With a COVID-19 death toll now almost four times that of 9/11*, New Yorkers are reeling from the impact, writes Taylor Edgar.

But the typical New Yorker, while alarmed at the unfolding tragedy in their city, is determined that New York will bounce back once they have defeated the pandemic.

For now, the city that never sleeps is being kept awake trying to absorb the reality of being a city mourning more than 11,000 dead and caring for 200,000 citizens infected with COVID-19.

From her home in Manhattan, international fashion designer Jovana Benoit is processing the new normal of the Big Apple.

She told welovestornoway.com: “At first it seems as if no one took the pandemic too seriously. But then it became apparent that this was not to play with and total panic happened overnight. The stores were empty, and people stocked up with probably unnecessary items just to hoard. The death toll is so high that it feels surreal as if we are in a movie scene.”

She continues: “This is probably one of the worst crises in modern history or the last few decades for New Yorkers. It caught everyone by surprise, and we seem not to have the end of this crisis anywhere near yet.” New York, though, has defaulted to resilience mode and the mindset that was carved out in the wake of the Twin Towers. How the city, an international hub of commerce, will change in the aftermath of this latest tragedy is still an open-ended question for now. However, with typical New York resolve, Jovana, amidst the current uncertainty enveloping the city, is sure of one thing.

“Definitely New York City will bounce back, but it will never be the same. People will be more careful and paranoid,” Jovana predicts. “I cannot speak for the politicians, but I think that, in general, the world will be different; you can no longer shake hands, and you will always wonder should you stay close to others when walking around, going to a restaurant, walking into an elevator. The only hope is that a successful vaccine will bring back normalcy after all this. For now, we hope for the best.”

Meantime, the city and state governor, Andrew Cuomo are pinning their long-term exit strategy on a robust regime of testing in the city and across the state of New York. The grim reality of the death toll, however, is ensuring most people are adhering to the tenets of Stay at Home and social distancing. 

Daily life for Jovana has drastically changed, but for the better, in some ways, as her focus has shifted to things that she feels are ultimately more satisfying. “You tend to find yourself doing things that you never realized could be meaningful as just spending time reading or talking with family members and really, just taking it day by day,” explains Jovana.

The same one day at a time approach is the philosophy she is adopting too for her eponymously titled fashion label, Jovana Louis (www.jovanalouis.com). After travel and tourism, fashion is one industry most affected by COVID-19 and the global economic downturn. Lockdown and the financial implications of the pandemic have had a massive impact on Jovana’s work and business.

Even so, Jovana remains upbeat: “We are basically in standstill mode for manufacturing, and all employees are at home. I, personally, can continue working on new designs that can be for next seasons once we reopen.

“This is going to hurt financially, and we can only hope that when things reopen, we can bounce back very quickly.

While wrapped up in a personal bubble in her Manhattan apartment, Jovana’s mind, like all islanders, is never far from her roots. To Jovana, her home will always be 1500 miles away in Haiti. Her family and friends are naturally never far from her thoughts as the spread of the COVID-19 infections encircles the globe

A worried Jovana says: “I can only hope that this pandemic doesn’t take the full force in Haiti as it has in other countries. So far, the numbers are very low, and we hope that it stays that way because Haiti is unprepared for such a pandemic.”

New York City with its global connections will almost certainly weather the storm and remain the hub it has always been for finance, fashion, entertainment and much more besides. It may be getting battered by COVID-19 at the moment, but its greatest asset - its people - will prevail.

Concludes Jovana: “Overall, New York is the epicentre of the world now for this pandemic, and obviously it is a very scary situation. The impact will take some time to wear off, but I feel that living in New York is still an amazing experience that one must be in to understand. Fashion will always survive, and we must stay beautiful.”

(*The 9/11 death toll (Twin Towers, Pentagon etc.) was 2,977 excluding the 19 hijackers. The latest figure we have for New York City is almost 11,477.)