COVID-19 has killed over one hundred thousand people in the United States. Over thirty thousand have died in New York. This has forced officials to put restrictions on activities in the city to contain the rapid spread of the virus. The restrictions are limiting but they are in place in the interest of trying to save more lives. 

New York is on lockdown

Since the coronavirus outbreak began in March, New York, the city that never sleeps has been on lock down with many restrictions. The city has become a ghost town; it’s dominated by a virus. It’s more or less like the virus is dictating the lives of everyone in the city.  Shops, restaurants, salons, schools are all closed. The city is in deep slumber both day and night. 

 The R train plying Broadway street empty with empty cans of virus chemicals (credit Alpha Kamara).

I have been sitting home for over two months now. My room is both my classroom and my workspace. This was not how we started 2020. When the year started, I was full of hope.

This notion struck me as I washed my hands frequently and while wearing a mask to go to the store. Authorities have wisely set up restrictions everywhere to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

The stations reinforce the new codes of behavior that dominate what was once a vibrant and buzzing city — social distancing, avoiding crowded spaces, avoiding family, avoiding friends are the new orders. Our normal lives are gone. 

The streets are blocked off. Schools and businesses are closed. Cinemas and restaurants are shuttered. Even the city’s lovely time square is empty, lonely and deserted.

COVID-19 is Killing More Black Americans in the US 

Over one hundred thousand people have died from COVID-19 nationwide with over 30,000 of them being in New York. Data has shown that COVID-19 has only magnified the systemic inequalities that persist in the United States. African Americans have been hit hard on nearly every front.The government, to be sure, has enacted rules to reinforce these new codes of behavior. The mask I wear to the grocery store is a testimony to that.

As of May 11, 2020, 17,155 black Americans have died due to COVID-19 according to study by the American Public Media (APM) Research Lab. That’s out of nearly 65,000 deaths for which race and ethnicity data was available. More than 80,000 people total had lost their lives to the coronavirus at the time of the analysis. This is another reason to stay home. The doors of my university are closed and my courses restricted online. My room has become my office and my work space.

Social and Psychological Shift 

The social and psychological shift that’s taken place under COVID-19 worries me more than the government’s temporary restrictions on our movements to deal with the public health crisis. When fear becomes a prime motivator for people, they lose touch with the better angels of their nature. I’ve seen it firsthand. People wear masks when going out. They walk far apart (6 feet) to observe social distancing. When I sneezed in public instead of saying bless you as it used to be, people looked at me and ran away.

This is not the first time I am facing a virus regime. I faced the same five years ago during the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone, my home country. It was brutal. I was locked down and I had to abandon my family and friends. I saw people buried in body bags. I saw families attacking burial teams because they are restricted from burying their dead loved ones. I was not expecting to face another lock down in New York, the buzzing capital of the world. 

 Streets around Astor place and Broadway by New York University are deserted due to Covid19 (credit Alpha Kamara).

Since COVID-19 struck, I have seen family members abandon their sick loved ones. I have seen families frustrated because they are unable to participate in the burial rites of their loved ones. I have seen business people increase food prices because it has not been the same. 

I came close to the virus myself. A source I interviewed for a university assignment tested positive two weeks after our meeting. A man who owns a shop close to my house on Staten Island died of COVID-19. This terrifying truth reminds me of how brutally the virus can snatch away friends. 

When I started reporting on COVID-19 in New York a month ago, I never thought it would devastate the city and the world like this. The world is on lockdown. All because of a virus.

To replace bad energy with something positive, I’m playing my part as the dissident in COVID-19’s dictatorship. I stopped shaving my hair because the barber shops are closed until the coronavirus is contained. My rough hair is merely a token of resistance, but it’s my resistance, my personal statement against the status quo that I’ll abandon when the situation changes.

Yet my rough hair hasn’t inspired me to seek out social gatherings, welcome visitors to my house or turn away from movies, books and television shows that occupy my time in isolation. I, too, am succumbing to COVID-19’s state of sadness.

Hope in Times of Adversity 

I’m thankful for health professionals putting their lives on the line to save the world but especially New York. I take a pause for the over 100,000 souls we have lost to COVID-19 in the US. My hope burns brighter when I think about the tens of thousands others who have survived the virus. 

Health care organizations’ efforts and the medical victories against COVID-19 are what Americans and the world need to combat the brutal virus’ regime. They remind us the virus is not omnipotent, the state of sadness not absolute. Both shall pass.

When all is over, New York, the city that never sleeps will be back in style and fashion. In the words of Alicia Keys, it will “make us brand new again with lights that inspire us”. 

Alpha Kamara is a freelance and human rights journalist based in New York. He is a Masters in Journalism student at New York University. He was reported from several countries across Africa reporting on stories on human interest stories. 

*Contributions are solely guest opinions and don’t reflect the opinions of or are endorsed by WYL, our staff, clients or other interested parties.

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