new york scenes

The First 13 Days

Revisiting the early confusion of March 2020.

JFK Airport (left) and L Train at Sixth Avenue on March 12, 2020. Photo: David Williams
JFK Airport (left) and L Train at Sixth Avenue on March 12, 2020. Photo: David Williams

In March 2020, the magazine published this timeline, a collection of observations and overheards from the earliest days of the pandemic in New York City. We looked on with confusion and shock as institutions closed, annual events were cancelled, and the first of many Zoom happy hours were scheduled. Echoes sounded through the empty spaces that used to be packed wall to wall with New Yorkers and tourists, and the buzzing streets emptied into apartments where everyone was locked down at home for the first time in our lifetimes. Suspicion and panic were beginning to take hold, but the sirens weren’t yet wailing, ERs weren’t yet spilling onto sidewalks, morgues weren’t yet in trailers outside the hospitals. Masks and hand sanitizer were just beginning to sell out. We never could have predicted what it would look like a year later.

Sunday, March 1

➼ A Manhattan health-care worker becomes the first public case of the novel coronavirus in New York City.

Monday, March 2

➼ A Manhattan lawyer who lives in New Rochelle becomes the state’s second case. Nine people connected with him will soon test positive.

➼ After surviving its worst week since the 2008 financial crash, the Dow posts its biggest single-day point gain in history.

Tuesday, March 3

Ralph Lauren cancels his fall/winter fashion show.

➼ The Federal Reserve slashes interest rates by half a point.

Wednesday, March 4

➼ The House reaches an $8.3 billion emergency-funding deal.

Brian Keyser, who owns Casellula Cheese & Wine Café in Hell’s Kitchen, takes an electronic thermometer to work. Staff will have to have their temperature taken before starting a shift. “It’s probably overkill,” says Keyser, “but better safe than sorry.”

The release of the new James Bond movie, No Time to Die, is postponed until November.

Thursday, March 5

➼ 3 confirmed cases in New York City.

➼ Health-care workers face a shortage of the N95 respirator masks. Michael Einhorn, president of Dealmed, a Brooklyn-based medical-supply company: “I’ve spoken to two hospital CEOs and one very high-ranking executive looking for N95 masks. Our call volume is up around 400 percent. We do have a very limited supply, but it’s only for our current customers. We take that decision very seriously. What’s more important, dialysis centers or a hospital? I’ve been through several of these cycles, none of those compare at all to the coronavirus.”

Friday, March 6

➼ At least 2,700 city residents are in some form of quarantine.

South by Southwest is canceled.

Costco bans free samples.

➼ Delivery apps Postmates and Instacart begin offering no-touch “leave at the door” options.

➼ A conversation on the Lower East Side:

“What are you doing?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re filling up your Purell from their bottle?”

“Why not?”

“This is a day-care center!”

Saturday, March 7

➼ 7 new confirmed cases.

Governor Cuomo declares a state of emergency.

➼ A man in his 60s at the Red Hook Fairway, talking on his phone: “I was on trial with a personal-injury case in the Bronx, and that got delayed, so I went and did a malpractice case in Queens. [Pause.] No, the courts aren’t doing anything different, but the government’s a mess. There aren’t enough tests. As soon as there are enough tests, I’m sure the city will have thousands of cases. [Pause.] Yeah, the guy in Westchester. He gave it to his rabbi, so now the synagogue is shut down. He gave it to the guy who drove him to the hospital. He has one kid who goes to Yeshiva [University] and another who goes to public school, now those are both closed. [Pause.] No, I don’t think you should be concerned. Apparently kids don’t get it for some reason. Or only young kids get it. [Pause.] Yeah, well, she’s 8 months old, and she had already been in and out of the hospital with a respiratory condition. And she’s supposed to have surgery for an inner-ear problem. [Longer pause.] Right. That’s the one to worry about.”

➼ A Fort Greene farmers’­-market vendor, handing a credit card back to a customer, but not the portable processor, to complete the transaction: “Yeah, I’m signing all the charges,” he explains. “Can’t be too careful.”

➼ A conversation in Tribeca:

“I’m pretty sure I had it already.”

“Totally. We all had it.”

Monday, March 9

➼ 20 confirmed cases.

➼ The S&P 500 plunges more than 7 percent, triggering a 15-minute halt in trading by the NYSE.

Cuomo announces the state would be making its own line of hand sanitizer, produced by prisoners. “We are problem solvers,” Cuomo says. “You have price gouging on hand sanitizer and a high demand for hand sanitizer. What do you do? … Make your own hand sanitizer.”

➼ Audience members attending the live taping of The Bachelor season finale sign a disclosure confirming their lack of susceptibility to the coronavirus.

➼ A downtown AA group takes a vote: “(1) Do you wish to suspend hand-holding during closing prayer until crisis subsides; or (2) shall hand-holding be optional; or (3) shall we leave it as is?” The suspension passes.

Tuesday, March 10

➼ 36 confirmed cases.

➼ Coachella and Stagecoach are postponed.

➼ Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders cancel rallies in Ohio.

➼ The first fatality in the Northeast: a Yonkers Raceway worker from New Jersey.

➼ Duane Reade, Williamsburg:

“Are you guys totally out of hand sanitizer and all cleaning supplies?”

“Yeah, we don’t have them. We were supposed to have some on the truck, but they didn’t come today. We had the hand-sanitizer wipes, but they sold out this morning. The next truck won’t be until Thursday.”

Wednesday, March 11

➼ 53 confirmed cases

WHO declares the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.

➼ The NBA suspends its season after a player from the Utah Jazz tests positive.

➼ Trump declares a European-travel suspension.

➼ The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is postponed.

➼ NYU switches to remote classes.

