The Impact of Coronavirus for a J1 Trainee in NYC

New York Coronavirus

I hadn’t really planned on talking about the Coronavirus on my blog as we see and hear enough about it on our social media feeds and on the news. But it’s hard not to talk about it when it’s affecting every single one of us on this planet.

In most ways, we are all equally effected, but in others, it’s different. For me, I want to hear how individuals are effected, their stories and how they plan to deal with it. I like to hear good news stories along with the bad, although the bad seems to massively outweigh the good.

I see and hear a lot of what’s going on back home in the UK and Ireland and I hear from my family how things are very difficult at home in Northern Ireland. Even during times like these when the whole world is in crisis, the two people at the top of Northern Ireland government can’t agree with each other.

When you have schools closed on one side of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and open on the other, how can you have children that are neighbours, both in different circumstances? There needs to be consistency across the island.

Anyway, back to where I’m currently stationed in NYC and how things are going here.

The intern sitch

If you don’t already know, I’m on a J1 program that allows recent graduates from the UK and Europe (this was pre-Brexit obvs) to come to the US and work in NYC for a year, to learn skills to bring back to their home countries. On the program, there are two intakes where two large batches of interns make the move to NYC. One is in August (when I came to New York) and the other is in March aka right now.

As a result of most companies working from home, and the travel ban inflicted by Donald Trump, the March intake have now been delayed by 30 days. If the ban is not lifted in 30 days and the situation in New York remains the same or gets worse, the March intake could be delayed until August.

The worst thing about this is that these interns were due to fly to New York this week and most likely had left their jobs, moved out of their homes, ceased renting, said their goodbyes and were expecting to spend a year in New York. Now they are most likely left with no job, nowhere to live or back living with their parents. And given the current job market, no one will be wanting to hire anyone at this time.

The current batch of March 2019 interns that are due to leave around this time or after their 30-day grace period* have mostly decided to fly home now before Trump ceases travel and not use their extended month to travel or go on pre-planned roadtrips. A few had planned to go to Coachella which has now been pushed back until October.

*The 30-day grace period is part of the J1 visa that allows interns to stay in the US for 30 days after ceasing their job in order to get their things in order and plan moving home. Most interns use this time to travel and see more of America. Right now, the 30-day grace period has been lifted and if anyone is found to have went over their 30-day period, they will not be penalized.

I won’t lie and say that the interns are not panicking or stressed, because there is a lot of that at the moment. A few of my intake have even decided to fly home, back to the UK where they feel safer with their families. Very understandable, but now they currently won’t be able to fly back to the US until Trump lifts the ban.

The working sitch

I am now into my second week of working from home (WFH). I live in a flat of five people. Two of my flatmates work for a tonic drinks company and go out to bars in NYC trying to sell tonic water. With all the bars and restaurants now closed, they can no longer do their job. My other two flatmates both work in big-name banks. One has started WFH today and I expect the other will also begin WFH this week.

It will be quite difficult once all five of us begin working from home in a small flat as we all have conference calls to take, different ways of working and will most likely be at our wits end by the middle of the week.

Luckily for me, my job hasn’t changed in the slightest. I am able to do the same work at home as I would have done in the office. I also don’t expect the company I work for to struggle during this pandemic, only for shares and stocks to drop given what’s going on in the stock exchange.

What’s going on in NYC

It all got a little more serious on Friday when Donald Trump made his announcement, declaring the Coronavirus a National Emergency. My gig that I was due to go to on Friday night had been cancelled on Thursday, but instead I went to another gig that I was due to go to on Saturday night.

The PATH train into the city at 9pm on Friday night was empty. The streets of New York, visibly quieter. The gig I went to on Friday was in an Irish bar, who were hosting a weekend of celebrations. The bar was packed with no one really thinking or caring about the pandemic. It was nice to get away from it all but also a little worrying that no one seemed to be concerned.

On Saturday, we went about, business as usual although most of our plans for the weekend had changed due to the closure of Brooklyn Museum, the new Edge viewing platform and the Vessel. We went for brunch in Brooklyn, walked around Prospect Park and then bar hopped around Greenpoint and Williamsburg.

The very noticeable thing on Saturday night was that all bars were capped at 50% capacity. We were queuing for bars that were visibly empty inside. Brooklyn were doing their best to help social distancing. It was a little eerie being in bars that were practically empty, and you knew it was going to effect trade and takings for the weekend.

