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••• The International Writers Magazine - 22 Years on-line - Covid in NYC

• Walli F. Leff

When Covid-19 arrived in the U.S. life turned into a whole new ball game. Determined not to get sick or die from this vicious new virus or infect anybody else with it, my husband and I quickly adapted to the rules.

Empty NTC

Wear a mask, keep six feet away  from other people, and stay indoors except for work-related activities, medical appointments, making a purchase that couldn’t be made on line or phoned in to a store and delivered, and, the outing we liked best, taking a walk around the block for fresh air.

     That new lifestyle didn’t take much getting-used-to for most other people, either. Then came lockdown, which, with more radical restrictions, brought on a variety of  reactions based on people’s own particular living conditions, their personalities, and the resources available to them. Life changes imposed by lockdown included:

•    Being stuck inside the four walls of one’s home twenty-four hours a day,
•    Living alone with no one to be with or talk to,
•    Being unable to see friends and family in person,
•    Working at home instead of at one’s workplace,
•    Having to spend twenty-four hours a day with the person or people with whom one shared a home,
•    Having to share one's home work area with a person  working at home,
•    Being unable to seek inspiration, enlightenment, or entertainment in the places where people customarily go to enrich their life because museums, theaters, movie houses, libraries, and religious institutions were closed,
•    Being laid off from one’s job,
•    Exhausting one’s savings,
•    Being unable to pay one’s rent/mortgage, utilities, car payment, or other expenses,
•    Not having enough money to buy food,
•    Ending a relationship, separating, or getting divorced as a result of the lockdown experience.

     As days stretched into weeks and weeks into months, reported cases of Covid-19 cases soared and the death rate became staggering. Optimists struggled to hold on to their belief that the virus would be under control in a “reasonable” period of time and “normal life” would return soon. It was not unusual for people whose relationships were eroding or had ended, or whose resources had run out, to teeter on the verge of despair. Some lost their hope that they would ever recover.

     To be sure, there were people who had a gift for making the most of their situation or could muster up the gumption to find something appealing or productive to do. The need for companionship spurred dog
adoptions—numerous shelters were entirely emptied.  Some people with a creative or exploratory bent took advantage of their unstructured free time to satisfy a long-deferred desire, such as learning to play the
guitar or improving their photographic skills; others were content to just catch up on their reading and get rid of the stack of books on their night stand.  Writers,  composers, and other artists carved out great hunks of time to complete unfinished projects. Countless people who had a yen for home-made bread but had had no time to make it during their previously busy lives flocked to the supermarkets to buy yeast, only to discover there was none was to be had. Turning to social media for ideas and advice, they got caught up in the sourdough bread craze that soon became hot news on the mass media.

     Finally—FINALLY—in December 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued Emergency Use Authorization for two Covid-19 vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna.

     The race for shots was on. Suddenly people had a new full time job: phoning  vaccine appointment centers, getting a busy signal, redialing repeatedly, spending ages on hold, and filling out the same lengthy, tedious form for each center they connected with only to be told at the end of the call that no appointments were available. Infuriating.

     Because of a serious medical condition I’d had years earlier, my doctor advised me not to take a messenger RNA vaccine, which is what Pfizer and Moderna, the only available vaccines, were. So I was spared
that endless virtual appointment-seeking nightmare. But my husband, who fortunately had no medical encumberment that prevented him from taking a messenger RNA vaccine, suffered through this exhausting, disappointing effort to no avail. Weeks went by and the situation became bleaker and bleaker. Through the “vaccination grapevine”, he got word that it was easier to get an appointment out of town.

     So he expanded his range and contacted cities well beyond the New York City suburbs. When he reached the Westchester County Center in White Plains, they offered him an early morning appointment. He nabbed it. On the designated day he woke up very early, considered taking a subway and switching to a bus to get to Grand Central Station in midtown Manhattan, but hopped into a taxi instead. When the train arrived in White Plains, he started to walk to the vaccination center but the route was complicated, so he returned to the train station and took a taxi. He
got his shot, was given an appointment to return for his second shot in three weeks’ time, and called for a taxi. It never came. He called again and a cab finally arrived. The train ride to New York City and the taxi
ride back home went smoothly, but the experience had been exhausting and he wasn’t looking forward to going back to White Plains three weeks later.

     But he’d gotten his shot. Yay!  We were so relieved!

Manhattan Dining Dinning in the street I continued to lay low. Bars were open and people were bringing their drinks outside and socializing unmasked. New York City was now allowing restaurants to serve food to patrons at outdoor tables next to their building and in the parking lane of the street the building faced.

The sidewalks were crowded with unmasked patrons eating, drinking, laughing and talking. Pedestrians squeezed past them on the narrow stretch of sidewalk between the two arrays of outdoor tables and chairs, ignoring the six foot distancing rule.Television news reported instances of cars running into diners seated at the tables in the parking lane. Being out on the streets was dangerous to one’s health.

     How long would it be before a viral vector vaccine—the kind I could safely take—would be released? It was important for me to know, not only because to protect myself from contracting Covid-19, but also because my
brother, who lives in California, will be getting married there this summer and I want desperately to attend his wedding. Our parents are no longer alive; he and I are the only ones left. Airports, airplanes, a huge party, a hotel, face-to-face time with my only brother and my sister-in-law to be, whom I haven’t yet met, with other relatives and friends I rarely get to see, and with new people I’m looking forward to meeting. All this— unvaccinated? The risk is untenable.  Miss it? No! I have to have my shot!

