With more than 5,000 dead, New York City accounts for almost a third of the total number of victims of Covid-19 in the United States. The epidemic put “the city that never sleeps” stopped within a few weeks.
“It is impossible that there are so many cases of Covid-19 in the world, in so many places in the United States, and that there are not in New York.” In early March, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo warned that the arrival of the coronavirus was only a matter of time. A month later, the city has more than 87,000 proven cases, according to Johns Hopkins University Report Card* as of Thursday April 9. Almost 20% of the total number of cases in the United States. With more than 5,000 dead, it deplores almost a third of the victims of Covid-19 in the United States. One month story “apocalyptic” who saw New York become the epicenter of the pandemic across the Atlantic.
The first case of Covid-19 is confirmed in New York*, Sunday March 1st. A caregiver, returning from Iran, is now confined to her home. A second patient was declared positive two days later. According to New york times*, it took four days before Lawrence Garbuz was properly diagnosed. He has never traveled near a coronavirus outbreak or, a priori, been in contact with a sick person.
The lawyer in his fifties is the first case of local transmission of Covid-19. News all the more worrying that he took part in three religious events organized at the synagogue in his city of New Rochelle (northern suburbs), when he was sick. He also went to his workplace in Manhattan. To limit the risk of the virus spreading, around a thousand people are quarantined in New Rochelle and a health zone is set up within a 1.5 km radius around the synagogue.
We realized that this was going to change the life of our community, without realizing that it was the vanguard of a national backdrop.in the world”
New York authorities, who call themselves “ready” to cope with the epidemic, remain calm. “There is currently no indication that the virus is easily spread through contact”, then ensures CNN* Oxiris Barbot, head of the New York City Department of Health. “We want New Yorkers to continue their daily lives. Take the subway, take the bus, go see your neighbors.” Locals are always crowded in restaurants, the streets of Manhattan remain crowded, but the concern grows. As shown by queues in front of pharmacies * to fill up with disinfectant wipes, hydroalcoholic gel or masks, which are starting to run out.
City hospitals are getting ready. “We started thinking about it at the end of February, but the real preparation started at the beginning of March, when the first affected patients arrived”, Manhattan emergency doctor Lynn Jiang explains to franceinfo. She adds : “But it wouldn't surprise me that we had cases before that, without knowing that the virus had already arrived in New York.”
With almost 11,000 inhabitants per square kilometer, “The Big Apple” is the most densely populated city in the United States. “There are eight million people here. On any given day of the year, you will find at least fifty people waiting, crowded together, to cross at an intersection”, says Cleavon Gilman, emergency room doctor. The streets are swarming with people and the subway is crowded, thanks in particular to the nearly 60 million tourists who visit New York each year. “The perfect cocktail for an epidemic”sums up Stefan Flores, also a New York emergency doctor.
Population density and number of travelers “probably accentuate the spread of infections”, confirms Tom Frieden, president of the organization to fight epidemics Resolve to Save Lives. Gold, “No City is Ready to Withstand a Large Covid-19 Epidemic”, according to this former director of the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and former head of the New York Department of Health, contacted by franceinfo.
Second week of March. The “tsunami” is not yet there, but the first wave has already pushed the doors of New York health centers. “We first saw a lot of people with mild symptoms who could go back to their homes”says Lynn Jiang. The tests are generalized and the patients turn out to be more numerous. “We had only one patient suspected of being affected, but over time, other people (…) without fever tested positive for Covid-19, tells a nurse to Vox*. We realized that the symptoms were variable. “
In front of Elmhurst Hospital, in Queens, a long line of New Yorkers throngs the pavement daily. All hope to be tested at Covid-19. Inside, “more than two hundred people” sometimes clump in the waiting room, depending on the New york times*. In this hospital as in the others, the symptoms are always more serious. “More and more patients are coming into hypoxia (lack of oxygen) and their condition deteriorates very quickly “, sums up Cleavon Gilman.
On the streets of New York too, we realize the gravity of the situation. It is March 12 and Donald Trump announces that Europeans are no longer allowed to enter the United States. “I was at the restaurant when I learned about the information, it cut my appetite, says Thomas, a Frenchman who has lived in Brooklyn since the fall. It was then that I said to myself, 'this is really a pandemic'. “ “Sensitized by the health crisis” in Italy, the thirty-something decides to limit restaurant outings and evenings with his friends. “We thought it would be irresponsible to take the risk of catching it and infecting other, more fragile people.”
Local authorities are taking longer to tune their violins. New York mayor Bill de Blasio still opposes the schools' closure. He gives in under pressure from Governor Andrew Cuomo, Sunday March 15, say The echoes. Twenty-four hours later, the town councilor still enjoys a last session at the gym, while Andrew Cuomo has just announced their upcoming closure. For their part, the health authorities are increasing calls for social distancing. New York is about to face an inevitable health crisis. “We were in the reaction and not in the anticipation, judge Lynn Jiang, emergency doctor in Manhattan. Without wanting to blame anyone, we waited until the coronavirus spread throughout the city before taking action. “
Friday March 20. Andrew Cuomo announces the closure of all non-essential businesses and widespread containment in New York State. Options that Bill de Blasio had previously dismissed. “If this measure had been taken two days later, the number of deaths would have been twice as high”, says Dr. Tom Frieden, former head of the CDC. Little by little, the “city that never sleeps” goes into hibernation.
Tourists leave the iconic Times Square, Broadway theaters close, as does the Statue of Liberty pier and the 9/11 memorial. At Grand Central station, “the announcements resound in the almost empty hall at rush hour”, tell him Washington Post*. “Outside, the line of yellow taxis is getting longer, (…) the drivers expect passengers who will not come. “ Even the local mafia sees its activities collapse, believes it knows the New york post*.
