The bustling commercial streets of Hunts Point and Mott Haven offer little evidence of the coronavirus pandemic traumatizing much of the nation, even as two local schools were shuttered for 24 hours following a false alarm about a student testing positive for the virus.
Streets and subways remained crowded and local stores reported little fall-off in business, as residents went about their day. One difference was evident, though – shoppers and storekeepers were taking a variety of precautions to keep the virus at bay.
“Honestly I still have to work either way,” said Mott Haven resident Geraldine Fernandez. “I just have to be more careful with how I travel around the city, so I’ve been carrying around napkins and tissues ever since I heard about the case up in New Rochelle.”
The state’s first official coronovirus case was a resident of New Rochelle, just 15 miles to the north. On Thursday, two Mott Haven schools were closed for 24 hours after a student who had reportedly tested positive for the virus turned out not to be infected. The schools, Laboratory School of Finance and Technology and South Bronx Preparatory were disinfected and reopened Friday following the negative virus test.
The schools, Laboratory School of Finance and Technology and South Bronx Preparatory: A College Board School, were being cleaned and disinfected Thursday as the city’s health department investigated who else might have been exposed.
Residents were taking a pragmatic view, saying they still had to go about their daily lives, but with a greater awareness about the spread of germs.
The shelves at Rite Aid on Southern Boulevard in Hunts Point that used to be lined with hand sanitizers, surgical masks, gloves, hand soaps and disinfectant sprays have been cleaned out.
Jordany Caba, the manager, said he expected two more shipments of these protective products by Saturday morning. “Everyone is targeting these items, so people are not getting a lot right now,” Caba said. “We order what we can and see what the warehouse gives us.”
Albis Mendoza, the manager at a Jimmy Jazz located across the street from Rite Aid, said he has stocked up on cleaning supplies and increased efforts to clean the store.
Workers are constantly wiping seats and surfaces throughout the day, he said, adding that employees and customers are more cautious in the store.
“Customers are kicking doors open and do not want to shake hands,” Mendoza said. “Cashiers are wearing gloves at the register.”
Business has slowed recently, he noted, but attributed the change to customers running out of tax return money and not fears from the pandemic.
Many businesses across the South Bronx have posted instructions near entrances to protect the health of workers and customers.
Elite Nails and Spa on Southern Boulevard posted a notice on its door urging customers to wash their hands before receiving any service from technicians.
Planet Fitness provided a guideline for gym goers, informing them that they are “closely monitoring the situation and will follow instructions and recommendations issued by public health authorities or government agencies as needed.”
The gym also informed members that employees regularly clean equipment, surfaces and floors with disinfectant cleaning supplies. The facility is also regularly cleaned overnight.
The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) has also started implementing new sanitization procedures in some buildings.
Ronald Topping, the tenant leader for the Adams Houses in Mott Haven, said that the Adams Houses staff has been instructed by NYCHA to disinfect stairs, exits, elevators, hallways, doors and doorknobs.
NYCHA, Topping said, also sent out an automated call to residents reminding residents to wash their hands, stay inside and call 311 if they have any questions or concerns about Coronavirus.
Community organizations like The Point Community Development Corp. have also begun to take steps to protect staff and program participants.
Maria Torres, the president and chief operating officer for The Point, said that staff is now regularly cleaning the centers doorknobs and tables with disinfectants, and large events scheduled at the center have also been cancelled as a precaution.
They have also started thinking of contingency plans for the food pantry held on Tuesdays, which regularly receives around 150 people.
Torres also said that staff has been meeting to decide how they would proceed if the Department of Education closes schools down or a student in one of their programs test positive for the virus or attended a school closed, due to someone else contracting the virus.
“Currently the programs are still happening because none of the schools we work with or our kids attend have had any closures. But once the schools close then we will follow the DOE and not have after-school programming,” said Torres “Should we find out that any of our students have been in a school that’s been closed we would alert all families.”
Torres said they have also started reaching out to health centers so that they can provide families information on where they should go to get tested if needed.
Coronavirus fears have been causing an unexpected decrease in blood donations, according to a statement sent out by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and the New York Blood Center. Over 60 New York Blood Center blood drives have been cancelled as a precautionary measure by organizations hosting the drives.
The Blood Center said that blood drives are not mass gatherings that pose a health risk and that everyone donating blood is interviewed by trained staff members before donating, to ensure they do not display symptoms of the flu, a cold, sore throat, or a respiratory infection.
If blood drives continue to be cancelled, the New York Blood Center said, over 4,000 blood donations would potentially be lost to the 200 hospitals they serve.
Bronx Community Boards 1 and 2, whose borders cover the borough’s southern territory, earlier this week cancelled all public meetings for the rest of the month as a precautionary measure. Some schools throughout the city have also begun closing or moving to an online, “distance learning” format in order to help stop the spread of coronavirus.
On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that all State University of New York (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY) campuses will no longer be holding in-person classes for the rest of the semester. The ruling affects Hostos Community College, the only CUNY campus located in Mott Haven.
Other campuses, like Metropolitan College’s Mott Haven campus, have also decided to hold classes online for the rest of the semester.
In a letter to students and posted on the school’s website, Joanne Passaro, president of Metropolitan College of New York, clarified that the move was a precautionary measure and that no one from the campus has tested positive for coronavirus.
New York City Public Schools, on the other hand, remain open for now, but extra precautions will be taken, Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement on March 8.
De Blasio offered advice to prevent the spread of the virus, including avoiding rush hour and waiting for a less packed train when riding the subway, and walking or biking to destinations if those options are available.
For Fatima Osman, a Hunts Point resident, avoiding rush hour is a challenge. The mother of four said she tries to avoid packed trains but has to get home to her children.
“This scares me,” Osman said. “Subways are very scary. There is no real solution for this.”