VIRUS DIARY: For her, virus-era New York is a story in sound


In this April 14, 2020, photo, an ice cream truck moves down the street in the Queens borough of New York. (AP Photo/Sophie Rosenbaum)

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NEW YORK (AP) — Sirens. Birds. The ice cream truck. Sirens. Sirens. Sirens. The stall of a delivery vehicle. The downstairs neighbor telling her dog to do his business. The muffled talk of a masked couple walking down the block.

People ask me what it’s like to live in New York City, the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic. It’s hard for me to say. I don’t know what it’s like at the stores, or how it feels to walk down the street. Fearing we could infect others without symptoms, my partner and I decided weeks ago that we would stay put.

In Queens, in one of the roughest-hit areas. Between two hospitals.

So aside from going out on our treasured balcony and taking out the garbage, I haven’t left the apartment in nearly two months. No walks, no stores, nothing. The only connection I have to what is happening outside is what I hear.

7 a.m. Birds chirping and sun blazing through the windows. To my delight, no sirens … yet. Today is already better than yesterday, which brought weather that seemed to match my mood: stormy.

My daily visit with the morning doves that perch on my front balcony is five minutes of uninterrupted song: the two birds singing, my two cats fervently clicking back at them in languages I wish I understood. Neither mind the sound of our stationary bike, an impulse buy once we decided we wouldn’t be leaving for a while.

10:18 a.m. The first siren of the day. The wailing is faint at first, so much that I thought I might be imagining it. Soon, the ambulance is so loud that it must be coming down my street.

It doesn’t. It fades. The birds remain.

2:32 p.m. A fleeting siren. Before all this, sirens were a part of the soundtrack of this city.

It’s different now.

Five minutes later, a succession of sirens. One fades into another. This is why it’s different. Now, every time I hear the wailing, I think: Is the person in need already in the ambulance, or are they rushing toward the hospital? What about the EMTs? How are they processing what’s happening?

The droning beat of whatever our upstairs neighbor is listening to takes over. I’m briefly annoyed, then remind myself we’re all trapped inside, all doing our best.

3 p.m. It hasn’t felt like spring. So I take advantage of the sunny day and bring my laptop outside to the balcony for a conference call.

No sirens, but the bark of my neighbor’s little dog, Sparky, rings out. I haven’t seen them in a month. Sparky’s yipping comforts me.

4 p.m. I stay outside now that my workday is over, close my eyes and try to just focus on the sounds of my street.

Tweeting birds get paired with sirens that are briefly overtaken by the nostalgic yet creepy tune of an ice cream truck. A few times a day, the jingling truck passes our building. Is anyone buying ice cream? Also: Ice cream sounds really good right now.

5 p.m. A cacophony of church bells join at least three, maybe four sirens wailing around our apartment.

7 p.m. It’s so loud, I immediately think something terrible happened. I rush toward the balcony door.

“It’s 7 o’clock,” my partner says. Right. Our neighborhood has been slow to pick up on Manhattan’s ritual of clapping and cheering for a few minutes to honor all essential workers.

Today, two families are jumping up and down, banging on pots. I feel compelled to join these neighbors I don’t know.

8:30 p.m. The sirens are loud and close. Lights from the small slice of Manhattan’s skyline that we can see illuminate the sky.

The sun is gone; the sirens are still here.

But so are the birds, and so are we.


“Virus Diary,” an occasional feature, showcases the coronavirus saga through the eyes of Associated Press journalists around the world. See previous entries here. Follow AP East Desk Editor Sophia Rosenbaum on Twitter at

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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