On sidewalks where you usually have to slalom, “we now see masked faces moving several meters away, avoiding contact”says Lynn Jiang. Most of the storefronts are closed, posters* evoke “the health context” and some invite passers-by to “take care of them”. “On the whole, people respect the rules of social distancing, says Stefan Flores, but we still see people running around Central Park and crowds. “
Some New Yorkers have no choice but to go out of their homes every day. “The people crossed on the avenues, now silent and without cars, are often African-American or Latin, obviously poor, as if the whites of finance and the beautiful neighborhoods had disappeared”, observe The world. In working-class neighborhoods, such as the Bronx and Queens, social distancing and confinement are difficult to respect. “Many people in these neighborhoods have low incomes. They cannot afford not to go to work if they want to continue to feed their families.”, underlines Stefan Flores.
Families of five or six live in the same small apartment. If someone gets the coronavirus, they spread it to everyone in the household.at franceinfo
More exposed, these populations are also less well taken care of. “Some people delay the time to get treatment as much as possible, because they fear the amount of medical bills”, continues the emergency physician. The mortality rate for Covid-19 is twice as high among black and Latino New Yorkers, according to city figures* (PDF). “There are obvious inequalities in how this virus affects people in our city, admits Bill de Blasio to Politico*. So many people have difficulty accessing the care they need, do not have the money to receive the necessary treatment … “
The socio-economic disparities between the different boroughs of New York are reflected in the hospital. Elmhurst becomes “the epicenter of the epicenter”*. The situation is so critical that a refrigerated truck is parked outside the building, to receive the bodies of patients who have succumbed to the Covid-19. “At the heart of the crisis”, this establishment is “number one priority in our network of public hospitals “, assure the city health authorities. At the end of March, Queens, the district with the least capacity for receiving patients, accounts for 32% of the city's coronavirus cases, according to the New york times*.
To cope with the overcrowding of its resuscitation services, Elmhurst transfers patients to other hospitals. They too are quickly overwhelmed. “Previously, my department treated appendicitis, heart attacks, injuries in homeless people. Now, each case treated is a case of Covid-19”, says emergency physician Stefan Flores. Patients who should be treated in intensive care are treated in the emergency room, due to lack of space. “We would need more beds, more respirators, more caregivers”, continues the doctor, whose state of fatigue is now “beyond exhaustion”.
“Every day the number of patients in respiratory distress is increasing”, testifies his colleague Cleavon Gilman. The main corridor of the establishment, usually empty and “wide enough to pass a tractor”, is full of occupied beds. “Patients, who only needed a cannula to breathe, must be intubated a few hours later. I had never seen this.” Healthy, young people, without any previous pathology, are hospitalized in critical condition. New York is stunned by the violence of the epidemic.
Each establishment must “review and adapt” its organization, details Lynn Jiang. Services are transformed to accommodate beds in intensive care. In a hospital, nurses from an intensive care unit install infusion bags in the hallway, to limit contact with infected patients, explains a caregiver to New york times*. Elsewhere, gynecologists, orthopedists and ophthalmologists are requisitioned to lend a hand to emergencies. The days are long, the working conditions hellish. “We provide 12-hour rotations, with FFP2 masks and protective glasses, Cleavon Gilman explains. At first I had trouble breathing with this gear, but now I feel naked without it. “
“The most heartbreaking thing is to see the number of patients who are unlikely to survive. And who die alone, without their loved ones”says Lynn Jiang. Over the weeks, the balance sheet keeps getting heavier. March 26, New York records 167 deaths*. A week later, on April 3: 362 people died from the Covid-19. “Before the pandemic, I had to announce the death of a patient to his loved ones once or twice a month. Now, I have to do it two to three times per rotation, breath Cleavon Gilman. Each time, a small part of me breaks. “
I hate this analogy, but hospitals look like a battlefield. I had never seen so many people die in such a short time. It's apocalyptic.at franceinfo
The emergency doctor says to himself “worried about the psychological and emotional consequences” on hospital staff. “When it's over, the caregivers will be a bit like veterans, says Stefan Flores. The rest of the population will find it difficult to understand what we have been through and we will find it difficult to return to a 'normal' life. “
To relieve breathless establishments, several field hospitals went up in emergency. Tents are erected on the lawns of Central Park to care for patients without Covid-19 from nearby Mount Sinai Hospital. Some 2,500 beds are open in a conference center, others in the nave of Saint John the Divine Cathedral, lists Politico*. Flushing Meadows, the legendary US Open venue, can now accommodate up to 350 patients. And an army hospital ship, with more than 1,000 beds, docked in New York.
These additional means remain insufficient, according to Bill de Blasio. “All the hospitals combined have around 20,000 beds. We need to triple that number in the coming weeks”, hammered the mayor. The balance sheet in the city exceeds the sad threshold * 1,000 deaths on March 31, as cases continue to increase. It continues to weigh down at breakneck speed in the following days. “The medical equipment is rationed, but if the number of hospitalizations continues to increase at this rate, it is only a matter of time before we run out”, alerts Lynn Jiang. New York University School of Medicine's 2020 promotion is early graduate*, to join the ranks of caregivers. And Andrew Cuomo call for help “health professionals across the country”.
“The Big Apple” is not the only American city bruised by the Covid-19. Neighboring New Jersey passes 1,500 dead Friday, April 10, according to New york times*. Other outbreaks are developing, especially in Louisiana, where the New Orleans carnival has contributed to the spread of the virus. According to a former US Department of Health official interviewed by Vox*, the rest of the United States must now “prepare” to deal with the pandemic, “in case it gets that bad”. “New York is a warning for the whole country.”
* All links followed by an asterisk are in English.