On Sunday, we continued to go about our normal lives as it feels strange to waste our time indoors when we are only here for another six months. We headed for brunch in the West Village in one of the most popular spots in New York and were the only people eating in the restaurant by the time we got our food. What once would have been an hour wait to get seated, was now an empty room.

We walked around Soho, where the streets were quieter than normal. Visited Little Italy and had cannollis at a restaurant that was offering half price off their menu just to get people in. We then went to Essex Market for some perogis where we were two of the 20 people in the whole building.

Before heading home we went to Trader Joes to do a stock-up shop. What is usually mayhem on a Sunday, was shockingly quiet. There was an abundance of fresh fruit and veg – although I noticed that the mango I had purchased the week before for $1.79 had now jumped in price to $3.49. The pasta and rice shelves were empty, there was no meat or chicken to be found, no tinned food and no toilet roll or kitchen towels. The shop was empty because everyone had already been.

Social distancing

I realize now that we probably should have stayed in this weekend. The mayor of New York was astounded at the number of people still out in bars and restaurants over the three days that he has decided that all of them must now close. Homemade brunch it will have to be.

I know that I, along with everyone else, will need to stay indoors and avoid large gatherings as much as possible. But as someone that is itching to be out all the time and doing touristy activities, it’s the hardest thing.

My monthly PATH card that I have just paid $106 for, will be gathering dust since I won’t have any need to go into the city for the foreseeable. My monthly membership to the cinema is now useless as the cinema has closed down. My gym that I have been going to every morning and lunch since working from home had limited its operating hours but from what I’ve just heard is due to close from tomorrow.

It’s going to be an intense few weeks having to stay indoors but it’s nice that I won’t be alone in this and have people around me. I’m going to try and get out for walks as much as possible and take in as much fresh air as I can. Hopefully the weather will be good to us.

A positive takeaway from this is that pollution will go down dramatically with most people working from home, not having to go anywhere, take public transport or fly.

Concerns for New York

Something I’m really concerned about is the small businesses in New York, the family-owned restaurants and bars, and all of the hospitality staff. Not just in New York, but around the world.

In New York, I know that hospitality employees aren’t paid that much and rely heavily on tips. Would your average waitress or waiter that is paying $1,000 per month in rent have enough in savings to pay for the next few months rent while not having any income due to their restaurant/bar closing? How many people are going to end up homeless? How many bars and restaurants are going to close for good or lay-off their staff?

The same goes for people in the arts. Those that are on Broadway or off-Broadway. Those that host comedy nights or gig in bars for a living. What happens to them? How will they survive? It’s a worrying time for a lot of people but we need to think about those that don’t have secure jobs like a lot of us do.

I think once this pandemic blows over and we get back on our feet, we will have to do what we can to support these small, independent businesses and help them get back to what they were. There is no time for community and supporting each other than right now.

Concerns for the future

I have already had one concert cancelled that was due to be on the first week of April (James Arthur). I also have Niall Horan and Lewis Capaldi coming up at the end of April which could also very likely be cancelled.

My mum and dad were due to fly out to New York at the end of April to spend a week which I was so excited for as I haven’t seen them both since leaving for New York last August (six months ago now).

Trump’s travel ban is currently for 30 days, so at present, they are still able to come. But I am also thinking a little realistically that it is likely they won’t be coming at the end of next month. It will also be my parents’ first time in New York and I wouldn’t want them to come when everything is shut and they can’t get the best experience.

There is also a lot of concern around our J1 visas and at any time, Trump could order us to leave and go back home. I don’t anticipate that to happen, but who knows? There is also hope that if this does go on for a long period of time that we could actually end up staying in the country for longer than a year, but that is being extremely optimistic and hoping for the best in a bad situation.

In general, New York is a ghost town. It’s strange being here in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, something we never, ever expected to happen. No one expected it to happen and no one really has a plan in place for it. It’s all quite up in the air at the moment and time will only tell what is to come.

By tomorrow, we could be on lock-down, not able to leave our houses. It’s scary to think about but as I live in one of the biggest and most popular cities in the world, it’s very likely.

Let’s stay strong, support each other, stay sensible and think about others. As a 22 year old, I very likely won’t be affected by this virus but I could very easily be a carrier and harm someone else that won’t be able to handle it. Don’t be reckless, stay inside as much as you can and let’s ride this thing out. It will be a very weird time in our history, but we’ll pull through.

What’s the situation like where you are? It’s a very worrying time and it’s ok to be anxious. If you want to offload some of that worry, stress or any questions in the comment section below, please feel free to do so. As I said, we’re all in this together.


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