“Things were getting pretty strange by late February and early March,” said Laurie Joachim. “People were talking about the virus and there were more and more concerns about riding the subway. I ride the subway every day to go to work.”
Joachim lives in the Murray Hill neighborhood on the east side of Manhattan Island, New York, and her job was about five miles away in the Wall Street financial district.
She is an editor and worked on insurance claims at a small office.
Joachim became increasingly uncomfortable about riding the subway as the news reported the growing spread of the COVID-19 virus in her city and across the United States.
“It was getting scary in March when I had to keep riding it,” she said. “People were already wearing masks. It’s impossible to think about all the things you touch in there – the seats, the poles people hang onto – and the constant movement of people. It was really dangerous.”
New York City quickly became the hottest of hotspots in the pandemic.
On March 18, without any warning, the employees at the company where she worked were told it was their last day.
That was a Wednesday. She was allowed to use two days of vacation so she could be paid through the end of the week.
Then she joined the growing ranks of unemployed in the city and across the county.
Joachim has lived in New York City since 1991.
She is a 1982 Denison High School graduate. Her parents were Chuck and Millie Joachim. Chuck was the assistant superintendent of the Denison Community School District from 1973 until 1986. Millie was a long-time employee of Crawford County Memorial Hospital.
March 18 was also the last day Joachim used the New York subway.
She said New York City was an ideal place for COVID-19 to spread.
“You forget how many things you touch,” Joachim said. “To get on the subway, you slide your card through a machine that 9 million other people have swiped before you and no one is wearing gloves.”
She said she became more aware of breathing and coughing around her.
Crowded elevators and a crowded city helped the virus spread.
The office where she worked is on a floor with four other businesses that shared a bathroom.
“Everyone is in and out of the bathroom, touching everything,” she said. “You can make yourself crazy thinking about all the things that everybody else touches.”
The subways used to run 24 hours a day, but from 1 to 5 a.m. the city now shuts them down for cleaning – and to remove the homeless, who had started taking up residence in the cars as fewer people used them, she said.
Joachim said the city feels less safe after dark because the homeless and drug addicts have nowhere to go. Shelters and food banks are closed.
“Their normal places are closed and there is no foot traffic for the people who beg for money,” she said.
Some of the individuals have started being very aggressive and she has had more than one problem with a person on the street.
“At night it’s scary because there is nobody out,” Joachim said. “Nothing is open. The bars and restaurants are closed. Grocery stores close at 8 or 9 (p.m.). Some people are out, others walk dogs, but it’s too quiet. If somebody started harassing me and I wanted to run into a store, all the stores are closed.”
She said she no longer walks her dog, Helen, after 6:30 p.m.
With unemployment high in the city – and the restrictions on in-person interviewing – she is not hopeful of finding a different job in the near future.
“The job market right now is nonexistent,” Joachim said.
She has been in touch with her boss and, as far as she knows, she still has a job when the city starts to open back up.
That might happen by July or August, she said.
Her landlord has given her a break on rent – but she will have to pay back the difference when she can.
Almost everything in the city remains closed.
She doesn’t get mail every day because the post office doesn’t have enough people to take all the routes.
“I might get mail three times a week, but you get used to it,” Joachim said.
The city’s Yellow Cab service, Uber and Lyft cars have mostly disappeared.
“No one wants to jump into a car that someone else just sat in,” she said.
A few restaurants are open for takeout, but most remain closed.
She said one bright spot is that bars are allowed to sell drinks (through a window) that people can take and drink on the sidewalks.
“I’m like, Yay! It’s just like New Orleans – we can walk around with a beer!” she said.
About a week after she lost her job, Joachim decided she wanted to see what Times Square looked like during the pandemic.
The area is usually jammed with people but hardly anyone was there.
“It was quiet and eerie with so few people or cars,” she said. “There wasn’t any traffic or honking.”
Joachim said the scene looked like something out of films like “Escape from New York” or “Soylent Green.”
“I didn’t like it, so I don’t go too far from my house,” she said.
Her apartment building doesn’t have a laundry room so she has to wash her clothes at a laundromat.
She sanitizes everything she has to touch beforehand.
“I wear gloves because you have to wonder how many people used this machine before you,” she said.
The situation has improved in New York City in recent weeks, Joachim said.
“New York City was losing so many people a day in March and April, but that has somewhat passed,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking to think of all those people.”
She said she still hears many sirens headed toward New York University Langone Medical Center, which is near where she lives.
Part of the reason why the situation is improving is because residents listened to the recommendations to stay home and to wear masks.
“Everyone here really does wear a mask. No one has a problem with it. You can’t get into stores without one,” she said.
Joachim has started to wear fashionable or humorous masks. She has one with apples on it – as in, “The Big Apple,” she said.
She also has one with the lyrics to the Beatles song, “Hey Jude.”
“I’ve gotten compliments on my masks,” she said.
Even though she is out of work and doesn’t know when her life will return to anything like normal, Joachim said she is using the “gift of time” she has been given.
She is finishing writing a book about her experiences in New York City, which she said she still loves.
“Lucky” is about the strange jobs, odd roommates and celebrity encounters she has had during her time living in the city.
One chapter is about what it was like to live in New York City during 9/11.
She plans to look around for an agent once she finishes the introduction and conclusion.
One sign that the situation is improving in the city is that she was able to get Helen groomed.
“It’s kind of a bummer. My dog can get her hair done, but I still can’t get mine done,” Joachim said. “Go figure.”