When New York’s Cultural Centers Shut Down, They Made Lemonade

When New York’s Cultural Centers Shut Down, They Made LemonadeWhen New York’s Cultural Centers Shut Down, They Made Lemonade.

Resourceful tourists whose dream trips to New York have been upended by the pandemic are doing their best to cobble together alternative entertainment.

Patty Schlafer flew in late Thursday from Wisconsin, and her sister, Kathy Coughlin, flew up from Atlanta the same night, for a trip of a lifetime that had been a year in the works.

Along with Mrs. Coughlin’s daughter, Beth Coughlin-Leonard, 32, who lives in Nashville, the women were meeting in New York City to celebrate Ms. Schlafer’s 60th birthday. They had hatched the plan last spring, and kicked around the idea of coming in February until Mrs. Coughlin — who last visited the city for the World’s Fair in 1965 — protested that it would be far too cold.

Pushing the weekend to mid-March didn’t seem like a big deal. They had a fantastic Broadway weekend lined up: “Wicked” on Friday, “Dear Evan Hansen” on Saturday, and on Sunday, for their big finale, “Hadestown.”

Then, as the sisters’ cab made its way from La Guardia Airport to their midtown hotel, the bad news arrived via their phones.

In the hours since their planes had taken off, New York City had declared a state of emergency because of the coronavirus pandemic. Broadway was shut down. Museums, the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall were all closing their doors.

And thus did Ms. Schlafer, Mrs. Coughlin and Mrs. Coughlin-Leonard find themselves among the untold trail of tourists on dream trips to America’s cultural capital with tickets to canceled shows, winnowed options and little in the way of backup plans.

“We talked about it the day before, and we kept saying: ‘Well, Broadway is open. To not go because we’re afraid is crazy,’” said Ms. Schlafer, as she, her sister and her niece strolled midday Friday through an eerily uncrowded Times Square.

Like so many others, they quickly hatched an impromptu Plan B.

The Empire State Building was out — Mrs. Coughlin-Leonard is not big on heights — and so was the subway, because of viral concerns. So, in lieu of shows and museums, they would check out Central Park, the New York Public Library (which closed on Saturday) and maybe Grand Central Terminal, too.

Mrs. Leonard-Coughlin was on the hunt for a bagel or a pastry and a cute cafe. And her mother, Mrs. Coughlin, 65, a supporter of President Trump, had convinced the other two to let her visit the Fox News building, or at least to walk by.

“We told her she only gets 10 minutes of Fox News per hour,” Ms. Schlafer, a self-described “crazy liberal,” said. “We put her on a limit.”

Ms. Schlafer had only been “a little concerned” about the virus. And while her niece had worn a mask on her flight — she is a geriatric nurse practitioner and did not want to transmit anything to the older adults she works with — she had been unaware of the shutdown until her mother called from the cab.

“Beth was already in town shopping, oblivious,” Mrs. Coughlin, 65, said.

“Hello Zara !” Mrs. Coughlin-Leonard sang.

Some other tourists were similarly sanguine about upended plans.

Bryonna Graham, 24, a sales consultant for the Atlanta Hawks basketball team (whose season has been suspended), and her sister Jasmine Graham, 29, a therapist, arrived Thursday from Atlanta and had tickets to “Wicked.” But with Broadway off the table, they concentrated on what was open.

There was the Museum of Sex on Fifth Avenue, though there weren’t a lot of people when they went and they didn’t really want to touch anything. The shops in SoHo and at Chelsea Market were also still fueling customers.

The sisters even managed to take the subway without touching any surface or handrails. After they got back to their room, they sprayed themselves, their clothes and shopping bags down with a can of Lysol they had talked a hotel worker into giving them.

Julie Butler, 52, a school bus driver from Boston who was in town with family and friends for a relative’s 50th birthday, said being in a panic-stricken city had its perks. There was no waiting at restaurants and no lines to stand in.

Sure they were disappointed — they’d had tickets for “Hadestown” and “Jagged Little Pill,” and the television shows “The View,” and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” which both went on without studio audiences. But they could still take a bus tour and could still visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Statue of Liberty. And play board games.

They also had been assiduously handwashing between various jaunts.

“We don’t feel that our threat is heightened by coming here,” said Ms. Butler. “We’re in this together. We need to protect each other.”

Yet for some who came from farther afield, the disappointment was tough to take.

