on the job

New Yorkers Who Can’t Work From Home Forge on as Virus and Uncertainty Spread

Food cart worker Joseph Nori says he's seen a drop in sales because of coronavirus.
Food cart worker Joseph Nori says he’s seen a drop in sales because of coronavirus. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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Armed with hand sanitizer and a mix of resignation and bravado, New Yorkers who don’t have the option of working from home are soldiering on as the number of known coronavirus cases multiplies.

Some described taking new precautions, while others said they’re already seeing a slowdown in business.

But coffee vendors, manicurists, movie theater clerks and others we spoke to this week were united by the necessity to keep working, even as uncertainty spread along with virus.

‘People Still Need Haircuts’

Edward Valler surveyed the empty seats in his Midtown barbershop at lunchtime and shrugged. “Today is slow because of the Jewish holiday,” he said, referring to Purim. “I don’t think it has anything to do with coronavirus.”

Valler, who has owned Eddy’s Barber Shop on East 34th Street for 19 years, said he was trying to remain optimistic.

“There are so many viruses all around us, and I’m near all the hospitals,” he said, noting the proximity of NYU Medical Center, Bellevue and the VA Hospital. “Listen, people still need haircuts.”

‘Things Can’t Slow Down’

Devaughn Brown, 38, of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, usually wears his gloves while unloading packages from his UPS delivery truck.

“But now I always wear my rubber gloves, even when I’m driving,” he said, doing a jazz hands maneuver. “We’re still busy even with this virus, because people are ordering a lot of disinfectant and hand wipes and other supplies. Things can’t slow down in the city.

“It’s one big tourist attraction.”

‘Thank God I’m Healthy’

Dottie Carter, 69, a home health aide from Canarsie, Brooklyn, applauded city officials for “trying to protect us. They’re doing a good job so far, but honestly, it’s hard to keep up and know what’s going on.”

Carter takes extra care to avoid germs, she says, because she cares for older patients vulnerable to illness.

“I wash and wash and wash my hands all day, whenever I go in or out, but I still take the train in the morning and at night,” she said. “Thank God, I’m healthy and I can do it.”

‘They Think the Worst’

Fanny Martinez, the practice development manager for Midtown New York Doctors Walk-In Urgent Care, kept a stack of questionnaires at the front desk for incoming patients to determine whether symptoms warranted a further coronavirus checkup.

“We’re screening every patient,” Martinez said, straightening a large bottle of Purell and a box of tissues.

“We need to know if they’ve traveled to certain countries in the past two weeks, and what their symptoms are,” Martinez added. “If they say yes to three out of four questions, we take a further look.”

Fanny Martinez (right), practice development manager for New York Doctors Urgent Care, reports a spike in patient coronavirus concerns.
Fanny Martinez (right), practice development manager for New York Doctors Urgent Care, reports a spike in patient coronavirus concerns. Photo: Virginia Breen/THE CITY

The problem, Martinez noted, was that symptoms of coronavirus are similar to those of more common influenza: fever, cough and perhaps shortness of breath.

“It hasn’t been that crazy but the patients we are seeing are a bit more concerned,” she said. “They don’t know what they have and they think the worst.”

‘Let’s See What Happens’

Yam Lamichhane, a Nepalese immigrant from Ridgewood, Queens, stressed that he and his coworkers at Lucky Angel Nails & Spa in Midtown were already taking all the suggested health precautions.

“We already are using the masks, gloves and sanitizers,” he said, motioning to a masked colleague. “We prepare all the surfaces and clean everything all the time. People are scared about the subways, but they are not scared to come here because we are so prepared.

“What they tell us to do, we are doing,” he said. “Let’s just see what happens.”

‘It Might Get Worse’

Joseph Nori, 46, of Bayside, Queens, said he’s seen a drop of between 25% to 35% at his Empire Cafe coffee cart in recent days.

“All the businesses around here are slow now,” he said, referring to the shops and restaurants around Manhattan’s Greeley Square. “It might get worse. If this goes on, the owners will either have to cut hours or employees.”

‘I Ain’t Afraid’

“I ain’t afraid of no stinkin’ coronavirus,” said Jim O’Neill, 60, a construction manager who works a night shift in the Empire State Building, swigging a Corona beer at nearby Jack Demsey’s sports bar. “You can’t crawl under a rock.”

Construction manager and bar owner Jim McNeill did not let widespread concerns about the virus deter him from drinking a Corona at Jack Demsey’s in Midtown.
Construction manager and bar owner Jim McNeill did not let widespread concerns about the virus deter him from drinking a Corona at Jack Demsey’s in Midtown. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“I own a bar in Jersey City and sales are down about 15%,” O’Neill added. “We’re seeing contradictory information, too, from our commander-in-chief. I’m a carpenter by trade, but I know to listen to the folks with all the initials after their names. They’re the experts.

“I’m not a political scientist, either, but you’ve got all these conspiracy theorists out there blaming the Democrats. The news itself has been compromised.”

‘What Can Be Done?’

On a good day, Boubacar Balde, 25, of The Bronx, said he can make 30 deliveries for GrubHub.

Lately, he makes “17 or 18 a day.”

“It’s definitely less business for me,” he said, balancing deliveries on his bicycle. “It’s costing me, but what can be done?”

‘I’m Not Really Worried’

Tytiana Diaz, 22, a CVS clerk from East New York, Brooklyn, spritzed shelves at the Midtown shop, but noted it was not due to COVID-19 concerns.

“This isn’t new,” she said. “We always do this, but the shelves are empty where we keep the sanitizer and wipes.”

Diaz gets driven to work, she said, “So I’m not worried about the subways. I’m not really worried about it at all. Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel.”

‘Drink Alcohol’

Plumber Fernando Rosario, 68, of the Parkchester section of The Bronx, laughed when asked if the virus made him nervous.

“You kidding me?” he asked. “In my work, every day we deal with bacteria, germs, you name it. I wash my hands and live my life one moment at a time. Whether I go the long distance or not, it’s not mine to decide.”

Parkchester-based plumber Fernando Rosario watches the news and washes his hands a lot.
Parkchester-based plumber Fernando Rosario watches the news and washes his hands a lot. Photo: Virginia Breen/THE CITY

Rosario drives a van to work, so he generally avoids crowds. He watches the news, but doesn’t pay too close attention to swirling media accounts of the virus.

“One thing nobody has been able to tell me: Where did this thing come from?” he said. “Like how did it get made?”

He has his own method of dealing with the virus threat: “You drink alcohol — vodka — and it gives you protection. It kills everything.”

‘It’s a Lot’

Yolanda Ronda, 65, of the Upper West Side, waited for a taxi to get her wheelchair-using father home after a medical appointment at NYU Langone’s Tisch Hospital. She carried a tissue to avoid touching the cab door.

“I’ve been trying to be more diligent about washing my hands,” she said.

“The city has been issuing all these alerts, and we got three texts from the doctor to stay home if we weren’t feeling well or had a cough,” she added. “It’s a lot, but I really don’t want him to get sick.”

‘We’re Dealing With It’

A clerk at the AMC Loews Kips Bay 15 theater who would only give her first name, Melissa, because she had not been authorized to speak to the press, said she hadn’t noticed any slump in business.

“People still want to go to the movies,” she said. “We’ve kind of taken the initiative and have been wiping down the door handles and all the counters, and our managers have given us the option to wear gloves.

“We’re dealing with it.”

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