     The news broke at the end of February: The Johnson & Johnson viral vector vaccine had been approved and would soon be released. The hospital where my doctor practiced had no information about when they
might receive any doses of it, nor did the state and city vaccination centers. I turned to the internet and, to my astonishment, spotted an announcement from a publication I’d never heard of, its name printed in
letters so tiny I could barely make them out: The Javits Center in Manhattan would be administering Johnson & Johnson vaccine shots from 10 PM Friday until 5:00 AM Saturday                .

     Stretching from 12th Avenue, along the Hudson River, to 11th Ave., and from W. 38th St. to W. 34th St., in an area that used to be known as Hell’s Kitchen, the 1.8 million square foot Javits Center, one of the
largest convention centers in the U.S., is less than three miles from my front door. Middle of the night? Who cares? Sure beats my husband’s lengthy, exhausting taxi/train/taxi/taxi/train/taxi trek to and from White Plains.

     I dialed the first number I saw listed for the Javits Center’s vaccination program. Didn’t have to redial, didn’t have to sit and wait on hold. A live person picked up the phone immediately.

     “Sorry, the Friday night/Saturday morning isn’t happening, but we’re  administering J & J vaccine exclusively on Saturday night. Do you want an appointment? 10:00 PM is available.” . . . “ Fine. I’ve
scheduled you. Give me your email address and I’ll send you a form. Print it out, answer all the questions, and bring it with a photo ID to your appointment. Any questions?” . . . “Thank you for calling. Stay safe.”

      I hung up. Sitting nearby, my husband had heard me repeat the information as she gave it to me and his smile had grown broader and broader.

     “You got it!”  “I got it!” we cried out simultaneously.

     Saturday evening, as I was putting on my jacket, my husband put his on, too.

     “You don’t have to go. It’s not far. And I might have to wait. It could be a long night.”

     “Oh, no. I want to go. I’m coming with you.”

     The Javits Center was massive, but you couldn’t get lost in it because dozens of people were there to guide you to where you needed to go. I’d never before seen such impressive organization.

     But . . . who are all those people in camouflage uniforms . . . what is the army doing here? My mind raced through years of awful military history it was painful to remember:

     The Korean War
     The invasion of Grenada
     The Invasion of Panama
     The Vietnam War and the U.S.’s incursions into Laos and Cambodia
     The invasion of Iraq under the false claim that the purpose was to destroy weapons of mass destruction
     The invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11 to remove al Qaeda from the country and end the power of the Taliban  (U. S. forces are still in Afghanistan.)

     I might have missed some other incursions..

     A camouflaged soldier approached us and directed us to the appropriate rope line. Another, several yards ahead of us, waved us up toward him and led us from the large ante-room into another room filled with tables and chairs where people were giving and receiving vaccinations and handed me off to a medical worker at one of the tables.
As I thanked him for his contribution to this critical undertaking a possible explanation for why all these soldiers were occupying this health event dawned on me.

     “Are you a member of the National Guard?”, I asked him.

      “Yes,” he said, pleasantly.

     “Uh, is the National Guard part of the U.S. Army?”

     “Yes, it is.”

     Then I remembered. The U.S. Army cannot be deployed within the U.S. The President can assign National Guard units to overseas duty to defend the U.S. or our allies, if needed, but the principal mandate of this
branch of the Army is to address domestic needs. The President or the governor of a state may call upon its members for emergency duty when floods, hurricanes, or other disasters strike within the U.S. U.S. Army
soldiers live on military bases; National Guard members do not. They are required to attend a drill for one week-end per month and must spend two weeks in active training annually. But they live a civilian life in their own home communities and are free to work at other jobs or pursue education if they wish to do so.    

Javits line up

Obviously, the Covid-19 pandemic qualifies as a domestic emergency. The National Guard had been assigned to facilitate the Javits Center’s vaccination effort,  thereby lessening the pandemic’s impact on New York
City residents.

     I smiled under my mask.  “Thank you so much for what you’re doing here. I really appreciate it.”

     “Happy to be able to help.”

     “Sure beats going to war.”

     ”Sure does,” he said, laughing from behind his mask.

Photo: The Javit's Centre NYC

I got my shot right on schedule then spent thirty minutes under medical observation in another large room on the westernmost side of the building to make sure I wasn’t having a reaction to the vaccine. At the far end of that room was a lengthy fence-like structure where people had pinned cards onto a board with colorful tacks—thank you notes from newly vaccinated people to the civilian personnel and the National Guard. I’d never before read so many sincere, grateful messages addressed to total strangers.

Too bad the remarkably well-organized Javits Center vaccination effort hadn’t organized a taxi stand outside the building. It was past 11:00 P.M. when we left and we stood and stood and stood outside in that
remote neighborhood. No cabs drove by. Finally we dragged ourselves over the long block to 10th Avenue where there was more traffic. Eventually we spotted a taxi and took it home.
Javit's Thank Yous

It wasn’t just the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that arrived in New York City in  March. President Biden had promised that 100 million people would receive Covid-19 shots by the end of his first 100 days in
office, and his health team made sure that an ample supply of the other approved vaccines, too, was made available throughout the country. The thought of repeating that awful trip to White Plains was intolerable to
my husband and once again he started phoning Manhattan vaccination centers in hopes that the influx of vaccines would make it easier to get an appointment than it had been the month before. After about a week of
calling, waiting, and filling out forms, he found an opening at a pharmacy nine blocks from our apartment. He got jabbed the day before he was scheduled to go to White Plains for his second shot.

     So now we’ve both been vaccinated. I’m looking forward to singing “California, Here I Come” not long from now. Yippie!

© Walli Leff April 1st 2021

It's About Time
Walli F Leff

Walli F. Leff is the author, with Marilyn G. Haft, of Time Without Work, and writes articles on psychology, science, cultural and political affairs, and travel. Her psychological thriller, The Woman Who Couldn’t Remember But Didn’t Forget, was published by Sunstone Press.

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