At the pandemic’s outset in New York City, locals saw the number of COVID-cases steadily soar into a state of emergency. In October, state officials reported virus clusters reappearing across the five boroughs, which has prompted Brooklynites and others to prepare for the city’s looming coronavirus resurgence.
“You have to be precautious of everyone. Everyone is a suspect, in other words,” said Dwight W., an MTA booth clerk on Avenue H who did not want to share his last name. For 20 years, Dwight has traveled across boroughs each day to go to work in different stations. With the pandemic and his underlying health conditions, Dwight drives to work from his Queens home and attempts to avoid close contact with others. Though he has taken the necessary precautions of mask-wearing, social-distancing, and disinfecting his booth, the virus has been closer to Dwight than he anticipated.
“A lot of co-workers I was working with tested positive – got real sick real bad, had to be incubated. They were out from work for like a month or two,” said Dwight.
Last week, a co-worker of Dwight’s passed away due to COVID-complications, and another colleague who relieved him from his shift at 9 pm contracted the virus. Nearly 25 percent of MTA transit workers tested positive, as reported by the Wall Street Journal and about 130 of the MTA’s 68,000 employees died of coronavirus. With the transit system’s slow start in providing personal protective equipment (PPE) and other cleaning supplies, virus transmission was more feasible.
“I guess for the president and everyone, it wasn’t something to beware of or to armor up, or protect yourself against. That was one of the main issues for many people to pass away,” said Dwight, who has luckily not shown any virus symptoms.
Across New York City, COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Black and Latino communities. According to the Department of Health’s virus tracker, Hispanics make up 34 percent of NYC’s coronavirus fatalities. Another 29 percent of deaths belong to the Black population of the city. For Mexican-American Antonio Solis, a COVID-19 survivor who works in a bagel shop on Avenue J, death seemed like a possibility when he experienced sharp chills, severe fevers, intense nausea, and other symptoms for nearly two weeks.
“Now I’m taking on my second chance and hoping that a need for a third one doesn’t come around,” said Solis.
During his five day stay at the hospital, when the virus was not well known, Solis sat beside other Brooklynites exhibiting similar COVID-19 signs in the emergency room. “Your lungs want to explode. They desperately want a breath,” said Solis.
Overtime, Solis became less hopeful of making it out alive. That remained the case until one night when, as he drowsily laid on his bed and doctors scrambled across the hallways, he dreamt of his deceased father.
“And he told me, ‘Get up son, get up. It’s not your time’,” said Solis. “Then I woke up, and I was in the hospital bed. And I asked myself, ‘What am I doing here’?”
Despite having contracted the virus back in March, Solis does not mind working in a hot zone with a rising total of 3,888 cases, according to a New York Times database. So long as he takes the necessary precautions, he feels the coronavirus does not pose an imminent threat against him.
“We can no longer be afraid. We need to learn how to adapt and live with the virus,” said Solis.
With the rollout of Cuomo’s executive order in early October and the implementation of more restrictions in COVID-19 cluster zones, many New Yorkers have figured out how to live with the virus and its constraints. Though many zip codes in South Brooklyn saw rising coronavirus contractions, including BC’s own Flatbush neighborhood, others in the borough have not. However, for places of worship, like synagogues, churches, and mosques, the state’s focus on limiting its gathering capacity has stirred some disapproval.
Last Thursday, Nov. 12, the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn asked the Supreme Court to overturn Cuomo’s regulations that allow 10 to 25 people to gather in houses of worship depending on its zone. For Frank Black, the pastor of St. Matthew’s in Crown Heights, safety precautions are essential to control the virus. However, he finds that the state’s use of “places of worship” when discussing COVID-19 restrictions and spikes can be misleading.
“I don’t think we places of worship are being targeted, but it’s that ‘places of worship’ are being lumped together with those that are not compliant,” said Black. Before entering, churchgoers have their temperatures checked, are socially distant from one another, and have hand sterilizers at reach. St. Matthew’s maintains its capacity under 25 percent, as instructed by the diocese.
Though these measures help ensure participants’ safety, they have added to the church’s financial instability. As attendance remains low, so do donations.
“How are churches going to remain open? We don’t know. That’s a rough thing,” said Black. Despite the financial uncertainty the church will face in the coming months as COVID-19 continues, Black has a more significant worry.
“If I get it, okay I die. May God be merciful on me,” said Black. “I just don’t want to give it to someone else. That’s my biggest fear.”
Similarly, for Darice Solis, Antonio’s daughter, and an ultrasound technician in Bayridge Medical Imaging in Borough Park, she feared transmitting the virus further to her family. At the onset of COVID-19 in NYC, she took a leave of absence for a month and a half. During her time off, some of her co-workers contracted the virus. Upon her return, Solis and her colleagues faced a PPE shortage.
“I thought, ‘We’re like the number one country in the world, and we don’t have supplies? We have supplies for war, but we don’t have supplies for emergencies like this’?” said Solis. Today, the staff no longer have to reuse their masks until they’re worn-out, but now have enough to change daily.
At her workplace, COVID-19 patients are admitted for lung X-rays to determine if they have pneumonia, an infection that inflames the air sacs. Since her job is high-risk for her and her colleagues who come into close contact with such patients, Solis no longer fears COVID-19 as she did in the beginning.
“I’m not going to say I’m an expert, but I’m prepared for the second-wave,” said Solis.
Despite the challenges COVID-19 has brought onto Brooklynites, most locals will continue observing safety precautions to overturn the virus’ spread. As of press time, over 560,000 New Yorkers have tested positive for coronavirus. About 80,000 cases are in Brooklyn.
“I consider it this way – this is our new world, we have to learn to adjust. Countries have done this and lived like this,” said MTA employee Dwight. “The adjustment is to always be precautious.”