‘Would you risk your life for a jar of marmalade?’ My coronavirus survival guide to navigating grocery stores safely

NEW YORK — It’s not always easy to ask for help.

One of my best friends in New York is self-quarantining. She is smart, extremely well-read and makes me laugh. We read long-form articles together and, afterwards, we discuss them over tea. We don’t always agree, which we like, but we do agree most of the time, and we’re OK with that, too.

My friend remembers the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, and witnessed people get up from a park bench if they thought a sick person sat next to them. She did not even get around to telling me about the many polio epidemics. Perspective is good: THIS IS NOT THE FIRST PANDEMIC. (That’s Point No. 1).

We take tap-dancing classes together (her idea). At least, we did until the social-distancing policies prescribed by public health officials came into effect. On Monday, we each vowed to practice 15 dance steps. That’s more “dig, brush, toe, heel, paddle and roll, paradiddle!” for me.

It’s good to be cautious, but it makes sense to be careful and take your time.

She listens carefully, tells me exactly how she feels, and remains open to changing her mind. I learn from her. Before tap-dancing class, she asks me, “So, Quentin, what color is your tutu today?” I usually describe the most ridiculous-sounding tutu. “Pink,” I say, “with yellow ruffles.”

My friend is 95, and she is now blind. Mostly, I feel grateful that we are both here at the same time, and that our paths crossed. She is one of my favorite people on the planet. She grew up in an Irish community in Massachusetts. I grew up in Dublin. She calls me “lace-curtain Irish.”

She needed a couple of weeks’ worth of groceries. That is how I found myself with another Irishman — who moved to the U.S. 30 years before I did — at the Fairway Market on Broadway and 74th Street on Monday afternoon, with a shopping list in one hand and a grocery cart in the other.

We’d been asked to help buy our friend groceries, so we joined forces. I didn’t like him usurping my place as Sir Edmund Hillary on this potentially hazardous expedition. (Nor did I want to be Francis Crozier to his Sir John Franklin.) But it’s a lot for one person to carry the load. We made a good team.

I wore a balaclava I’d bought for a New Year’s Eve midnight run in Central Park.

“If we get coronavirus, a grocery store is where we’ll get it!” I said, surveying the food aisles. He looked at me like I was about to rob a store, not shop in one. “What’s wrong?” I said. I was wearing a balaclava I’d bought for a New Year’s Eve midnight run in Central Park. He tried to muffle a laugh.

“Would you risk your life for a jar of marmalade?” I asked. He turned his head, as if to roll his eyes up to heaven, but then appeared to think better of it midroll. I presumed he was about to say, “You’re completely overreacting.” But he’s a gem, so he did a diplomatic 360-degree head roll, instead.

As for wearing a D.I.Y. mask, I could be wrong, I could be right, as the former Johnny Rotten sang. There are conflicting messages on whether a face mask other than the scarcely available medical-grade N95 helps. With so many people milling about, I decided to err on the side of caution.

Research has concluded that masks have helped reduce contagion by reducing droplets being sprayed into the air during flu season; and infectious-disease specialist Anthony Fauci has said the White House’s coronavirus task force is considering giving the public the green light to wear them.

N95 medical-grade masks help filter viruses larger than 0.1 micrometers.

N95 masks filter viruses larger than 0.1 micrometers (a micrometer, um, is one millionth of a meter). The coronavirus is 0.125 micrometer. Still, I would not wear an N95. They’re needed elsewhere. And if I am asymptomatic? If I can avoid passing on one droplet while reaching for the chicken giblets, I will.

Proponents of face masks also point to countries in East and Southeast Asia, including South Korea and Taiwan, which appear to have slowed the spread of the coronavirus more effectively than the U.S., Spain and Italy have. But they also have other safety measures, including early testing, in place.

I wore gloves because studies have found that shopping carts are traditionally covered in all kinds of germs, just like subway poles and turnstiles, or anything else that lots of people touch on a regular basis. I constantly lose my gloves, alas. But I have adopted a wartime thrift: I wear odd pairs with pride.

I did not bring alcohol wipes. Next time, I will at least bring Clorox

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wipes in a Ziploc bag. I tell myself every 15 minutes to wash my hands as soon as I get home both before and after I put the groceries away. “When you get home, Quentin, WASH YOUR HANDS.” (Point No. 2.)

Shopping carts are covered in all kinds of germs, just like subway poles.

Here’s the other reason I wore a ridiculous balaclava: It’s not comfortable, it reminds me that we’re dealing with a serious health emergency, it covers almost my entire head, and — here’s the science bit — I am constantly reminded: DO NOT TOUCH YOUR FACE. (That’s No. 3.)

