Five Months in New York City: February-June 2020

Five months have passed with excruciating speed and pain in New York City. This post is a look back on the momentous period between February and June 2020 and an attempt to give visual expression to the relentless chronology of a city in crisis.

February 2020:   

The month of February began with unease as Americans followed news of a novel coronavirus in China, but daily life was nearly normal in New York City. The Lunar New Year was celebrated in Chinatown as usual on February 8 and 9 with the traditional lion dancers, drummers, confetti, and a parade. The crowds on the sidewalks were noticeably thinner than in prior years, however. Restaurants had empty tables as some New Yorkers began avoiding Chinatown after watching media coverage of the coronavirus epidemic overwhelming Wuhan, China. It seemed so far away in a city most people had never heard of. Unknown at the time, the virus had already arrived in New York City from Europe and was spreading silently.

Lion dancers at the Lunar New Year celebration in Chinatown, February 8


The NYPD Marching Band led the parade on Mott Street, February 9


Dragon on Mott Street, February 9


Mayor Bill de Blasio parading with Chinese community leaders on February 9


As the coronavirus epidemic raged in Wuhan, China, the Chinatown community expressed support


February 16: A worker from the Nom Wah Tea Parlor rests on Doyers Street in Chinatown. My daughter and I made a point of going to Chinatown on a Sunday morning to eat at a dim sum restaurant and show support for the Chinese community.


February 23: Columbia University students enjoying springlike weather on campus on a Sunday afternoon. Classes at the university were suspended on March 9.


March 2020: Shutdown and quarantine 

On March 1 the first case of coronavirus was reported in New York City when a medical researcher who returned from Iran on February 25 felt sick and went to the hospital. She isolated herself in her home. On March 3 the first person-to -person spread in New York State was confirmed in a man from New Rochelle who worked in midtown Manhattan. On March 9, there were 16 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in New York City, marking the beginning of the exponential spread of the virus.

High school kids skateboarding on Riverside Drive, Friday, March 13. School attendance had plummeted  to 68% that day as gatherings of over 500 people were banned due to the coronavirus. The schools were still open but parents pulled their children out and teachers threatened to stay home in protest. The next day, the mayor announced that the New York City school system would close on Monday, March 16.


A closed public school on West End Avenue


March 14: New York City reported its first death from Covid-19.


Riverside Drive on March 15, a flowering tree signaling the start of a spring like no other in New York.


March 20: I began self-isolation after having been exposed to four people with Covid-19 infections. 43 deaths were reported in New York City on that day.


March 25: 88 Covid-19 deaths were reported in New York City. 13 of the deaths were in a single hospital, Elmhurst Hospital in Queens.


April 2020, the cruelest month.

I ended self-isolation on April 1. I went out on the streets again with a camera and began  to document what I saw in my neighborhood within walking distance of my home. By that date, a total of 672 people had died in New York City as the virus continued to spread exponentially through the population.

A flowering tree on West 102nd Street on April 1, my first day outside since mid-March. I was grateful to feel the sunlight, breathe the spring air, and see the flowering trees again.


A solitary basketball player shooting hoops in Riverside Park on April 1. Gyms were closed and group sports were banned.


April 2: Playgrounds were open at first after the schools closed, but people failed to observe social distancing procedures so the playgrounds were closed by order of the city. This is Dinosaur Park in Riverside Park at 97th Street.


April 5: Another closed playground in Riverside Park. It was still surprising to passersby to see the locked and empty playground. Masks or face coverings were mandated and many people wore gloves.


On April 5, 594 coronavirus deaths were reported in New York City.


April 5: a mother and her daughter stopped during their bicycle ride in Riverside Park.


April 5: social distancing under the flowering cherry trees in Riverside Park.


April 6: Finding solace in magnolia blossoms in Riverside Park.


April 7: 590 coronavirus patients died in New York City.


April 8: A father and his daughters on Riverside Drive.


