A UK student’s experience of the COVID-19 outbreak in NYC


NYC street

Jade Grisham

 Ah, 2020 – little did we know what the year would hold for us.

On January 6, 2020, I moved to the Upper East Side of Manhattan in New York City for a semester internship with MSNBC/NBC News. I was ecstatic to work for NBC and be in the city that never sleeps – until coronavirus came to town.

In late January, I read a story from the New York Times about an outbreak of a virus in China. The virus was spreading rapidly but seemed to be nothing for other countries to worry about. I remember empathizing and thinking “please let this not affect the United States.”

As time passed, other countries reported outbreaks. Most initial cases were due to contact with someone who had traveled to the highly effected areas, like China. Then it started to spread within communities via local transmission.

Misinformation began to spread and some people started to panic.

Since I worked in the news, I felt I was getting all the live updates and factual information. No one who I worked with was panicking, so I let it be and continued to work and live my life as I had before.

I traveled to and from Midtown Manhattan via the subway every day. As expected, there were many people wearing masks. At the time, I silently laughed at those people. I thought that they must not be keeping up with reliable news and recommendations from healthcare professionals, because they said wearing masks would not help halt transmission.

My family back in Kentucky started to worry about me, and even recommended I come home until it all calmed down. I refused and decided to push through until NBC forced me to go home.

However, when President Donald Trump first responded to the outbreak and announced The White House’s formation of the coronavirus task force, I knew this was going to be a monumental time in history.

Regardless of your general opinion on our president, it is clear that he mishandled and underplayed the severity of the issue from the beginning. The current administration has failed thousands upon thousands of people and has led us to our current situation.

The coronavirus came to the United States and it spread like wildfire.

In NYC, it was all anyone talked about. Walking the streets, I would overhear little bits of conversations like: “I heard it was a certain strain…” and “Has he thought about being tested?”

I instantly knew what they were talking about. Every person who I spoke to who had lived in New York or New Jersey for 18+ years, compared the feelings engendered by this outbreak to feels after the tragedy of September 11, 2001.

Between the beginning of February to mid-March, life changed all around the world – but I witnessed the great magnitude of the change in New York City.

To take proper precautions, I figured I’d go to the store and grab some sanitary supplies like Clorox wipes and hand sanitizer. Everything was out of stock. People around me were stocking up on groceries and toiletries, planning their work-from-home situations and, for some, scheduling travel plans to go home.

As the virus spread in NYC, I realized that I was living in the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States.


Positive cases of COVID-19 were announced daily in NYC, many of them right where I was traveling and working. I remember thinking, “It is only a matter of time before it hits this place hard and all at once.” I was not planning on sticking around to watch it happen.

Everything became so chaotic so fast.

My roommate started working from home, but her panic skyrocketed. She bought a last-minute plane ticket to North Carolina and told me she was unsure of when she would be back.

The streets were quiet. Restaurants and businesses were empty. There were open seats on the subway.

On the evening of March 11, my boss, coworkers, and I went out after work. Within two hours, Tom Hanks became the first celebrity diagnosed with the coronavirus, the NBA canceled the rest of the season, and President Trump banned travel from Europe beginning that Friday. I voiced my concerns to my boss about wanting to go back home to Kentucky; if I were going to be quarantined, I wanted to be quarantined with my family instead of in my tiny NYC apartment all alone.

On March 12, I booked a one-way flight back home to Kentucky for March 16. Fortunately, my boss and NBC completely understood and supported my decision to leave New York for the time being.

On March 13, NBC officially sent home all interns. They are paying us until the original last official day of our internship. I am so lucky to work for a company that cares about their employees and their families so much during these uneasy times.

On March 16, I left most of my stuff in my apartment in Manhattan and came back home with a carry-on suitcase of sweatshirts, sweatpants, a journal and my laptop.

I became so paranoid.

Whether on the subway, in a taxi, or touching the door handles at work, I could not quit thinking about the presence of COVID-19. I washed my hands 10+ times in a day and used hand sanitizer as often as I could.

Two weeks later, I sit in my apartment in Lexington, Kentucky, feeling good and trying to stay as healthy as I can. As I look back, I realize how lucky I am that I got out of New York City at the perfect time.

These are crazy times of uncertainty, but we are all in this together. All we can do to help this situation is to come together, ironically by staying away from one another. This is how we will heal.

I hope that at the end of this, we can better appreciate the little pleasures in life, like sitting in a coffee shop, walking through a park, and visiting the ones we love.

Stay safe and healthy everyone.