➼ Trump suspends his upcoming rallies.

➼ A Broadway usher tests positive.

➼ Email from Hopalong Andrew, a children’s performer: “Want to let you know that in the interest of health and hygiene I’ve made what I think are some practical accommodations to the current situation. For the time being, at all live shows I have temporarily suspended use of all props (instruments, etc.) and am playing more interactive songs that don’t require props or hand holding. I’m adding lots of new songs (& requests!) — we’re making it fun! Also, I have Purell, wipes, and spray on hand.”

➼ East Village barber to customer: “The guy before you is a Broadway producer. He said they’re just waiting for the city to close down the theaters; they just don’t want to be the first to close.”

➼ Email from Kula yoga to its customers: “The good old days (of 6 weeks ago) when you felt a little tickle in your throat, but you decided to go to yoga anyway (because it’ll probably make you feel better right??). Well those days are OVER! Stay home — if home is the best place to be — physiologically or mentally.”

➼ CNN newsroom employees are encouraged to work from home. Some still come in. Anonymous CNN producer: “The boomers have this ‘We don’t leave for fire drills’ mentality. They think it is Y2K. And the younger ones think, ‘I am watching the feed from Italy and I don’t want to see that happen here.’ ”

➼ Two friends in their 80s consider their culture calendar:

Julianne: We have the rest of the concert season, probably about 15 more operas and Carnegie Hall tickets. I’m going to call our doctor later and ask him what he thinks.

Jules: I’m not giving up any Carnegie Hall concerts or operas. That’s my joy in life. Our next shows are Monday and Wednesday. We’re not changing our plans.

➼ Steve Sando, the founder of Rancho Gordo bean purveyor: “A really good day for us is about 150 to 200 orders. We’ve continually done over a thousand every day. People laugh, saying, ‘We’re ready for the zombie apocalypse.’ But they are doing it.”

➼ Biggest recent spike: Following Trump’s coronavirus address to the nation on Wednesday night.

➼ Top selling bean: “Believe it or not, Royal Coronas are No. 1, still.”

➼ Conversations at HappyFun Hideaway in Bushwick:

“How am I supposed to take tap dancing remotely?”

“My friend’s mom thinks there’s going to be a national curfew type thing eventually.”

“The last generation, they were very used to freaking out this way, with bombing, financial crisis, stuff like that. Our generation hasn’t seen anything like that.”

“If I haven’t died yet from my Juul or the nasty ass bar I work in, I think I’ll survive the coronavirus.”

Thursday, March 12

➼ 95 confirmed cases.

The National Guard is deployed to New Rochelle.

Cuomo announces a ban on gatherings of 500-plus people.

➼ The Archdiocese of New York announces it will close its elementary schools.

➼ The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Carnegie Hall, and the Museum of Modern Art close. Broadway suspends its shows.

➼ Wall Street has its worst finish since 1987.

The NCAA cancels March Madness.

Brazilian official who recently had dinner with Trump tests positive for the virus.

➼ The restaurant Racines NY announces it will remove 40 percent of its tables to make more personal space for diners. “No need to side-eye the strangers right next to you.”

➼ Upper East Side butchery Lobel’s fills a $10,000 order to a brownstone that includes 100 steaks, 100 racks of lamb, 100 chicken breasts. “We’re a little overwhelmed,” says co-owner Mark Lobel. “It’s busier than the holidays. One woman in Florida called and said she was having someone turn her refrigerator on in Rhode Island just so she could have more freezer space.”

➼ A text with a weed dealer:

“Hey! Are you guys still delivering?”

“We are still delivering. Want us to send some? Our riders are just being extra sanitary.”

➼ A statement from sex-party operators, NYC Inferno:

“Our upcoming NYC Inferno party’s theme was set to be A History of Sluts. Our poster and social-media promotion highlighted the history of ground-breaking artists, leaders, philosophers, writers, and historical figures who were also horny sluts in order to show that history is on a continuum, that some of our greatest LGBT heroes sought sexual pleasure in abundance, and that slut shaming of any kind is effin’ stupid. Unfortunately the arrival of the Coronavirus is currently giving a lot of members of our community flashbacks to the early ’80s during the HIV/AIDS, a time when sluttiness was villainized, community sex spaces were forcibly shut down by the city — something we are still fighting against today — and a slutty flight attendant was falsely smeared as an evil Patient Zero who spread HIV all over the world.

“It’s for this reason that I was initially reluctant to cancel NYC Inferno next week. The folks who run the Inferno dungeon and I had many conversations about not giving into fear and whether or not giving guidelines for attendance would be sufficient. Within 24 hours, my view on this — resistant to canceling — completely reversed itself, after I was engaged in dialogue with a group of gay virologists, scientists, and biologists who are tracking the situation.”

Mandy Moore sings to an empty audience on Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show.

➼ NBC’s Lester Holt, introducing the nightly news: “We’re moving into uncharted territory, practically by the hour.”

Friday, March 13

➼ At least 154 confirmed cases.

➼ The New York Public Library announces all branches will close.

Louisiana delays the state’s April 4 presidential primary election until June.

➼ New York City’s teachers union calls on the city to close public schools. “We recommend that New York City follow the example of affected jurisdictions around the region, the nation and even the world in closing our public schools.”

➼ Conversation at a Manhattan hair salon:

“What do you think?”

“So pretty! Too bad no one’s gonna see it.”

➼ A Zoom video-conferencing invitation sent from a Manhattan ad agency to 47 co-workers:

SUBJECT: Virtual Happy Hour

Hey! Let’s get together for a virtual hang at the end of the day. Bring a favorite beverage and let’s raise our glasses to getting through a particularly weird week.

Trump declares a national state of emergency.

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The First 13 Days