Pandemic Journal

This running series of brief dispatches by New York Review writers will document the coronavirus outbreak with regular updates from around the world.

Pandemic Journal #34

In the midst of a pandemic that has crippled health care systems in the developed world, Cuba has projected an image of international solidarity by dispatching its medical missions to countries that have been hit hard by the coronavirus. While these medical services are welcome, they also serve a symbolic purpose by tacitly endorsing socialized medicine. The positive press reports about the medical missions deflect attention from the less savory measures that Cuba has adopted to control the crisis at home. For Cuban authorities, any struggle against an outside force—be it an insurgency, capitalist cultural influence, or an infectious disease—inevitably becomes a symbolic battle against internal enemies.…  Seguir leyendo »

Pandemic Journal #33

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK—I live in an apartment that is somewhere between Greenpoint and the East Williamsburg Industrial Park. It’s mostly warehouses and the BQE, far from the things most associated with life in New York. The news coming out of the city can feel dire and overwhelming, but when I stay off the Internet, life still floods in. These are some of the moments that have kept me connected, and given me some hope.

PACKAGES: I was supposed to visit my family in California in April. Instead, my parents send me USPS boxes full of home-baked cookies, jars of olives, homemade masks.…  Seguir leyendo »

Hannah Yoon/Bloomberg via Getty Images. An almost empty 30th Street Station, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, April 15, 2020

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—In the summer of 2019, after I gave birth to my son, I flunked the postpartum depression screener. A multiple-choice questionnaire, all new mothers were required to fill it out before leaving the hospital: In the past seven days, have you felt scared? Panicky? Had difficulty sleeping?

I was a first-time mom past her due date. In Philadelphia, it was 111º F. Yes, yes, and yes.

Five months later, in January, I sat on the couch holding my son and tried to convince myself I was just being paranoid. Coronavirus had leveled China’s Hubei Province, had even landed in the US, but Washington state was far away.…  Seguir leyendo »

Jane Barlow/AFP via Getty Images. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, center, observing a minute’s silence to honor health service workers who have died during the Covid-19 outbreak, outside St. Andrew’s House, Edinburgh, April 28, 2020

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND—In Scotland, the spread of the virus was two or three weeks behind London as lockdown came in, and we’ve seen the benefit of that delay. Bed occupancy in Edinburgh’s ICUs peaked around April 9, is dropping now, and only briefly breached the pre-Covid-19 capacity. But the delivery of medical care is utterly transformed.

I work in primary care. As the hospitals were cleared out for Covid-19, specialist outpatient clinics for practically everything but cancer were cancelled. Many routine hospital tests are now unavailable. The labs are frantically expanding their viral testing capability and have little capacity for anything else.…  Seguir leyendo »

Amanda Fortini. Downtown Livingston, Montana, March 29, 2020

LIVINGSTON, MONTANA—Spring has finally arrived in late April, and after a nearly monthlong shelter-in-place order, Governor Steve Bullock announced last Wednesday that Montana has “seen the number of positive [coronavirus] cases decline over these past weeks.” Along with a handful of other states, including Colorado, Minnesota, Georgia, and Tennessee, Montana has now begun a “phased reopening,” which commenced on Sunday, April 26, with churches. As of this Monday, retail businesses can open if they operate at “reduced capacity” to ensure “physical distancing”—a mandate that is not as difficult to achieve here as it is in other places, in this state with an abundance of land and only a million people.…  Seguir leyendo »

Manjunath Kiran/AFP via Getty Images. Women waiting to collect groceries distributed by the Karnataka State Congress during the nationwide lockdown, Bangalore, India, April 21, 2020

BANGALORE, INDIA—Here, in the world’s most congested city, there is a midnight quiet at all times of day. On the streets, where the occasional two-wheeler or pedestrian can be seen, there are no trucks or public transport. Police checkpoints have been set up along the main arteries. Cars are confiscated if drivers take them out for no good reason. Some hospitals are open, and groceries, and ATMs. Everything else is shut; and each time the lockdown reaches its endpoint, it is extended.

In India, the pandemic came as a bounty to the ruling BJP party: taking advantage of the chaos the virus brought, the Indian government consolidated powers it would have been impossible to imagine even half a dozen years ago.…  Seguir leyendo »

Alvaro Calvo/Getty Images. An elderly coronavirus-infected patient receiving care in a nursing home, Yequeda, Huesca, Spain, April 16, 2020

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK—Fourteen days after March 11, when the World Health Organization declared the pandemic, I converted from telemedicine skeptic to telemedicine evangelist. Like most primary care physicians, I used to do my job face-to-face: patients came to my office, were greeted by staff, pocketed magazines no one admits to liking, and were finally ushered in to see me in my white coat. Now, staff work from home, non-urgent visits are cancelled, those magazines are piling up, and my daily “rounds” are either by video chat or phone.

