I’ve been in my New York City apartment since early March. I had just gotten back from covering the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington D.C., where one of the high-level participants tested positive for the virus and I was cautioned to self-quarantine for two weeks.
Since then, I’ve lived through weeks of a desolate city: the avenue I live on empty of traffic; the stores on my block shuttered. Some days the streets would be so quiet I could count the number of cars I heard go by, their sound often punctuated by the occasional wailing ambulances on their way to the field hospital in Central Park. I would turn on the TV for solace and be greeted by a newscaster looking worried and telling horror stories outside a hospital a few blocks away from where I was sitting on my sofa.
I've spent the last 100-plus days largely siting around on the sofa, writing my pieces, working on my exercise bike, eating Lucky Charms, ordering delicious junk food from Goldbelly. I’ve watched all nine seasons of The Office twice and hours and hours and hours of MSNBC. I started a podcast with my Daily Beast colleague Rick Wilson. My twins finished 6th grade, my older son finished 10th grade. I’ve FaceTimed with my still-self-quarantined parents, who live crosstown but whom I haven't seem in person for more than three full months. (For Mother's Day, I sent over a tiny cake baked by my local, family-owned Butterfield market.) I’ve gone on endless walks in Central Park, sometimes accompanied by a socially distanced friend. I've been scared. I’ve been convinced that I would get the virus. And then, almost imperceptibly, I sort of got comfortable with the discomfort.
But now Gov. Andrew Cuomo has stopped holding his daily briefings, declaring, "We have done the impossible." New York is no longer a coronavirus hot spot; our curve has been flattened. (States like Texas and Florida have inherited that tragic mantle). We’re supposed to go back to normal now, but the landscape has not fundamentally changed: there is still no vaccine, no definitive treatment or prevention. In fact, everything is largely the same as it was in March when we locked ourselves away. We still don't know what brought this pandemic and what will take it away.
And a lot of us are scared. We’ve been through a lot. Where I live, there are a lot of masks on the streets, a lot of people walking nervously past each other on the sidewalk. We know what the stakes are. In New York City, we’ve lost 21,893 human souls. We’ve swam in a sea of death. We’ve lived through the overflowing-morgues stage, the refrigerated-trucks stage. I have four friends who’ve lost their dads -- but now my fatherless friends are being told by Governor Cuomo that it’s time to go out for brunch. TV advertisements implore us to "go to your doctors," that we need to resume our regular checkups and non-essential surgeries. My kids' orthodontist keeps calling me. "Everything is safe now.” But how do we really know?
Back on March 11th, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “If you’re not sick, you should be going about your life.” Four days later, New York City schools were shut for the rest of the school year and the rest of us were told to shelter in our homes, making it clear that de Blasio was obviously wrong about going out. But now, three months later, with de Blasio saying that on July 6 indoor dining will resume at restaurants and that nail salons, spas and tattoo parlors will be allowed to reopen, we’re supposed to assume that the mayor knows what he's talking about?
On Monday, we New Yorkers went into Phase 2, which means that most stores are open and outdoor dining is allowed everywhere, I mean everywhere: many Manhattan restaurants have expanded into the street, which is fun but seems a little scary for diners. But there’s still no coronavirus treatment or vaccine so …. What do we do? How do we live in this brave new world? We all know that masks prevent disease. But what about elevators: should we wait for the next one? What about taxis? How worried should we be about surfaces? What about eating outside? Is that safe? What about indoors?
Like many married couples, my husband and I are completely at odds about how to live in the post-surge, pre-vaccine world. I’m careful but I sort of think I’ll be okay if I stay cautious, where my husband is sort of convinced that he is going to die of the coronavirus. I told this to a friend who told me that he also believes he will eventually die of the virus. The fatality rate for the virus is less than 1 percent but then none of us really know. I don’t think I will die of it, but honestly none of us knows anything. Even months into this thing, we have more questions than answers.
On Thursday, I went to the hairdresser. Since the 1990s, I have been dying my hair this kind of two-colored, Ginger Spice thing. In lockdown, I rediscovered my natural hair color -- which is not great. Plus, my hair was getting extremely heavy. It was making me nuts. I needed a haircut. When I came back, my husband was horrified to learn what I had done. “But we wore masks!” I told him. I reminded him about the Missouri hair dresser who had coronavirus but wore a mask and didn’t infect any of his clients. Of course some people aren’t as contagious as others, so in the end we don’t really know anything.
So, yes, New York is opening up again, but just like everywhere else we don’t really know what to do. We once looked at California with awe, but now, all of a sudden, they’re spiking like we were a few months ago. Gov. Gavin Newsom has reinstated a stay-at-home order. Will that be us in a few weeks? We don’t know. I don’t know what everyone else should do (and no one else does either) but I know that I will proceed with extreme cation, I will wear a mask, and wash my hands and try to stay six feet apart because I really don’t want to get the virus and I really don’t want to give it to you.