New York City at a standstill

NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: life in the epicenter of a pandemic.

Nearly 20 percent of all coronavirus cases in the United States are in New York state. And more than half of those are in New York City. The number of new daily cases has dropped steadily since mid April, but COVID-19 has already exacted a terrible toll: more than 19-thousand people have died.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Efforts to combat the virus brought The City that Never Sleeps to a complete standstill. Restaurants, businesses, and cultural sites closed. Shutdown orders are set to expire at the end of this week, but life in the city is quite different than it was just a few months ago.

Joining us now to talk about how things have changed and what the last few months have been like is Emily Belz. She’s WORLD’s reporter in New York City. Good morning!

EMILY BELZ, GUEST: Morning, Mary!

REICHARD: Tell us a little bit about what daily life is like right now for you and your fellow New Yorkers.

BELZ: Well, in my neighborhood in Manhattan things have started to open up a little. I’m not sure if that’s officially sanctioned since we aren’t technically reopening just yet, but there’s an iPhone repair store around the corner that’s open, the ice cream stand across from my apartment just opened this weekend. So, there’s some good news.  

But a lot of daily life in New York is removed from the devastation of the virus. I mean, I just think about those numbers you just said—I just interviewed a man in Brooklyn whose dad died at the beginning of April. And the crematories in the city have been so overrun with bodies that he wasn’t able to get a date for cremation for his father for an entire month. So, there’s some really awful stories just under the surface, even when you see the ice cream stand opening around the corner. 

REICHARD: You wrote about the great help healthcare workers from other parts of the world have been in fighting this. What about their experience is so beneficial now?

BELZ: Well, I think you can see that in my backyard there’s Samaritan’s Purse field hospital where a lot of the staff and volunteers had worked in Ebola outbreaks and other international crises. So they had some tried and true methods for virus containment and safety that they brought to New York. And, at the field hospital, for example, they had a bleach water system for decontamination that they brought from their experience fighting Ebola. And not a single person working for Samaritan’s Purse got sick in the course of fighting this virus, which is really remarkable when you see numbers from other hospitals. It just goes to show that some of the methods they have are really useful. 

REICHARD: You mentioned Samaritan’s Purse temporary hospital setup in Central Park. Tell us a little bit about the work they did and the status of that effort.

BELZ: Well, Samaritan’s Purse discharged its last patient last week and they’re working on disinfecting their tents and packing up right now. They’re leaving just like the Comfort ship is leaving because a lot of the hospitals are emptying out their special COVID wards. So SP worked under the Mount Sinai hospital system here so they weren’t an independent operation and Mount Sinai had found more space and so they were not needing their services anymore. 

There was a lot of noise from a small group of gay activists who protested their presence in the city. They thought that Samaritan’s Purse would discriminate against gay people and it was a small group, but they had an impact and the city council speaker made all these statements about Samaritan’s Purse and called for investigations into their practices and the mayor sent someone to monitor them and all of this. It was a lot of hot air that didn’t result in anyone actually doing anything. But the city Human Rights Commission did open an investigation into Samaritan’s Purse, but then they just announced that they closed it after finding no evidence of discrimination. 

I think overall the city was really receptive to Samaritan’s Purse. When I talked to their staff, they hadn’t paid for a meal since they arrived and I would go over there and see food trucks lined up to give them pizzas and catering companies bringing them dinner. And I saw people put flowers on the fence around the hospital. And then when Samaritan’s Purse packed up, Mount Sinai did a thank you video for them and was really supportive of the help they brought to overwhelmed hospitals at this terrible moment.

REICHARD: Over the course of your time as a reporter you’ve reported on a lot of big stories. What about this time stands out the most to you right now?

BELZ: I think it’s the drawn out nature of this crisis. I covered Hurricane Sandy back in 2012 and the actual disaster was over in a few days, but this is so slow moving. And a lot of the devastation goes unseen. But I’m hopeful just from watching how in my own church a culture of prayer has really taken off. So I pray that when a seed falls to the ground and dies it will produce a good fruit. And I’m praying that we see that in New York City.

REICHARD: Emily Belz is WORLD’s reporter in New York. You can read all of her fantastic coverage at We’ll link to the stories we’ve talked about in the transcript of today’s show. Thanks so much for joining us today!

BELZ: Thanks for having me, Mary.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens) A woman talks on her phone as she walks past a bakery in the Sunset Park neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York during the coronavirus outbreak Monday, May 11, 2020.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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