. If you have friends and loved ones around the world who would like to share their stories, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org