If you take anything away from this, rather than becoming embroiled in a heated debate on face masks, take that. Coronavirus can survive longer on a solid surface than on a pair of gloves, but it can live for a time on different surfaces, so I try to be aware that it could be on my gloves, too.

Growing up in Ireland in the 1980s during the Troubles, and living in London during the 1990s, swanning around in a balaclava would have been a risky proposition, especially with an Irish accent. But during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic with my now transoceanic twang, I think I’ll be OK.

As an editor, I play devil’s advocate with my writers, push back and ask questions. It helps to be a little paranoid. I’m putting a life skill to good use. The coronavirus pandemic is a time when germaphobes (check), quirky paranoid types (check) and workaholics (check) come into their own.

I took my time, and I stayed 6 feet away from others whenever possible.

But here’s the other thing I learned during My Day at the Supermarket: Shopping can be stressful under these conditions. It’s good to be a cautious — and a smart — shopper. I usually want to get in and out in double-quick time, but I decided to be careful and take my time.

What’s more, I enjoyed it. Everything I could have done to minimize my chances of picking up COVID-19, I did. I stayed 6 feet away from others, whenever possible, including my shopping partner. We did not go at rush hour. I talked to staff and other customers.

Everyone is freaked out. Friendly banter puts me and, I hope, others at ease. A nice woman recommended the London broil. I read peer-reviewed studies — not Facebook

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 posts. I choose caremongering over scaremongering because FEAR IS NOT YOUR FRIEND. (Point No. 4.)

There is no evidence linking coronavirus transmission with food or food packaging. Juan Dumois, a pediatric infectious-diseases physician at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla., suggests that viruses would survive better on “artificial fibers” such as plastic or polyester.

Viruses survive better on artificial fibers such as plastic, vinyl and polyester.

This, too, might help: Sarah Fortune, a professor who chairs the department of immunology and infectious diseases at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said that while health-care workers might have to worry about their clothes, we should not.

But here’s the deal: If you want to change clothes or wear a mask, do it. TRUST YOUR GUT. (Point No. 5.)

As my self-quarantining friend told me the other day on the phone, “Quentin, I’m 95! Do you think I’m scared of coronavirus?” But that doesn’t mean she’s standing in line at the supermarket, either.

If you are concerned about going to the grocery store, imagine what it’s like for those who work there. I told every staff member I spoke to at Fairway, “Thank you for working today.” They need to hear that. Customers must be frazzled, and a frazzled customer is often not a gentle or happy customer.

I also got something I couldn’t buy at any store or pharmacy. Getting out of the house for a couple of hours was a great tonic. I didn’t see Yoko Ono rummaging through the vegetables at Fairway — I did see her there once, and I left her to it — but I did meet another friend outside, from 6 feet away.

If you’re nervous about shopping, imagine what it’s like for the staff.

We had two weeks’ worth, maybe more, of groceries — including bottles, cans, six-packs of kitchen roll, liters of milk, jars of this, that and the other — and they were heavy. I walked one block, and we had a few more to go. I spotted an abandoned cart on the street corner. “We’ll return it,” I said. “Later!”

I quickly piled the groceries into the cart and pushed it across four traffic lanes on Broadway. We’re in the middle of a national emergency, after all; if the cops stopped me, I’d simply tell them the truth. Thank you, NYPD, first responders and health professionals, and thank you, Fairway Market.

As I headed down Amsterdam with the speed of a clanking, yet nutritious, bullet, a man ran out of a jewelry store in pursuit of another man. “People are dying, and you try to steal something from my store? You motherf—!” Ah, yes. There are always folks with bigger problems than mine.

It was a good day in Manhattan. To quote that opening line from the postwar film noir, “The Naked City”: “There are 8 million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.” My 95-year-old friend would have been 23 when that film was released. She, too, has more stories to tell.

This essay is part of a MarketWatch series, ‘Dispatches from a pandemic.’

MarketWatch photo illustration/iStockphoto

Voices from around the world.

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NYC’s rich are paying limo drivers to deliver their mail to their Hamptons beach houses

Talk about first-class mail.

A Manhattan limousine company has found a way to drive up some revenue now that the COVID-19 pandemic has pumped the brakes on car service around New York City: Have its drivers chauffeur their elite clientele’s mail and packages from their posh city penthouses to their Hamptons beach houses, where they’ve fled to self-isolate in style.

“I had to be innovative,” Mark Vigliante, the president of M&V Limousine Limited, told Vice. “There wasn’t a choice. This was it. I had to work. Plus, you can only have so much family time, you know?”

