Coronavirus Update From New York City: March 26, 2020

Last week, there seemed to be some reader interest in my update on how I’m doing, and how my city is doing, with the coronavirus. Given that fact, I will be continuing to post these weekly updates until the coronavirus settles down in New York City.

I, personally, am lucky economically. I heard that over three million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits. I am not one of them, and to the contrary, I am not losing any pay as a result of this crisis. Yes, there are certainly quirks involved with working from home (which I started doing last Monday), especially when your priorities compete with the priorities of other family members working or studying from home. Nevertheless, when I consider the fact that over three million of my fellow Americans are filing for unemployment benefits, I am lucky economically.

I am also lucky health-wise (so far). I’ve had some minor seasonal allergies, but I have never run a fever and have never exhibited the symptoms that come with the coronavirus. Hopefully it stays that way for me and for my entire family.

New York City is not so lucky. My city is at the epicenter of this pandemic. At this point, well over 20,000 cases have been reported in New York City (and that may be low-balling). Granted, some of the reason for the high numbers is because testing has been more widely available in New York City (and New York State as a whole) than most other places. But some of it is because the situation here is genuinely bad. A hospital in the same neighborhood as my alma mater high school reported over a dozen deaths from the coronavirus in 24 hours.[1] Doctors and nurses are getting sick. There is still a grave concern about hospitals in New York City running out of certain medical supplies, including ventilators. The medical system in my area is severely strained. To those who think people are exaggerating how bad this pandemic is at the epicenter, I have two words to say: think again.


Coronavirus Update from New York City: March 19, 2020

Let me first start out by saying that this post is being written impromptu, so this will be much less polished than most of my content on here.

That being said, with how much the coronavirus situation has escalated in New York City just in the last couple of days, I thought that it was important to provide my readers an update on how I’m doing and how my city is doing. I hope to do this on a weekly basis, usually on Thursday evenings (though the timing of these updates, just like nearly everything else during this time, is subject to change). Note that this is in addition to, not instead of, my regularly scheduled posts on Monday evenings. Also note that all of these posts will tend to be impromptu in nature, so all these updates will have content less polished than most of my content on here.

Personally, I am doing about as well as I could be, considering the circumstances. I have job stability, so I am in no danger of losing my job. Furthermore, starting next week, I will be working from home. Finally, many (but not all, by any means) of the things I do at work are things I can do at home as well, so the change won’t be quite as jarring for me as it will be for some people.

However, the situation in New York City is not good at all. As of the time I’m writing this, over 3,600 New Yorkers have tested positive for the coronavirus (with 22 deaths). Worse yet, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a press conference late this afternoon that the city could be 2-3 weeks away from running out of some medical supplies. I am hoping Mayor de Blasio was being hyperbolic about the situation with our hospitals, but fear that he is not.

Needless to say, for those of you who are believers in prayer, please keep New York City in prayer. For those of you who are not believers in prayer, please keep New York City in your thoughts.

How Not to Respond, and How to Respond, to the Coronavirus

I actually had a different post in mind for this week, but given the situation with the coronavirus (COVID-19), I decided to make a quick change in plans. Given the wide range of both unjust and just reactions I’ve seen to the coronavirus, I thought I would make a list of things (with explanations) on how not to respond, and how to respond, to this.

Do not respond with anti-Chinese sentiments.

Anti-Chinese sentiments include a refusal to buy Chinese food from your local Chinese restaurant and getting angry at anyone who is or looks Chinese, simply because this strain of coronavirus was first discovered in China. Just because it first originated there does not mean that we should treat people of Chinese descent as any less than anyone else.

Do listen to medical health experts in your area.

Listen to guidance from people in your city’s and/or state’s Health Department. Those who are actually working on this virus on a day-to-day basis are the ones who will likely have wise advice on how best to proceed. So, listen to them…please.

Do not automatically get angry if you see someone who sneezes or coughs when they are out in public.

The other day, someone absolutely freaked out at me when I sneezed once…once! However, we must realize that there are many reasons for someone to sneeze or cough that do not necessarily involve corthe coronavirus. It could be a cold, it could be allergies, or it could be that someone randomly has the urge to sneeze…all of us have the urge to sneeze once in a while, even if we are perfectly healthy!