The five members of the Fields family arrived from England Thursday night to find no “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” on Broadway. No ice hockey at Madison Square Garden. No visit to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. No St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Maggie Fox, 55, had been planning the trip for her husband and three grown daughters since last summer, and told them about it at Christmas as a surprise.

“We don’t know what to do now because everything’s closed,” Mrs. Fox said. “You walk around and sightsee, but then we can’t go in anywhere and do anything. And then once you’re done then what is there to do?”

And, like many tourists, they had spent hour after frustrating hour trying to contact their airlines and book earlier planes home. Because along with having little to do, there is also the fear of getting marooned.

The Schlafer-Coughlin family had at least been successful on that front. They were scheduled to fly out Saturday morning.

“I mean, who knows,” Mrs. Coughlin-Leonard said on Friday. “Are they going to shut down the airport? I don’t want to be stuck here for two weeks.”

“As lovely as your city is,” Ms. Schlafer said.

The Coronavirus Outbreak.

Frequently Asked Questions and Advice.

Updated April 11, 2020.

When will this end?

This is a difficult question, because a lot depends on how well the virus is contained. A better question might be: “How will we know when to reopen the country?” In an American Enterprise Institute report, Scott Gottlieb, Caitlin Rivers, Mark B. McClellan, Lauren Silvis and Crystal Watson staked out four goal posts for recovery: Hospitals in the state must be able to safely treat all patients requiring hospitalization, without resorting to crisis standards of care; the state needs to be able to at least test everyone who has symptoms; the state is able to conduct monitoring of confirmed cases and contacts; and there must be a sustained reduction in cases for at least 14 days.

How can I help?

The Times Neediest Cases Fund has started a special campaign to help those who have been affected, which accepts donations here. Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities using a numbers-based system, has a running list of nonprofits working in communities affected by the outbreak. You can give blood through the American Red Cross, and World Central Kitchen has stepped in to distribute meals in major cities. More than 30,000 coronavirus-related GoFundMe fund-raisers have started in the past few weeks. (The sheer number of fund-raisers means more of them are likely to fail to meet their goal, though.)

What should I do if I feel sick?

If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

Should I wear a mask?

The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

How do I get tested?

If you’re sick and you think you’ve been exposed to the new coronavirus, the C.D.C. recommends that you call your healthcare provider and explain your symptoms and fears. They will decide if you need to be tested. Keep in mind that there’s a chance — because of a lack of testing kits or because you’re asymptomatic, for instance — you won’t be able to get tested.

How does coronavirus spread?

It seems to spread very easily from person to person, especially in homes, hospitals and other confined spaces. The pathogen can be carried on tiny respiratory droplets that fall as they are coughed or sneezed out. It may also be transmitted when we touch a contaminated surface and then touch our face.

Is there a vaccine yet?

No. Clinical trials are underway in the United States, China and Europe. But American officials and pharmaceutical executives have said that a vaccine remains at least 12 to 18 months away.

What makes this outbreak so different?

Unlike the flu, there is no known treatment or vaccine, and little is known about this particular virus so far. It seems to be more lethal than the flu, but the numbers are still uncertain. And it hits the elderly and those with underlying conditions — not just those with respiratory diseases — particularly hard.

What if somebody in my family gets sick?

If the family member doesn’t need hospitalization and can be cared for at home, you should help him or her with basic needs and monitor the symptoms, while also keeping as much distance as possible, according to guidelines issued by the C.D.C. If there’s space, the sick family member should stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom. If masks are available, both the sick person and the caregiver should wear them when the caregiver enters the room. Make sure not to share any dishes or other household items and to regularly clean surfaces like counters, doorknobs, toilets and tables. Don’t forget to wash your hands frequently.

Should I stock up on groceries?

Plan two weeks of meals if possible. But people should not hoard food or supplies. Despite the empty shelves, the supply chain remains strong. And remember to wipe the handle of the grocery cart with a disinfecting wipe and wash your hands as soon as you get home.

Can I go to the park?

Should I pull my money from the markets?

That’s not a good idea. Even if you’re retired, having a balanced portfolio of stocks and bonds so that your money keeps up with inflation, or even grows, makes sense. But retirees may want to think about having enough cash set aside for a year’s worth of living expenses and big payments needed over the next five years.

What should I do with my 401(k)?

Watching your balance go up and down can be scary. You may be wondering if you should decrease your contributions — don’t! If your employer matches any part of your contributions, make sure you’re at least saving as much as you can to get that “free money.”

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