Vigliante, who also owns Hampton Luxury Liner, an upscale bus service that would normally be ferrying people between Manhattan and Long Island, said that for “hundreds of dollars,” his drivers will pick up customers’ mail from their Upper East Side and Upper West Side apartments, and bring them to their homes out on the shore.

“It’s a limo service for your things.”

He told Vice that this pop-up pandemic Tony Express now makes up 30% of Hampton Luxury Liner’s business, which has allowed him to keep up to 15% of his drivers employed — even as millions of Americans have lost their jobs, particularly in the travel, hospitality and service industry, as social-distancing guidelines have closed bars, restaurants, gyms and retailers for the foreseeable future.

“It’s a lot of mail and a lot of packages. It’s a lot of groceries, too, and luggage,” Vigliante said. “Some of it’s more odd. One dude had us transport a bicycle.”

Now he’s got his limousines and Cadillacs offering same-day delivery on anything that can fit in the trunk. His drivers wear gloves, he says, and the cars are also sanitized.

“To be honest with you, if it keeps going well, we’ll probably keep doing it after things get better,” he added.

Perhaps the rich don’t realize that the United States Postal Service already offers this service — and for just $1.05?

A quick Google search for “how to forward your mail” takes you to the USPS site, where with just a few clicks, and forking over a buck and change, you can redirect your mail and your packages to a permanent or temporary new address. You can use this “regular” forwarding service for as short as 15 days, or as long as one year. It can take a seven to 10 business days to process your mail-forwarding request, however, so there could be a couple of weeks where your mail will continue going to the old address, and it would indeed be useful to have someone pick it up for you.

Or you can lay out some extra money for the “premium” USPS forwarding service; the post office will hold your mail for a week at a time, package it, and then ship the bundle to you each week via its Priority Mail service. There’s a $21.90 enrollment fee in person ($20.10 if you enroll online), and then you pay $21.90 for each week of service; it’s still a bargain compared to the “hundreds” spent to get it delivered by limo. You can use this service for a minimum of two weeks up to a maximum of one year.

And if you move while you’re still expecting some online orders to come in, you can sometimes change the address on your Amazon

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 and Target

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 deliveries if they haven’t been fully processed or shipped yet.

The USPS also shared a coronavirus update last week, noting it has a dedicated COVID-19 Command Response team that’s focused on keeping the mail service running, and while keeping postal workers safe. It also assured the public that there is currently no evidence from the World Health Organization or CDC that COVID-19 is being spread through the mail.

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‘I’m not against releasing the restrictions,’ says Dr. Anthony Fauci, of areas of U.S. with low rates of coronavirus infection

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he is “not against releasing restrictions” in certain parts of the country.

Fauci also said the country could experience “between 100,000 and 200,000” deaths and “millions of cases” of coronavirus. But he added “I don’t want to be held to that” because the pandemic is “such a moving target.”

Loosening restrictions would mean reopening schools and other businesses that were forced to close as a result of strict social-distancing measures. It would be dangerous, however, to remove some of the restrictions unless there is adequate testing to get “people out of circulation who are infected,” said Fauci, a key expert serving on the White House’s coronavirus task force.

“If you release the restrictions, before you have a good eyeball on what’s going on there, you’re going to get in trouble,” Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “So I’m not against releasing the restrictions — I’m actually for it in an appropriate place — but I don’t recommend that unless we have the tools in place.”

This comes as President Donald Trump floated the notion Saturday of a mandatory enforceable quarantine in New York City and much of the surrounding tri-state area only to have the idea called unworkable by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Instead the administration issued a travel advisory Saturday night urging people to refrain from all nonessential travel in the region.

Fauci said he had not wanted Trump to issue an enforceable quarantine, saying that it “would be a bigger difficulty, morale- and otherwise.”

Some 56% of all of the new infections in the country are coming from the greater New York City area, now deemed the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, Fauci said. As of Sunday morning, there were more than 32,308 cases of coronavirus in New York City. That accounts for more than half of the state’s 52,318 total cases, according to data from the New York Department of Health.

“What you don’t want is people traveling from that area to other areas of the country, and inadvertently and innocently infecting other individuals. We felt the better part of way to do this would be a advisory, as opposed to a very strict quarantine.”

Social-distancing measures to “flatten the curve,” or rein in the rapid spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, first identified late last year in China, have had a direct negative impact on the U.S. economy. Restaurants, hotels and other small business that rely on foot-traffic have been forced layoff workers.