April 8: waiting to shop at a grocery store on Broadway and 100th Street


April 8: a homeless man is violently arrested on West 110th Street. The man had been arguing with people at the bus stop and allegedly told them that he had the coronavirus. You could hear his body being slammed on the hood of the car from the other side of a four-lane street while the police officers shouted curses. He offered no resistance and was not wearing a mask; none of the police officers were wearing masks either. At that time, 80% of people arrested for failing to wear masks were minorities.


April 8: The Hungarian Pastry Shop, the beloved local coffeeshop usually packed with students from Columbia University, tried to remain open for takeout coffee and pastries as the law allowed but it quickly closed its doors.


April 9: street cleaning had been suspended since the middle of March.


April 12: 573 Covid-19 deaths in New York City.


April 12: social distancing, mask, and gloves on Riverside Drive while maintaining standards of dress.


April 12: a memorial to Steve Hann, a bookseller who operated a sidewalk stand on Broadway near Columbia University and died of Covid.


April 14: a dollar store advertises cleaning products, masks, and hand sanitizer. All of these supplies had been nearly impossible to find for a month.


Ambulance sirens every few minutes, day and night, incessantly.


Grocery deliverymen became frontline workers and heroes of the pandemic, exposing themselves to infection by the simple act of delivering food. West 96th Street, normally busy with cars heading to or from Central Park, was empty of traffic.


The popular neighborhood Metro Diner on Broadway and 100th Street, closed and dark.


The empty Metro Diner on Broadway and 100th Street


April 16: 413 confirmed deaths due to Covid-19 in New York City


April 16: Afternoon rush hour at the 96th Street subway station, normally packed with commuters using three different subway lines.


April 16: Two of the four people who got off an uptown express train at rush hour at the 96th Street subway station.


April 16: Rush hour on Broadway near a subway exit, with only a solitary pedestrian and a pigeon on the street.


The dog runs closed because people failed to observe social distancing, so people let their dogs off leash to play. This is against New York City law but no one objects.


April 19: The Borzoi people on Riverside Drive. The man is dressed up for Orthodox Easter.


Riverside Park in April


April 22: Waiting to enter an urgent care on Broadway and 99th Street. A row of skulls runs down the side of the woman’s tights.


April 22: Easter and Passover cards remained on display in the window of a closed stationery shop for weeks after the holidays. Easter services and Passover Seders were online only.


April 22: Growing up in a pandemic: no school, riding bicycles on Broadway, face masks. Bicycle riding increased dramatically as people shunned the subways and buses.


April 22: Only two people got off this crosstown bus at rush hour at 96th Street and Broadway. After bus drivers died of Covid, the rear doors became both entry and exit doors and the area of the driver’s seat was sealed off from riders. No fares are collected.


April 22: A family on Amsterdam Avenue


April 23: His school closed, a Tai Chi instructor (left) practiced a sword form with his student in Riverside Park.


April 25: 264 confirmed Covid-19 deaths in New York City


April 25: When the gyms are closed, people exercise with whatever comes to hand, like this branch from a pruned tree in Riverside Park.


April 25: Waiting outside the Westside Market on Broadway and 97th Street


April 25: A closed construction site on West 96th Street near Central Park West, with an enormous drill bit left in the ground. The city became so quiet after construction and traffic noise stopped that you could hear birds singing every morning.


April 25: Reading the Sunday newspaper in Central Park


April 25: Flowering trees and a walk in Central Park


April 25: the photo that sums up Spring 2020. Flowers in bloom, empty streets, and people wearing masks and sitting six feet apart on Broadway.


April 25: Across the street from the Mount Sinai Hospital buildings, a controversial evangelical disaster relief organization set up a field hospital  in Central Park to take care of patients when there was no longer room in the overwhelmed hospital. The hospital and New York City obtained assurances that all patients would be treated equally. Earlier in the pandemic there were often six ambulances lined up at a time waiting to deliver patients here, but on the day of this photo in late April no ambulances arrived within a half hour period.


