How the Virus Swept Through a Corner of Queens

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Weather: Mostly sunny, with a high near 40, but the breeze will make it feel like the lower 30s at best.

Alternate-side parking: In effect today. Suspended tomorrow (Immaculate Conception).


Queens is no longer an epicenter of the pandemic. But for a few weeks in the spring, nowhere in the country suffered more.

A story written by my colleagues Dan Barry and Annie Correal conveys in wrenching terms the emotional and social toll that the virus inflicted as it tore through a corner of the borough during the darkest days of March and April.

[After the virus hit Queens, the nation was put on alert to its potential to devastate communities.]

Here is a glimpse of what they found.

Five neighborhoods in Queens — Woodside, Elmhurst, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and Corona — normally showcase New York’s diversity. Along Roosevelt Avenue, vendors sell woven baskets from Ecuador and leather sandals from Mexico, and Indian grocers display their produce.

But by the end of March, the streets were deserted. The sound of sirens was constant. Business after business began to shut down because of the pandemic.

Many people in these neighborhoods lived in small homes with relatives or friends, splitting high rents. Others lived among strangers, paying for a room or maybe just a bed. And they often held construction jobs, drove taxis, cleaned buildings or cooked in kitchens, among other service work.

Many could not socially distance at work or at home.

And many undocumented immigrants in the neighborhoods did not have health insurance or a primary care physician.

New Yorkers did not realize that by mid-March the coronavirus had already been circulating for weeks, and people and institutions struggled to understand a new and dangerous disease.

On a micro level, Queens residents like Yimel Alvarado, who worked in a nightclub in Corona, played down early symptoms: She initially thought her sickness was just a cold.

On a macro level, doctors at places like Elmhurst Hospital, which serves the communities, had to rethink their assumptions, including the idea that the virus always revealed itself with fever, coughing and respiratory distress. Doctors soon encountered a growing number of symptoms among the flood of patients who appeared.

Even people who regularly dealt with death were shaken by the virus’s toll. Tom Habermann, 34, manager and resident mortician of the Guida Funeral Home, drove from hospital to hospital, collecting bodies. In eight weeks in the spring, the home handled as many deaths as it usually does in an entire year.

Sometimes, at the end of the day after his rounds, he cried.


Making that choice could require you to quarantine both before you leave and once you get back (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its quarantine guidance, suggesting a seven-day quarantine followed by a negative test or a 10-day quarantine without testing if a person does not develop symptoms).

If you’re contemplating a trip, here’s what to think about before you leave.

Check your state’s travel restrictions. New York requires a 14-day quarantine for those who leave the state for more than 24 hours and are returning from states and territories that are not contiguous with New York, or are returning from certain high-risk countries. Travelers can “test out” of the quarantine if they receive a negative test result within three days before their return, quarantine for three days upon arrival and take another test on the fourth day that comes back negative.

Find out your employer’s requirements. If you have been working in a shared workplace and are traveling, ask your company what is expected of you upon returning.

Secure essentials. If you will have to quarantine for two weeks after your trip, stock up on groceries, hygiene products and other essentials before traveling.

Have a contingency plan. Know what to do in case you contract the virus during your trip. If you’re sharing a household with others and fall ill, self-isolate in one room and have someone leave your meals and other essentials outside your door. If you have the option, designate one bathroom to yourself.

It’s Monday — be prepared.


Dear Diary:

After hailing a cab one night, I asked the driver to take me to a place that was seven blocks away.

For some reason, I felt compelled to explain why I wasn’t walking. I said it was because it was drizzling and also because I wasn’t wearing walking shoes.

“No charge,” the driver said.

I laughed.

When we got to where I was going, I asked him how much the fare was.

“I said, no charge,” he said.

— Barbara Baum


New York Today is published weekdays around 6 a.m. Sign up here to get it by email. You can also find it at nytoday.com.

What would you like to see more (or less) of? Email us: [email protected].



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