There’s no shortage of work. I “see” more than twenty Covid-19 patients daily.…  Seguir leyendo »

Oleksandra Korobova/Getty Images. Window in Harlem, New York City

MANHATTAN, NEW YORK—Several years ago, when I stormed out of psychoanalysis with Dr. S., I decided to journal at my little desk instead, but I could not get past the attempt to describe my view to the street. I’m still trying.

The window by my desk is the only place in my studio apartment where I can see a segment of sky above the opposite building rather than the secondhand sun that’s dispatched from it. It’s a front-loaded, precarious feeling—to lean out toward a wider world that won’t arrive—like hoping for shooting stars on a bright moonlit night, or waiting for a married man to leave his wife.…  Seguir leyendo »

NYRB. Vermont farm in mud season, April 18, 2020

LINCOLN, VERMONT—Our town meeting was on March 2. Much of it, as always, was devoted to deploring the state of the roads. “I’ve lived here for more than seventy-five years,” growled one gentleman, “and I never seen it so bad on that stretch by the dump.” It’s true: the roads were worse than usual this winter. That stretch in particular was a frost-heaved, axle-bending rollercoaster ride.

When I think of that evening now—more than a hundred townspeople packed into one toasty room, shoulder to shoulder—it seems a very long time ago. Our lives here are paced by well-defined seasons. There’s ski season, cut short in mid-March by social-distancing guidelines.…  Seguir leyendo »

HAVANA, CUBA—Every night at 9 PM, applause erupts across Havana, filling the city’s dark, empty streets. It’s hard to see where the clapping is coming from, but if you look up, you can spot people leaning out windows and over balconies.

I’m currently in Cuba with Belly of the Beast, a media organization that reports on the island through journalism and cinematography.

On most nights, after the applause for the doctors, I call my mother to check in. She lives in Blaine County, Idaho, which recently had one of the highest infection rates in the US. As of Thursday, there were 467 cases among the county’s 23,000 residents.…  Seguir leyendo »

Mark Harrington/Newsday RM via Getty Images. Menhaden fishermen haul in their seine net on the shore of Long Island, Suffolk County, New York, April 1, 2020

WATERTOWN, MASSACHUSETTS—Tuesday morning and, as usual, I’m watching a head bob before a verdant if patchily rendered digital landscape. I’m on Zoom, of course, along with a hundred and twenty or so other anti-hunger advocates from across the state of Massachusetts.

For the past year and a half, I’ve worked part-time at a small nonprofit embedded within a much larger nonprofit, first in data entry and now in childcare solutions and case management. Our focus is workforce development: we match clients with and pay for job training. Now that training centers are closed through at least May 4, our students study from home, or try to.…  Seguir leyendo »

WELLESLEY, MASSACHUSETTS—During the early days of quarantine, back when I was still trying to keep straight which Tolstoy princess had the mole and which had the mustache, and was still forcing my family to gather before the hearth every evening, as our forebears had, to hear the patriarch read poems aloud; before, that is, the fear of becoming very ill, or of losing our home, had really kicked in, I opened The New York Review of Books and turned to the classifieds. Twentieth-century artifacts still gamely chugging along, these notices offer all kinds of enticements: a farmhouse in the Dordogne or Tuscany, a kit for constructing a geodesic dome, a massage of uncertain propriety.…  Seguir leyendo »

Adam Bettcher/Getty Images. Pastor Troy Dobbs speaking to empty pews after Grace Church Eden Prairie moved to online services, Eden Prairie, Minnesota, March 15, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS–ST. PAUL—One evening in late March, the state of Minnesota lurched briefly into the national consciousness: as Rachel Maddow described in her opening monologue on MSNBC, the governor, Tim Walz, had gone into self-quarantine. That same day, the state’s senior senator, former presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar, had disclosed that her husband was battling the virus, while the lieutenant governor’s brother, a “tough-as-nails” former marine, had succumbed to it. The number of infections was doubling every seventy-two hours.

“Just… one day in one US state,” Maddow intoned, with the deadpan astonishment she reserves for particularly alarming news.