Army and Air Force jets flew over New York City in a show of support on April 28, seen here in Riverside Park. Many were thrilled by the spectacle, while others questioned spending money on a flyover when so many were in desperate conditions due to the pandemic and shutdown.


At the Firemen’s Memorial on Riverside Drive, two men enjoyed fresh oysters brought in from Long Island by an oysterman who supplied restaurants before the pandemic. The resilient supplier found new customers eager to buy oysters directly from him after the restaurants closed and he began delivering them daily.


May 2020: Spring weather, continued lockdown, the start of reopening. 

May 5: A message from children in Riverside Park


May 7: A family waits on a stoop while firefighters put out a three alarm fire in their apartment building across 101st Street.


May 9: Bicycles and scooters take over the streets as New Yorkers reject public transportation.


May 9: Confirmed deaths from Covid fall below 100 for the first time since March 24.


May 12: With hair salons closed, enterprising stylists took their skills outdoors, like this woman braiding hair in Central Park.


May 12: The running track around the reservoir in Central Park, where not everyone adhered to social distancing guidelines.


May 14: The scene outside Whole Foods on Columbus Avenue. Electric powered  bicycles replaced delivery vans for those customers quick enough to get their names on the day’s delivery list. Slower customers waited on the street for their turn to shop inside.


May 15: Crossing Broadway at 101st Street. We all dream of peace.


May 16, my first excursion outside of Manhattan: A family out for a walk at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens. As the weather improved, people flocked to parks and outdoor recreation areas that stayed open to the public.


May 16: 83 confirmed Covid-19 deaths in New York City.


May 17, Broadway and 104th Street: Bars are allowed to serve drinks on the sidewalk, quickly becoming a scene for happy hour.


This butcher shop on Broadway remained open as an essential business throughout the pandemic. The bull outside wore a mask.


May 28: What you need to be a pizza delivery guy in New York City during the pandemic. Electric powered bike with extra battery. Two Kryptonite locks (one for the frame and front wheel, one for the rear wheel). Backpack. Pizza hot pack. Helmet. Mask. Gloves. Smartphone. Willingness to work for minimum wage, no health insurance or benefits, few tips, exposure to infection with deadly virus.


May 28: Lining up for takeout at Starbucks on the corner of Columbus Avenue and 100th Street.


May 29, Riverside Park


Memorial Day 2020. No parade or public festivities took place, but a man named Chris waved a flag on Broadway and 102nd Street at 7:00 PM during the nightly applause for front line workers of the coronavirus pandemic.


May 31: 39 confirmed deaths due to Covid-19 in New York City


June 2020: Protests and pandemic

George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis on May 25. After video of his arrest and death became public, demonstrations and protests broke out across the country. Protests and vigils in every borough of New York City continued every day and night through the month of June. The protests began peacefully but some descended into violence and looting at night early in the month. Soon the city was shocked to see the violent actions of some members of the New York Police Department who were captured  on video clubbing and pepper spraying peaceful protesters and arresting journalists. The roar of police helicopters hovering overhead became common as NYPD tracked rapidly moving groups of protesters and apparently photographed them in great detail using advanced software. You could tell where a march was taking place by watching the trajectory of the helicopters.

Link NYC kiosks, which provide WiFi throughout the city, posted the names of black people killed in encounters with police.


June 4: Noelle on Central Park North


June 4: Protesters preparing to march down 5th Avenue from Harlem to City Hall


June 4: Protesters in Harlem. Large number of white and Latino protesters joined the Black Lives Matter movement.


June 4: A family of protesters in Harlem. The father said that he is always smiling and wanted his mask to show the smile.


June 4: Volunteers handing out supplies to protesters in Harlem in preparation for their march to City Hall.


June 4: Protesters taking a knee on Fifth Avenue during their march.


June 4: Protest march on Fifth Avenue on the way to City Hall. The protesters chanted “Hands up, don’t shoot!”