Read: Emerency-loan program for small businesses will be up and running this week, say Kudlow and Mnuchin

The most recent jobless-claims data showed that a record 3.28 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week. Loosening the restrictions that are now in place would allow more people to return to work but could, warn public health experts, cost lives.

See: A loophole for construction workers shows how confusing ‘stay at home’ regulations are

That’s partially why Fauci said he is in favor of lifting restrictions only once there is evidence from widespread that shows the risk is relatively minimal. “We don’t neglect other areas of the country, where it looks like they’re just relatively few infections, because we have a window of opportunity there to get out there and test.”

Across the country, COVID-19 had infected at least 124,763 people in the U.S. by Sunday morning, exceeding the number of confirmed cases in both China and Italy, and killed at least 2,191, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

Read on: Trump wants his signature to appear on coronavirus stimulus checks

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Here’s what the Javits Center, a glittering mega-event venue in New York City, looks like as a hospital

As New York endures the largest outbreak of COVID-19 in the U.S., and while hospitals within New York City face crises of capacity, state agencies and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are examining locations where the government can deploy temporary medical facilities. On Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that one such setting, the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan’s far West Side, is now complete and will be up and running by Monday.

The all-glass building contains 1,000 beds. That sum will add to the state’s tally of 53,000, but make up only a small portion of the 140,000 total beds Cuomo has projected New York may need during the outbreak’s looming peak three weeks away.

Nonetheless, repurposing the Javits Center for medical care, in concert with similar sites at the Westchester County Center and the campuses of SUNY Stonybrook and SUNY Westbury, has itself been a considerable logistical undertaking.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Health and Human Services Department provided four 250-bed medical station kits to the center, each equipped with beds and medical supplies.

Contrary to prior reporting, the site will not be used for patients infected with COVID-19, according to a FEMA spokesperson and a spokesperson for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is highly involved in the design, construction and engineering of the spaces. Instead, it will house patients with health-care needs unrelated to the disease, according to the spokesperson for FEMA, which will oversee the facilities along with the state. Employees of the Javits Center, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the New York National Guard and other federal and state agencies have been preparing the space. The Javits Center and the governor’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

As of Friday morning, New York City reported 25,573 cases and 366 deaths from coronavirus, 97% of whom had underlying health conditions, according to the city’s department of health. And Cuomo said Friday he would ask the White House for permission to turn four more sites in the downstate area into similar overflow facilities that would provide an additional 4,000 hospital beds: the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, CUNY Staten Island, and the New York Expo Center in the Bronx.

“I want to have one in every borough,” Cuomo said Friday, adding that he also wanted additional facilities in Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk counties.

He said he wanted to send a message to downstate, which is facing the highest rate of cases, that “everyone equally is being helped and is being protected.”

Experts in health care facility architecture, design and mechanics said that the key will be to replicate certain “flows” that are typical within hospitals. The primary concerns are the management of patients, caregivers, air and medical waste.

The center will need a way for patients to enter, via ambulance or car or other transportation, while keeping them hidden from the view of the public and the media, explains Cynthia McCullough, evidence based design director of HDR Inc., a global design firm with headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska, that provides architecture, engineering, and construction services and whose portfolio contains work on numerous hospitals and health care facilities internationally, including an expansion of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Indoors, the patients will need to have some semblance of privacy as well. A photo of the progress made in the Javits Center provided by the New York District of the Army Corps of Engineers on Thursday showed that workers have been constructing rows of clusters of often 16 makeshift rooms — lines of eight rooms, back-to-back. Each individual’s area is enclosed with white walls and a curtain, and model rooms on display during Cuomo’s Friday briefing at the facility showed each space containing a foldout chair, a lamp, a side table with a potted plant, a trash can, and other medical equipment. Power outlets are being distributed so patients can charge their phones.

There are fundamental trade-offs to these settings designed for caring for large numbers of patients.

“We’re looking at the simple geometric concerns and challenges of: OK, how many beds can we fit into an open, expansive space in some level of consistent modularity so that the fewest amount of health-care providers can care for the maximum number of patients?” said Chris Bormann, HDR’s East Region health director.

The Javits Center comes equipped with several amenities that make it a useful location for housing hospital patients. Not only was it sizable and empty, caregivers will also have private areas in secure rooms that already exist within the center.

Air flow and filtration — a critical concern for hospitals — will also be handled by pre-existing systems. And given the Javits Center’s typical use as a setting for conventions with large displays and the ability to accommodate large sums of people at once, its loading docks and waste-handling abilities are assets, Bormann said. However, the medical waste will need to be separated from regular trash and collected by specialized contractors.

