A woman walks in Times Square in late March, when the streets were largely empty.
There’s still a long way to go, but New York City is taking the first steps in returning to normalcy.
After 78 days of stay-at-home orders — the longest coronavirus lockdown in the country — New York launched Phase One of its reopening plan on Monday, June 8.
That means hundreds of thousands of people can get back to work, including nonessential workers in construction and manufacturing. Retail stores can now set up curbside or in-store pickups.
It’s just a start — the rest of the state is already on Phase Two — but for a city that has been hit hard by Covid-19, it’s an important milestone.
“This is a triumphant moment for New Yorkers who fought back against the disease,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
The coronavirus has ravaged New York City for months, killing more than 20,000 people and overwhelming hospitals and funeral homes.
At the city’s peak in April, more than 500 people died daily.
But the numbers have dropped dramatically in recent weeks. On Wednesday, 36 people died from Covid-19 across the entire state.
“Look at what we did. Flatten the curve? Forget flatten the curve. … We bent the curve,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
Photographer Timothy Fadek has been documenting New York City since the lockdown started.
He remembers how eerie it was to see his bustling city transformed into a ghost town.
“All you heard were ambulance sirens constantly, especially at the peak, and that was in the midst of a desolate street landscape where there were no cars. There were no people,” Fadek said. “It looked like and it felt like the evening of a heavy snowstorm, when the snow’s falling and everyone’s home after dinner. … But it was permanent, and during the day — not just at night.”
Over the past few weeks, as coronavirus cases have dropped, Fadek has noticed a change in the city.
He’s hearing fewer ambulance sirens and seeing more people on the streets. Subway ridership is increasing. Parks are filling up.
“New York is beginning to look like it used to be, certainly from the outside,” Fadek said. “You have people going about their business, but they’re just wearing masks.”
He said most New Yorkers he’s encountered have been taking the threat seriously.
“Everyone is wearing their masks, and the social distancing is also being observed, especially in supermarkets and waiting outside to pick up online orders in front of retail stores,” he said.
There have been some exceptions lately, though.
He’s noticed some younger people are choosing to not wear masks. And during the recent protests following George Floyd’s death, Fadek saw masks, but social distancing was nonexistent.
“During the eight or 10 days or so of the protest, there was a ‘Pandemic? What pandemic?’ kind of feeling,” Fadek said. “But now that the protests have ebbed, everyone’s thinking about coronavirus once again.”
The bottom line is that New Yorkers, like most Americans, are eager to get on with their normal lives.
“People are tired of being home. They’re tired of being in lockdown,” Fadek said. “And now that summer is here, they want to go out and see their friends and enjoy the nice weather.”
Many people also need to go back to work, and they are faced with a difficult decision about when to do that.
“To quote or to paraphrase one woman I talked to, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t,” Fadek said. “You either stay home and don’t go to work and then you don’t have any money, or you go out and you risk getting sick. There’s no good answer.”
Fadek had no assignments during the city’s lockdown phase, but he went out and shot photos anyway.
Fadek always wears a mask when he goes out, and he carries a small bottle of hand sanitizer with him. At the peak of the virus, he would strip off his clothes and put them into a plastic bag when he got home.
As a journalist, he considered it his duty to get outside and show what was happening.
“It’s the first draft of history, something as major as this tragic world event, and I can cover it from my little corner of the world from New York City,” he said. “That’s my role, and I felt compelled to do it despite the dangers.”
Phase Two of New York’s reopening plan would allow even more businesses to reopen, and the city would see in-store shopping, outdoor dining, and limited service at barbershops and hair salons.
The earliest that could happen is June 22, but officials are being cautious and will keep a close eye on the statistics before taking the next step.
“I still believe the best estimate is the beginning of July,” Mayor De Blasio told radio station 1010 WINS on Thursday. “But look, if the health care situation continues to prove positive, obviously I want to go as soon as we can go safely.”