September 23, 2020

Staying in New York During the Pandemic

Jim Curtis was a man in conflict this past spring as he watched the pandemic-panicked flee New York City for their country homes.

“You start to see everyone leaving, and you think you need to leave too,” said Mr. Curtis, 44, brand head at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, a health coaching business, who divides his time between a loft in Lower Manhattan, and a property near the beach on Cape Cod.

Then, Mr. Curtis thought about his 12-year-old son, who lives in Westchester with his former wife. “I didn’t want to be far away if something happened,” he said. He also considered the many unflattering newspaper accounts he’d read of wealthy New Yorkers beating their way to the exits to quarantine in big comfortable houses on big hunks of land. (Not that he wanted to be judgmental.) He factored in the equally unsettling stories of year-rounders in vacation towns expressing displeasure about the sudden and way-too-early arrival of the (perhaps coronavirus-infected) summer folks.

Reader, he stayed put.

Image“Vacation towns aren’t really equipped to handle summer people in the off-season,” said Jim Curtis, mentioning just one of his reasons for staying in New York during the pandemic rather than quarantining at his house near the water on Cape Cod.

Mr. Curtis is one of those New Yorkers — granted, it’s likely quite a small group — who have chosen to stick around in town during the pandemic rather than light out for the alternative addresses they are lucky enough to have. Some cite the city’s well-stocked, easily accessible grocery stores and, should they be unfortunate enough to contract the virus, the superior medical care and facilities.

Others are motivated by a desire to show solidarity with their employees and their city; the need to be within easy reach of family members; and the worry that life at the shore or in the mountains, while offering peace and quiet and fresh air, would be a mite too isolating in an already hyper-isolated time.

For Rudy Jaimes, being alone at his cabin in the Catskills would have gotten really old really fast. “I love being up there but it’s very secluded, said Mr. Jaimes, 62, a freelance art director. “It’s my choice to be separated from everybody when I go up there,” he continued, “but it wouldn’t have been a choice in this case. Also, I didn’t want to be the one who brought the virus upstate.”

But there was another thing that kept Mr. Jaimes in his one-bedroom rental in the West Village: history was being made and he had a front-row seat. “This is a momentous time,” he said. “Things are going on here that the whole world is concerned with — Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter — and I wanted to see how they unfolded.”

Further, because Mr. Jaimes has friends who are nurses, he would have felt he was running away while they were in the city serving the community. “Every night at 7 my neighborhood is filled with people cheering the essential workers,” he said. “If that’s all of my participation, I still thought it was important to do.”

“For those who choose to live in New York, there is something visceral about being in the city now,” said Gail Saltz, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, Weill-Cornell Medical College. “Even when it doesn’t have the usual energy it still has more than other places.”

People may love their weekend house, Dr. Saltz continued, “but the home they identify as emotionally resonant is New York City. And being away at a difficult time doesn’t always make them feel better; it could make them feel worse. I’m aware of people who went to their country home, spent a couple of weeks, felt unhappy and came back to New York.”

Practical rather than emotional considerations have kept some people at their primary residence. “My husband and I talked about it, but we felt we would have more options in New York if we got sick,” said Lisa Ruggeri, 64, a volunteer at the Metropolitan Museum who lives on the Upper East Side in a three-bedroom co-op and has a weekend house in East Hampton.

“Our cellphones don’t work well in the Hamptons and we didn’t know what our internet would be like,” continued Ms. Ruggeri, who was also concerned that the swell of New Yorkers on the South Fork would mean lines at the gas station and empty shelves at the few grocery stores.

“Here we have a Whole Foods Market across the street, the drugstore is on the corner. We didn’t want to leave home base for a place that wasn’t as familiar,” said Norman Silverberg, a retired advertising executive who with his wife, Denise, is a shareholder in a Midtown East co-op and a beach front co-op in Westhampton Beach. Mr. Silverberg also didn’t want to be pointed out by the locals, he said, “as someone who shouldn’t be out here.”

