A Season of Grief and Release: 5 Months of the Virus in New York City


The restaurant was empty, save for two other tables. Spoons slid through our dessert, split three ways. We were anxious but determined to enjoy it, somehow. It was March 10, and the coronavirus had just hit New York City. We laughed, but with worry in our brows and the preamble of panic in our eyes.

The next day, I packed up my desk at work: the computer, the mouse, the keyboard. I left the giant monitor and two boxes of Girl Scout cookies behind.


My brother’s birthday arrived, and instead of the usual dinner and drinks, we saw each other on a FaceTime call. He was downtown and I was uptown. It felt wrong for his birthday to pass with such little fanfare, so I sent him two pints of ice cream through Postmates, as a surprise. He called to report that when the bell rang, what he saw was jarring: a man wearing a mask, gloves, goggles and white hooded disposable coveralls, handing over a brown paper bag.

In bed at night, in my Manhattan apartment where I live alone, I stared at the ceiling, unable to sleep. The silence was unnerving. Many of my neighbors, in my building and on my block, had vanished. I grew up in New York and have lived nowhere else since I was 7. Not once in that time — not during the snowstorm of 1983 nor the snowstorm of 1996, not after Sept. 11 or during the blackout of 2003, not after Hurricane Sandy in 2012 — had the streets ever been so quiet. The moan of a siren would speed by intermittently. Within days, they became more frequent, the wailing echoing off near-empty buildings.

Following the demonstrations and late-night destruction — shattered windows and stolen merchandise — the mayor instituted a curfew.

It was New York City’s first curfew since World War II.

The protests continued, day after day. Doctors and nurses knelt in Times Square with raised fists; thousands of cyclists pedaled while shouting “no justice, no peace.”

Encounters with the authorities were captured by protesters and shared on social media. A police officer was suspended after video emerged of him pushing a woman to the ground in Brooklyn. Another officer was suspended for pulling down a man’s face mask and spraying pepper spray directly in his face.

The cases of the virus in the city kept dropping.

Produced by Eve Lyons, Natalie Shutler and Tracy Ma.

Daniel Arnold is a photographer in New York. Dodai Stewart is a deputy editor on the Metro desk of The Times.


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