Inside Stories

I am staying in my Manhattan apartment to ride out the coronavirus outbreak—for now

By Austin Havens-Bowen  |
March 26, 2020 - 12:30PM

As her Upper East Side building emptied out, a New Yorker named Caroline began searching for a rental in the suburbs for her family to wait out the coronavirus. But the pandemic has spread there, too. 


Caroline is a marketing director and mother of two young children who lives on the Upper East Side. When the coronavirus started to spread in NYC, her family considered renting a house outside of the city to ride out the pandemic. But hearing about suburban grocery stores emptied out by panicked shoppers was one of the reasons she decided to stay. Here’s her story.

When the coronavirus first started spreading, I wasn’t sure if it was going to become such an issue in New York City. Around the time the city first suggested social distancing, we were at the 92nd Street Y to see Jerry Seinfeld interview Barry Sonnenfeld [on March 8th], and that’s when I noticed how fast the situation was evolving.

The auditorium was still packed, but Purell stations were placed around the auditorium and down the aisles. I wasn’t nervous to sit next to someone who I didn’t know, but when Jerry and Barry, who are close friends, came onstage, they bowed at one another rather than hug or shake hands—and that’s when I knew it was getting serious.

Editor's Note: Brick Underground's Inside Stories features first-person accounts of dramatic, real-life New York City real estate experiences. Have a story to share? Drop us an email. We respect all requests for anonymity. Click here for more of Brick Underground's coronavirus coverage.

By the end of the week, things started to get worse, so I decided to keep my kids home from school. Many other parents kept their kids home too, in hopes that it would get the school to close. 

My husband and I still went out to dinner that night at The Mark, but there were only a few other people when it’s usually packed on a Friday night. It felt very eerie, so my husband and I started to discuss how we should prepare. 

By Monday, my children's school closed and it was obvious from the news coverage that the coronavirus was starting to escalate. I was chatting with my sister, who lives in Darien, Connecticut, about how she was handling it and that’s when the thought first crossed my mind that perhaps we should rent a house near her to ride out the coronavirus.

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At this point, both of my kids were stuck at home and I knew it was only a matter of time before my husband, who works in finance, would have to start working from home. That’s when panic mode set in, because I didn’t think we were going to be able to manage staying in a small space.

So, I logged onto Zillow and started spamming real estate agents about rental properties. But, I quickly realized that there were cases in Connecticut too. One of the houses that I almost rented was in Westport, which now has tons of Covid-19 cases. So I stopped searching in the suburbs and checked out more rural areas including Bernardsville, New Jersey, which is where I grew up. Although my family doesn’t live there anymore, the thought of riding this out in my hometown felt nostalgic and comforting. 

We even looked at rentals in Florida since we had plans to spend our spring break there. At that time, some experts said the coronavirus wouldn’t thrive in warmer areas so I thought it would be a good idea to escape somewhere warm. But, it was only a matter of time before it started spreading there too.

A lot of our neighbors and friends started leaving the building around this time. We live in a 20-story condo building that has four apartments per floor, and we’re the only full-time residents on our floor, because so many of the condos in our building are pieds-à-terre. So although I’m used to being alone on our floor, it got eerie with everyone leaving. 

I started talking to my family who lives in the suburbs, and many of them stressed that it was difficult to find groceries and that they felt very isolated. I didn’t see that happening as bad in the city, and I have so many options so that’s when I thought it’s best to stay put.  

One of the challenges of us being stuck inside our apartment is that there is a major construction site next door, which creates a lot of noise. I was told that the noise should be reduced in a couple of weeks, but right now it’s so bad that we’re losing essential square footage during the day where we could work or have quiet time. 

I’m lucky that I work part-time so I can focus on my kids during the day. It’s easier for my fifth grader because his teacher is tech-savvy and has created lessons and plans for him to do online, but it’s a bit tricker for my younger son. It’s been a challenge finding ways to fill the day and make up for the lack of teamwork and face-to-face interaction that he’s used to.

For now, I’m happy with our decision. There’s only about 20 families still living in our building, and only three or four of them have kids and the rest are elderly (and are barely leaving their apartments), so I feel comfortable getting out and walking around. Amenities in the building have stayed open but they only allow one person to be in any given space at the same time. I’m grateful because even simply taking a walk down the stairs helps keep me sane. And, it’s comforting to be in our own space and be able to walk outside and see other people—even if there’s six feet between us.

Although we’re staying put for now, if this does continue into the summer, I think we will look for a summer house rental. Our children normally go to summer camp, which probably won’t happen now, and I can’t imagine spending my entire summer in the city, so we might have to pack up and create our own summer camp somewhere else.


Austin Havens-Bowen

Staff Writer

Staff writer Austin Havens-Bowen covers the rental market and answers renters' questions in a column called Realty Bites. He previously reported on local news for the Queens Ledger and The Hunts Point Express in the Bronx. He graduated from Hunter College with a BA in media studies. He rents a one-bedroom apartment in Astoria with his boyfriend and their two cats.

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