NEW YORK – It’s early spring but life in this once bustling city has slowed to a crawl. Residents have huddled down and now interact with extreme caution behind gloves, masks and social distancing orders in a bid to save lives in the beloved American city now most overwhelmed by the new coronavirus.
On Sunday morning, the streets of Manhattan were mostly empty except for essential workers and others running to get food at grocery stores or exercise.
At a Costco warehouse in East Harlem, residents in an assortment of commercial and makeshift masks they hope will protect them began lining up at least two hours before opening time. It’s been like this for weeks, say warehouse employees, as shoppers seek to grab certain cleaning and disinfecting products like Clorox and Lysol to help them fight the virus.
It’s also the same day President Donald Trump and members of his coronavirus task force would later announce that up to 200,000 people could still die in the U.S. even with strong mitigation efforts against the spread of the virus. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo also delivered a grim assessment of his own about how things will fare for New York State.
“I don’t think there’s any way to look at those numbers,” Cuomo said, “without seeing thousands of people pass away.”
He revealed that 237 people had died the day before bringing the total number of deaths in the state, since the outbreak began, to 965. This number, however, did not include New York City’s most recent fatalities from the virus.
“Tragically, we have now lost almost a thousand New Yorkers to this vicious virus. We mourn them deeply. Every life lost is one too many. We are fighting to save every life we can. You can help us by staying home and slowing the spread,” Cuomo said in an email to New York residents.
As of Sunday, there were 59,513 coronavirus cases in New York State and more than half of those, 33,768, are in New York City, The New York Times reported.
And as the threat of the growing pandemic continues to bear down on New York City, many residents are carefully trying to do everything they can not to be among the coronavirus statistics. At the Costco in East Harlem, people signaled to each other whenever they felt there had been a breach of the recommended 6-foot distancing guidelines.
Inside the warehouse at the checkout line, customers are directed to carefully marked spaces like parking spots to ensure that the guidelines are followed and cashiers and their registers are now stationed behind plexi-glass.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is also so serious about a temporary ban on all non-essential gatherings of individuals of any size for any reason, that he issued a serious warning to a small number of religious communities that have been flouting the social distancing guidelines.
“If you go to your synagogue, if you go to your church and attempt to hold services after having been told so often not to, our enforcement agents will have no choice but to shut down those services,” de Blasio warned. “I don’t say that with any joy; it’s the last thing I’d like to do because I understand how important people’s faiths are. We need our faiths in this time of crisis but we don’t need people to endanger others.”
On Sunday, he announced that people who fail to disperse from public spaces when ordered by police officers to do so will be issued fines of up to $500.
“You’ve been warned and warned and warned again,” he said during a press conference.
“They’re going to give people every chance to listen, and if anyone doesn’t listen, then they deserve a fine at this point,” the New York City mayor said. “I don’t want to fine people when so many folks are going through economic distress, but if they haven’t gotten the message by now, and they don’t get the message when an enforcement officer’s staring them in the face … that person then deserves the fine, so we’re going to proceed with that.”
Anxiety over social distancing has already resulted in at least one death in the city.
Police sources told the New York Post on Sunday that an 86-year-old woman awaiting treatment for bowel blockage at a Brooklyn hospital died after she was punched by another patient for not engaging in “social distancing” on Saturday.
The older adult, Janie Marshall, was allegedly in the emergency room at Woodhull Medical Center when she was punched in the face by a younger patient who was awaiting psychiatric treatment. Marshall fell and cracked her head at approximately 2 p.m., police say. She died hours later while awaiting a CT scan.