In St. Paul, the state capital, however, it was hard to detect much disquiet.…  Seguir leyendo »

Jorge Villegas/Xinhua via Getty Images. Shoppers passing through a disinfection tunnel before entering a market, Santiago, Chile, April 8, 2020

I flew out of Windhoek on Saturday March 21: the thirtieth anniversary of Namibia’s independence. As more than four hundred Namibian statesmen and foreign dignitaries (including heads of state who were discouraging their own citizens from international travel) assembled for the re-inauguration of incumbent president Hage Geingob, the government, encouraging social distancing, had officially forbidden public gatherings of more than fifty people in an attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus. One press image showed Namibia’s founding president, Sam Nujoma, cheerily bumping elbows with Police Inspector General Sebastian Ndeitunga, as though that offset the health hazard posed by hundreds of people congregating.…  Seguir leyendo »

Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images. Members of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club parading down St. Charles Avenue on Fat Tuesday, New Orleans, Louisiana, February 25, 2020

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA—The headline the other day on the front page of the Times–Picayune/New Orleans Advocate reads: “Orleans Parish Death Rate Highest in US—By Far.”

What I do with the newspaper: I remove the plastic wrap and place it in the outside trash can, careful to grip the lid of the can with the plastic that I am discarding. I carry the paper into the house and set it beside the stair, to begin its forty-eight-hour self-isolation. I approach the sink with hands raised, as if affirming a field goal, and give my hands the OR treatment. I’ve found it’s healthier—for the mind—and takes less time, to read the newspaper a few days late.…  Seguir leyendo »

Cole Burston/Getty Images. A pilot leaving Toronto Pearson International Airport, Toronto, Canada, April 1, 2020; Air Canada announced it would temporarily lay off over 15,000 employees and reduce activity by up to 90 percent due to Covid-19

BERNALILLO, NEW MEXICO—A few nights ago, I phoned my old friend, Ira Churgin. In 1961, we were ancient history students at the University of Chicago. Ira’s roommate was Bernie Sanders. In October of 1962, we all crowded into Mandel Hall to hear Professor Hans Morgenthau explain the Cuban missile crisis, about to reach its climax. That night, we students walked home together in the dark, wondering if a nuclear war was about to start.

There we were, all age twenty, thinking our lives were about to end. In my course on European history, my professor liked to say that the outbreak of World War I was “the end of history.”…  Seguir leyendo »

Philip A. Dwyer/The Bellingham Herald via AP Images. A maximum security cell block at Whatcom County Jail, Bellingham, Washington, 2015

MONROE, WASHINGTON—The cellblock I live in looks like every movie you’ve ever seen about Alcatraz: a towering wall of a hundred and sixty barred cell-fronts, four tiers high and forty cells long. But the cells here are older than the ones at Alcatraz; Washington State built this prison one hundred and twelve years ago. And each of these six- by nine-foot cells are double-bunked—after all, this is the age of mass incarceration. The cellhouse comprises two of these cellblocks, three hundred and twenty cells in total.

The pulse of the prison passes through this cellhouse. I see it and hear it in a way that only someone halfway through their fourth decade of incarceration can.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ali Bhutto. Outside a pharmacy on M.A. Jinnah Road, Karachi, Pakistan, March 31, 2020

SOUTH ORANGE, NEW JERSEY—I live each day in a house on a street in suburban New Jersey, about a forty-minute train ride from New York City, the view from the front door changing only by the tiny increments of budding spring (all about a month early owing to another cresting disaster). Aside from weekly trips to the grocery, we’ve hardly left our house in twenty-one days, and there is a sense not only of being shut away from the world but of being out of it altogether—or adjacent to it, somewhere terribly familiar yet not quite the same.

The girls down the street are riding their scooters, and the boys next door are running around and yelling.…  Seguir leyendo »

C.B. Schmelter/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP Images. People crossing the Walnut Street Bridge, Chattanooga, Tennessee, March 26, 2020

CHATTANOOGA, TENNESSEE—This morning, I raise the blinds on our third-floor windows and see snow: white flakes line the curbs and speckle the windshields and hoods of parked cars. But it’s April in Tennessee, and I look again, and the snowflakes are cherry blossoms whipped from branches by the wind on the backside of last night’s rain. The fact that I mistook spring for winter feels emblematic. Snow out of season wouldn’t surprise me. Very little would surprise me now.

Two weeks ago, the bars and restaurants were packed. On March 14, I took a photo of a sidewalk sign in front of the brewery on our block.…  Seguir leyendo »

Erin Clark for The Boston Globe via Getty Images. A cashier scanning the groceries of a customer at a Whole Foods, Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 24, 2020

ATHENS, GEORGIA—On my day off, my partner and I went to the grocery store. The shelves had been picked over, but at least the aisles weren’t crowded. I still found two bags of my brand of coffee and a nice spaghetti squash, our new comfort food.

The store had affixed glass windows to the checkout lanes as a protective measure for its clerks and customers. They are roughly two feet across by four feet high. “That’s nice,” I said, gesturing to the safety precaution. The woman checking us out was not satisfied, however. “Stand over there, where everyone stands while they wait to be rung up,” she said.…  Seguir leyendo »