Credit…Katherine Marks for The New York Times

Cycling in Central Park not long after the lockdown, R. Couri Hay was knocked off his bicycle, and fractured his right leg in two places. After being put back together at the Hospital for Special Surgery on the Upper East Side, Mr. Hay, 71, a gossip columnist turned publicist, had to decide where it would be preferable to recuperate: his townhouse on the Upper West Side or his house on the water in Southampton.

“The Covid numbers for Long Island were higher than I was happy to hear about,” Mr. Hay said. “In New York City, I have a garden, my tomatoes were growing and my physical therapist could come every day. I felt I could control my environment better here.”

And then there was this: what would be the fun in moving bag and baggage (and two Cavalier King Charles spaniels) to the country house when much of what Mr. Hay loves about the country — the cocktail party here, the barbecue there, the galas, the exhibitions at Guild Hall — has been scratched for the summer. “The farm stands: closed. The restaurants: closed,” he said.

For some, staying in the city was reflective of a need to make common cause with employees or colleagues. ”The majority of my staff are younger people who live in studio apartments,” Mr. Curtis said. “Many didn’t have the option to leave. To be a leader who goes to his large weekend house while the rest of the staff is stuck in small quarters didn’t feel like real leadership to me.”

Luz Claudio, a professor of environmental medicine and public health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai directs several internship programs for minority students who are aiming to become doctors. “They couldn’t leave the city for one reason or another and I decided to stay in solidarity with them,” said Ms. Claudio, who has an apartment in the West Village and an apartment on the beach in Puerto Rico. “I felt I needed to be here for them in case something happened. If one of them got sick, I wanted to be around to help.”

Mareza Larizadeh could have worked remotely from his house on Fire Island during the pandemic. He and his wife, Leah Shisha Larizadeh, tossed around the possibility, but quickly made the decision to stay in their co-op in Gramercy Park. Mr. Larizadeh, 43, an entrepreneur and founder of Pulsd.com, a platform that offers special prices on food, travel, self-care and entertainment, will tell you proudly that he was here during Hurricane Sandy. Why then would he not be here during the pandemic?

Credit…Katherine Marks for The New York Times

“The businesses we partner with pay my mortgage and pay for my life. For me it was a real moral obligation,” he said. “I feel part of my job is to give our restaurant partners hope. Anything I could do to support the local economy I wanted to do. If I’m going to spend $3.50 on a coffee, I’d rather spend it in New York City than on Fire Island.”

For her part, Ms. Ruggeri, the president of her co-op board, thought that she could be more helpful in the city as the doormen and porters in her building continued to work.

For some, the decision to stay in the city has brought unexpected dividends. “I’m really interested in real estate so I’ve been going to different blocks and looking at the buildings,” said Christopher Rim, the founder and chief executive of Command Education, a college consultancy, who has a two-bedroom condo in TriBeCa and a house in Bergen County.

“I’d always wanted to bike in the city and I bought a bike,” Mr. Rim continued. “Being able to explore when there’s so little traffic has been pretty incredible. “I didn’t even know some of these streets existed.”

Mr. Hay talks about the experience of watching the city slow down and turn inward. It seems that, perhaps, he himself has also slowed down and turned inward. “I rediscovered Riverside Drive,” Mr. Hay said. “I stopped and looked at the architecture. I stopped and looked on the benches in the park. You notice what you didn’t see before the virus when you were being jostled or when cars were whizzing by.”

Now that it’s July, some of those who had previously resisted the lure of their weekend properties are packing up the car and heading out. Norman and Denise Silverberg are ensconced in the Hamptons. Lisa Ruggeri and her husband will be going back and forth between Long Island and the Upper East Side, their usual summer routine. And Mr. Curtis relocated to the Cape, where he’ll remain until Labor Day; he’s looking forward to more trees and less tension.

What a relief. No more emails from friends wondering what, precisely, has kept these outliers in the city for so long. “You have a country house. You should go there,” pals told Ms. Ruggeri. Mr. Curtis got a lot of “Come to the Cape. We can quarantine together.”

Such has not been the experience of Mr. Hay. “I’ll confess that the phone is not ringing with people from the Hamptons asking ‘Where are you?’” he said. “I guess I’m not as popular as I thought.”

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