By not housing COVID-19 patients, the center avoids other considerations that would need to be made. For patients with infectious diseases, health-care facilities typically create “negative pressure” environments that keep airborne germs from spreading to other regions of the building.

“You’re basically trying to remove any particles through the filtration, to avoid infecting someone who thinks they’re in a clean space,” said Jon Crane, director of translational health for HDR. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that COVID-19 is primarily transmitted via close contact with an infected person, airborne transmission is still a consideration..

The efforts at the Javits Center and the other facilities being constructed will be in addition to increasing the capacity of the existing hospitals by 50% and in some cases 100%, as well as utilizing beds in hotels and college dormitories for medical personnel and patients that do not require critical care. Cuomo has also tweeted thanks to various companies that have provided mattresses and linens, coveralls, hand sanitizer, masks and various other supplies and services. As of Friday, a total of 62,447 medical professionals or retirees had volunteered to help — a 10,000-person increase from the day prior, Cuomo said.

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Gov. Cuomo renews call for ventilators as Elon Musk pledges to provide hundreds to New York

As Tesla boss Elon Musk promised to donate hundreds of ventilators to New York City, Gov. Andrew Cuomo reiterated Friday that the shortage of lifesaving machines remains his top priority.

“The most important equipment for us is, of course, ventilators. We are creating a stockpile of this equipment,” Cuomo said, in his daily news conference.

He left little room for debate over the state’s shortage of ventilators, a piece of lifesaving medical equipment in the battle against the coronavirus, which is still on track to peak, the governor said, in three weeks.

“I don’t have a crystal ball,” Cuomo said. “I operate on facts and on data and on projections.”

Those projections, gathered and analyzed by experts at Weill Cornell Medical College, McKinsey & Co. and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, predict the need for 30,000 to 40,000 ventilators when the outbreak peaks in New York, Cuomo said. He dismissed President Donald Trump’s comments the previous night that played down the state’s critical need.

“I make decisions based on the data and the science,” Cuomo said. “I hope we don’t need 30,000 ventilators. I hope some natural weather change happens overnight and kills the virus globally.”

As of Friday morning, New York City was reporting 25,573 cases, an increase of 2,400 from the prior day, and 366 deaths due to coronavirus.

Despite the exponential spread, President Trump, speaking during a Fox News interview with Sean Hannity on Thursday night, said he thought many of the states’ projections about supply needs were overblown.

“I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators,” Trump said in an apparent reference to New York state. “You know, you go into major hospitals, sometimes they’ll have two ventilators. And now all of a sudden they’re saying, ‘Can we order 30,000 ventilators?’”

Federal agencies were in talks with General Motors GM and Ventec Life Styles to produce as many as 80,000 ventilators, but an announcement about the deal was called off as the Federal Emergency Management Agency reviewed whether the production would be too expensive, the New York Times reported.

During the Hannity interview, Trump said the machines were expensive to make and that his focus remained getting people back to work.

“I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they’re going to be,” he said.

But hospitals in New York City are already drawing upon stockpiles to support the deluge of patients critically ill with COVID-19. On Thursday, the city sent 40 ventilators, alone, to Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, one of the most severely strained medical centers in the city, Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a briefing that day.

It was the fourth time the city had to resupply Elmhurst with additional ventilators, he added. New York City, alone, needs around 15,000 ventilators when the crisis peaks, accounting for half of the state’s total need.

“You don’t have a ventilator, people die who didn’t need to die. It’s as simple as that,” de Blasio said.

Local and state officials across the U.S. have been scrambling to find ventilators, asking the federal government to dip into its stockpile and searching on the private market.

New York state already had 4,000 in the system and has since purchased 7,000 on the private market. Another 4,000 will come from federal sources, the governor said earlier this week. Colleges and private medical offices have also donated machines here and there, including Long Island Ambulatory Surgery Center in Brentwood, N.Y., and the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities.

Musk will donate hundreds of ventilators that he’s secured to New York City, de Blasio said on Friday. The Tesla

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 CEO also announced this week that he plans to reopen a factory in Buffalo, N.Y., to build more of the machines.

“I talked to him at length [Thursday] night and he just said, ‘I care about New York City, I feel for what you guys are going through. And I just went and found ventilators,’” de Blasio said in a radio interview. “And he says he’s going to get us more.”

Musk said in a tweet that delivery would start immediately for ventilators he’d already secured directly from companies like Medtronic

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 , ResMed

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 and Phillips

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He also tweeted that Tesla “will do anything in our power to help the citizens of New York.”

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