But, if at all possible, please do stay home if you feel sick.

Thanks to the lack of sick leave that some people have (a subject I wrote about at length in last week’s blog post), it is not possible for some people to stay home. However, for those who do have sick leave available to them, use it when you feel sick. By staying home when you’re sick, you’re doing a favor to yourself and to others.

Do wash your hands frequently.

People should use discretion, but should also remember to wash their hands with regularity and thoroughly. You want to do all you can to kill the bad germs you may end up coming into contact with.

Do find things to occupy your time, if other things that used to occupy your time (work, school, sports) are getting canceled.

Don’t just sit around. Give your friend a phone call or a video call. Pick up a book. Sing songs, play an instrument, or listen to a CD. Watch a DVD or a favorite show or movie on a service like Hulu or on-demand cable. Pick up a new hobby. Work on a garden. Write something. Do some painting. We need to look out not just for our physical health, but our mental health too, and these are all things that will help us look out for our own and each other’s mental health.

The situation with the coronavirus is a very hectic and fluid situation. However, I hope that these tips I offered are a good place for all of us to start in order to take care of our own and others’ physical and mental health. I am also open to hearing other tips in the comments section below!

On the Refrain of “Don’t Go to Work if You’re Sick”

“Don’t go to work if you’re sick!” This is a refrain I’ve heard all the time in the wake of the spread of the coronavirus.

I’m here to say that there’s a problem with this refrain.

What I just said may have some shock value, but hear me out. I wholeheartedly agree that, in an ideal world, someone should not go to work if they are sick. After all, we do not want the coronavirus, the seasonal flu, or any other sickness spreading around.

The problem, however, is that the laws on sick leave in many states, and in the United States of America, is so broken that many Americans have no choice but to go to work if they are sick. Furthermore, the culture at some employers encourages work while being sick and discourages taking care of yourself when sick.

For starters, there is no national paid sick leave law, and most states also do not have any paid sick leave law.[1] In a country where 40% of Americans are just one paycheck from poverty, it is simply not affordable to take an unpaid sick day, even if there’s an option to take an unpaid sick day.[2] Yes, we want people to stay home when they are sick, but what do we say to people who have to face a choice between being unpaid and facing poverty, and going to work while sick? Because America’s laws on sick leave are broken, we have to ask that difficult question.

Then, there are all the people who do not have any sick leave at all, not even unpaid sick leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does provide for some unpaid sick leave,[3] but there are at least two limitations to the law (there may be more I am missing):

  1. Not all companies are covered under FMLA. Namely, companies with fewer than 50 employees are not covered by the law;[4] people who work for those smaller companies would need to hope that their home states have robust sick leave laws, or they’re out of luck.
  2. The common cold and flu are not generally considered to be serious health conditions for the purposes of the FMLA, unless serious health complications arise. In fact, the only condition under which a cold or flu counts as a serious condition for purposes of the FMLA is “if the individual is incapacitated for more than three consecutive calendar days and receives continuing treatment by a health care provider.”[5] I don’t know if the coronavirus will meet the seriousness threshold, but if it doesn’t (just as the flu doesn’t), then there is literally no federal sick leave protection for people with coronavirus. That should give people pause.

Worse yet, some companies, such as Walmart, are accused of punishing their employees for taking sick days.[6] What are you to say to a person who genuinely fears that they would be fired if they tried to take days off because they were sick? Even in places where there are robust sick leave laws, such as New York City, employers have at times still been known to try to (illegally) fire workers for using sick days.[7] Such work cultures are toxic, but for many, staying in that toxic work culture (even if it means working while sick) is the only way they can pay the bills and put food on the table.

So yes, I am in favor of people staying home when they are sick. However, if we are really serious about people staying home when they are sick, we must get to the root of why many people go to work when sick, which is that laws and many company cultures alike do not have a system that allows the sick to take care of themselves. And until we have a system that allows the sick to take care of themselves and stay home, we run the risk of a national health crisis.







[7] Here’s a story from a Chipotle in New York City: