Speaker by Various Artists

4

Locked down in Jersey City

by Mark Anderson

I am a Kiwi living in Jersey City, New Jersey. Jersey City is the second-largest city in the state and is located directly across the Hudson River from downtown Manhattan. Locals call it New York’s sixth borough. More than 350,000 New Jersey citizens, including myself, commute to New York daily for work. Like New York, we have been heavily hit by the coronavirus.

In Jersey City, a city the size of Hamilton, we currently have almost 1800 diagnosed cases and 50 deaths – the latest being a revered local councillor. Although the number of cases in New York seems to be plateauing, the number of confirmed cases in New Jersey is on the rise. While we don’t know anyone who has died from the virus, we do know people who have tested positive and we know people who have lost loved ones and work colleagues.

In New York and New Jersey, we are now into our fourth week of lockdown. It has been sobering to see the difference in how the coronavirus pandemic has been handled here in the US compared to back home in New Zealand.

One of the first things I observed upon arriving in the US was the division between federal and state government when it comes to things such as health, education, laws and taxes. This is evident in the conflicting measures most states have taken in dealing with this crisis compared to the seemingly hands-off approach of the federal government. The New Zealand response, with its four levels and precise guidelines, stands in stark contrast to the patchwork of US guidelines. As cases and deaths escalated in New York, we watched agog as spring break college students partied on the beaches of Florida. 

Some of the measures enacted in New Zealand and other countries simply do not wash in a country that values individual freedoms above collective societal responsibility. A case in point being those churches who continue to hold services despite advice from local and government leadership, who are also reluctant to intervene.

The quality of healthcare in the US is not poor – and at more than 14% of GDP spending on it is proportionately much higher than New Zealand’s – but what is poor is the ability of the poor to access. I never realised how much we take our healthcare system in New Zealand for granted, and how expensive it is to access healthcare in the US – even if you do have insurance.

My wife can work from home. I, however, have lost my job and have therefore applied for an unemployment benefit. The wait will be three weeks. Friends who work in the gig economy cannot access welfare at this stage. One friend with no income inquired of her landlord if she could delay paying rent; she was sent an email reply with a list of local homeless shelters. Capitalism rumbles on.

Still, I try to not get under my wife’s feet in our one-bedroom apartment as she works from our dining room table. We go out in masks and gloves and try and keep our social distance – not easy in apartment buildings with shared areas and neighbourhoods of high-density housing.

Amongst our local US friends are three other couples with whom we regularly chat with on Google Hangouts. This week we are having a bake-off. Cookies will be left on stoops and in letter boxes and judging (and drinks and dress up) will be online on Friday night. We’re baking Edmond’s Afghans …  

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