A medical worker ensures people are socially distanced as they wait in line outside a temporary triage tent at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, New York.

James Estrin/The New York Times

A medical worker ensures people are socially distanced as they wait in line outside a temporary triage tent at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, New York.

April 23, 2020

Students Living in Coronavirus Hotspots Grapple With Increased Family Burdens, Anxieties

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The COVID-19 lockdown has reshaped the daily routines of people all across the world, particularly for those in large urban cities. Students living in U.S. outbreak epicenters expressed anxieties regarding their current situations.

So far, urban centers have felt the impact of the coronavirus most acutely, but rural upstate counties may in fact be much more vulnerable to a localized outbreak. These findings come from an interactive mapping tool developed by demographers from the Cornell Population Center and the Cornell Program on Applied Demographics.

Forty-four percent of the total U.S. death toll has come from New York City alone, and the number of cases in New York State — 257,216 confirmed as of Tuesday night — is higher than any other country in the world, according to NBC News. New York City has 138,435 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Wednesday afternoon. Surrounding areas such as Westchester, Long Island and New Jersey also have some of the highest infection rates in the country.

Under these dire circumstances — on top of stay-at-home orders and the closing of many businesses — once-mundane daily tasks, such as getting groceries or doing laundry, now present challenges that require caution and improvisation. Some students have been forced to put classes on the backburner as the pandemic significantly alters their livelihoods.

Patrick Mosquera ’21, who lives in Union City, New Jersey, tested positive for COVID-19, along with every member of his family.

Mosquera’s grandparents have been the most heavily affected in his family —  his grandfather is currently on a ventilator.

“He is fighting for his life,” Mosquera said.

Union City is located in Hudson County, which has seen 12,039 positive test results and 568 deaths as of Wednesday afternoon. Officials point to the city’s “tightly packed population” as a factor for the high rates of infection.

“The coronavirus has had a large impact on where I live,” he said.

During a time when his entire family has been “worried, stressed and scared,” food delivery and a telemedicine health care platform offered by his primary care physician have been two important resources for Mosquera.

Aitong Yu ’21, who lives near Coney Island, Brooklyn, said that her neighborhood’s Chinese community has created WeChat groups for ordering and delivering groceries to each other.

For Shirley Chen ’21 of South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, “getting groceries is now done at 7:30 a.m.” to avoid long lines.

Chen experiences a higher chance of coming into contact with other people, as she lives in an apartment building, and “going down to the basement for laundry requires extra levels of protection.”

Although Chen has been making efforts to “look at the brighter side” by exploring new skills and hobbies, the lockdown has taken a toll on her and her family members, most of whom are unemployed due to COVID-19.

“I see my mom stress about not having enough food or money,” she said. “We don’t know what tomorrow will be like.”

On the other side of the country in Los Angeles, Vanessa Olguin ’22 is dealing with similar burdens. Her county has the 10th highest number of confirmed cases in the U.S., with 16,449 positive cases as of Wednesday afternoon.

Her mother, who works as a nurse practitioner, saw a “frightening” recent rise in COVID-19 patients. Olguin’s father is working as a small business owner in Van Nuys, a predominantly black and Latinx neighborhood, and has noticed a “big increase” in people falling ill to the virus.

Olguin and her sister now share responsibility for preparing meals and taking care of their grandmother, something that is “hard to juggle.”

“Away from home, there is really such a privilege of being only accountable for yourself,” Olguin said. “But coming home, I began to assume other roles in my family to alleviate the load.”

Similarly, Mosquera’s priority now is to rest and take care of his family, and his professors have been understanding of the fact that he has been unable to focus on academics.

Chen tries to continue her studies normally and said her advisors at Cornell have been “the most helpful to me during this time, working everyday to answer my questions.”

Olguin utilizes many of Cornell’s online library resources, such as Passkey for accessing restricted databases while off-campus. She also praised her professors and TAs for being accommodating during the transition to virtual classes.

“My professors have been trying to be more engaging,” she said. “My TAs have overall just been really great beacons of kindness.”