From the trenches of New York

Coping with coronavirus on the front line

Coronavirus - New York

Photo: Gerd Altmann / Pixabay
In March, New York City became the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States.

VICTORIA HOFMO
Brooklyn, N.Y.

New Yorkers love competition. But, it wasn’t such an honor when New York surpassed Washington in mid-March as the No. 1 state in COVID-19 cases.

The first case in New York state was reported on March 1. In the beginning of that month, we went about our daily lives. One day at the gym a friend told an anecdote about how her niece and nephew were dealing with the crisis. They invented a new game, “Coronavirus Tag.” Just a few weeks later, it seems strange. 

But children have used gallows humor to deal with catastrophic events for a very long time. Have you heard the nursery rhyme “Ring Around the Rosie?” This simple children’s game from the Middle Ages is about the Black Plague. The new twist on tag also gives you a sense of how much things have changed in a few weeks and how even our youngest members of society are aware of the situation in New York.

With our current health crisis, I thought it important to see how the Norwegian-American community in New York is being impacted by the current enigmatic pandemic. Following are some updates from the front. 

I began reaching out on March 17 to gather data from a variety of people and organizations. As you can imagine, everyone who was able to contribute their thoughts is incredibly swamped, and many were unable to get back to me right away, if at all. As the information about this killer virus and the governmental responses are changing daily, I have organized insights received chronologically. I’d like to thank all who contributed.

Norwegian Consulate - Manhattan

Photo: Laura Guerrero / Pass Blue
A waiting area at the Royal Norwegian Consulate in Manhattan.

Norwegian Consul General Harriet Berg

The Royal Norwegian Consulate in New York

March 23

The COVID-19 pandemic has developed rapidly, not least here in New York. We are monitoring the development and following guidelines from U.S. authorities. Our main emphasis is on making sure that Norwegian and U.S. citizens are well informed about Norwegian policies to handle the pandemic, including travel restrictions to Norway.

Most of our staff is now working from home to follow policies in the tri-state area, and we have closed the consulate general to visitors. All appointments, including ordinary passport appointments, have been canceled. But we maintain our responsibilities, including consular business for those in need. We prefer to receive requests by email at cg.newyork@mfa.no. Our phones are, however, still open between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. The most updated information is available on www.government.no.

If you need to contact the Norwegian consulate, here is what you should do:

All official information from Norwegian authorities is updated on the website: www.regjeringen.no/korona.

For specific information for Norwegians in the United States, you can follow their website www.norway.no/USA or www.facebook.com/NorwegianEmbassyinWashington for the latest updates.

Healthcare Worker & Certified Pharmaceutical Technician

March 26

My position entails many things: coordinating medication inventory, contacting nursing units with the status of their patients, medication, delivery of medications to the units, assisting the pharmacist and more. Yes, that means that some days I am scheduled to deliver meds to the units with all the COVID-19 patients or stand at a register handing medications to infected patients. 

One way the coronavirus has impacted pharmacies is cleanliness: we sterilize our work areas multiple times a day instead of just once at the start of shift. Another way is trying to order more medication that specifically helps fight the virus. Some people are getting contact dermatitis on hands and face, myself included, from needing to wear the masks and gloves or just washing hands so much and using hand sanitizer all the time. 

Certain changes have been made to our work process due to the outbreak of this virus. 

First, we are all wearing masks and gloves in the hope of preventing ourselves from contracting the virus. 

Second, new laws have been placed in effect impacting our jobs. 

Third, we have been asked to not take any personal days or vacation days while this epidemic is happening, because if any of us become ill, they will need the remaining staff to not be off. 

Last, overtime is being offered to those who are willing to take it, whereas it was not heard of to get at all.

Many of my co-workers are scared of contracting the virus themselves or just bringing it home to their family members. My husband and I both work in hospitals, and maybe that makes me not fear it. I believe if I get it, I will fight it off. I am doing everything I can to prevent myself from getting the virus, but there is only so much I can do.

Norwegian Christian Home

Photo courtesy of Norwegian Christian Home & Health Center
The Norwegian Christian Home & Health Center has been serving the Norwegian-American community in New York since 1903.

Executive Director Anthony Restaino 

Norwegian Christian Home & Health Center

March 30

The Norwegian Christian Home & Health Center is a residence and health center for senior citizens in Brooklyn, founded by a Norwegian couple, George and Amanda Hanson, in 1903. As they are tending to the most vulnerable members of society, I thought their perspective was essential to this article. The thoughts of their executive director follow. 

I am currently the executive director of the Norwegian Christian Home & Health Center, a position that I have held since Jan. 1, 2019. In this position, I serve as the administrator of record for our 135-bed skilled-nursing facility, and I oversee the operations of our 88-bed assisted-living program and the 28-bed independent-living facility. 

The coronavirus has had a global impact, and all of humanity is affected. The Norwegian Christian Home has taken all precautions to keep our staff and residents as safe as possible. All visiting has been prohibited except for families of those residents who are on hospice or at the end of life. I am proud to be working with the best team in health care. They prove their loyalty to the home on a daily basis. It is this dedicated workforce that will see us through his dark period. I have no doubt that the home will prevail.

As a non-profit, we survive partly on donations, so any donations would be greatly appreciated. I would like to ask simply that folks keep the home in their prayers. I pray—not for miracles—but for the strength and wisdom to lead the home through this difficult time.

17th of May Parade - Brooklyn

Photo courtesy of the Brooklyn 17th of May Parade Committee
The 17th of May parade in Brooklyn has been a mainstay of the New York Norwegian-American community since 1952. This year the parade is canceled.

Norwegian cultural organizations & events

Uncertainty is the word of the day. The Sons of Norway lodges have canceled their individual lodge meetings, as well as joint meetings. Sadly, annual memorial services were also called off. Sons of Norway lodges are staying in touch through newsletters and correspondence with their members. Their efforts to check in on frail and ill members and offering assistance to them have been stellar.

Brooklyn’s famous 17th of May Parade has been postponed; their board made their decision on April 1. They wanted to see how everything progressed, instead of making a premature decision. And Bay Ridge’s annual Viking Fest, held the day before the parade, organized by the Scandinavian East Coast Museum, has already reached out to local councilman Justin Brannan’s office, a partner in the event, to propose a backup plan to move their event from mid-May to October, if necessary.

It may seem counterintuitive that organizations created to bring people together are being asked to play it solo, but these are the times in which we are living. The hope is that by making these sacrifices now, our social gatherings will resume quickly and things will get back to normal sooner. These unsettling actions will certainly contribute to containing this pandemic and save the lives of our neighbors. 

New York City and its people have suffered enormously since 2001, through 9/11, a tornado that whipped through Brooklyn, the subsequent housing market crash, Hurricane Sandy, and now COVID-19. It feels like we are living in Old Testament times, being bombarded by the Ten Plagues.

I have faith in New Yorkers and the American public. But, I am also fatigued, world weary, EXHAUSTED of officials using our spunky optimism and can-do spirit as a substitute for planning and passing the buck. 

Best case scenario after the deluge: the city, state and federal strata of governments put emergency and mitigation plans in place, especially within our health care system and for our health care workers. Also, in order to prevent another pandemic, it is necessary for the World Health Organization (WHO) and similar organizations to work with China to change some of its domestic policies in order to prevent future outbreaks. They need to urge them to inform the rest of the world of viruses and other abnormalities earlier. Our pluckiness and self-sacrifice, brimming within our Norwegian community and beyond, should not be our only line of defense.

Vær frisk!

This article originally appeared in the April 17, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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