June 5: 26 confirmed deaths due to Covid-19 in New York City.


June 9: The third day of phased reopening of the city. Masks for sale on Broadway and 96th Street, but few people wearing them.


June 11: New Yorkers applaud first line workers of the coronavirus pandemic every evening at 7:00.


June 11: 20 confirmed deaths due to Covid-19 in New York City.


June 13: Broadway theaters are dark and will not reopen until 2021. A van warning of eternal damnation for sinners stands ready to receive the repentant on Broadway near Times Square.


June 13: An empty Times Square, barricaded by the police and closed to the public to prevent demonstrators from entering. Businesses expressed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and a flag flew at half staff to remember the lives lost in the pandemic.


June 13: The police allowed these high school seniors from the High School for the Performing Arts to enter Times Square so that they could take their own graduation photos. The young man hopes for a career in musical theater and the young woman plans to study economics.


June 13: a store looted during the early days of protests boarded up on Broadway in Times Square.


June 13: A looted souvenir shop on 42nd Street near Times Square.


June 13: People waiting for takeout from a restaurant next door to a looted Yankees merchandise store on 42nd Street near Times Square.


June 14: The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine on Amsterdam Avenue held a neighborhood vigil and protest on its steps in support of Black Lives Matter.


June 14: The Black Panthers held a protest on 125th Street in Harlem. The speaker is Sharonne Salaam, mother of Yusuf Salaam, one of the Central Park Five. Her 15-year-old son was wrongfully convicted and incarcerated for 7 years for a crime he did not commit.


June 14: Protester in Harlem


June 14: Latinos supported Black Lives Matter protesters in Harlem.


June 14 protest in Harlem. The sign says in Spanish “Your Struggle is Mine.”


June 14: Protesters in Harlem called for justice for Layleen Polanco, a transgender woman who according to family members died of seizures in the Rikers Island jail while guards failed to call for medical help.


June 14: Plywood covering a store on 125th Street in Harlem is covered with graffiti.


June 18: A doorman on West End Avenue bangs a spoon on a pan during the daily salute to front line workers of the coronavirus pandemic.


June 21: 28 confirmed deaths due to Covid-19 in New York City


June 21: a boy fishing for perch in the Central Park Lake. The boathouse is closed and the lake is no longer full of rowboats awkwardly piloted by tourists. The boy said that it’s harder to catch fish now because they no longer hug the shore to avoid the rowboats. Even the fish have changed their behavior in the absence of human activity around them.


June 21: Puerto Rican party time on Father’s Day in Central Park with great percussion, plenty of beer, and no social distancing. The Puerto Rican parade scheduled for the previous weekend was cancelled due to the pandemic.


June 21: the American Museum of Natural History announced that it will remove the statue of Theodore Roosevelt from its entrance because of its depiction of subservient Native American and  African figures. Police are guarding the statue against possible protesters.


June 23: Playgrounds for young children were reopened in the second phase.


June 25: in the second phase of reopening in the city, the Metro Diner offers sidewalk service only.


June 28: A young man in Christopher Park in Greenwich Village, across the street from the Stonewall Inn.


June 30: Lincoln Center Plaza with the iconic fountain illuminated in rainbow colors in honor of Pride Month. The Metropolitan Opera, David H. Koch Theater, and David Geffen Hall have been dark since March due to the pandemic and the plaza is closed and barricaded. All performances are cancelled until 2021.


June 30, 2020. Confirmed death total in New York City to date: 18,491

                               Probable deaths: 4,581

On June 30, the count of New Yorkers who have died of Covid-19 increased by 692, the new number reflecting city residents who died outside the city since the beginning of the pandemic.









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4 Responses to Five Months in New York City: February-June 2020

  1. Hi Deborah:VERY IMPRESSIVE!Feels like it ought to be a book!I had no idea you’d been exposed!

  2. John Schooley says:

    Wonderful, Deborah. Thank you

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