- Many residents have left New York City, now the epicenter of coronavirus cases in the United States, for smaller towns.
- Health experts are concerned that, in doing so, New Yorkers could be unintentionally spreading the virus to places less equipped to handle potential outbreaks.
- Experts say that anyone who has recently left New York City should self-quarantine for 14 days to prevent spreading the virus to other communities.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
When Isabel, a 23-year-old New York City resident, started to become concerned about novel coronavirus cases rising in the city, she couldn’t shake her anxiety.
On March 13, she boarded an Amtrak train and, five hours later, arrived in rural Vermont where her mom, dad, and golden retriever, Mr. Bear, live.
“I thought being around loved-ones would help [with my anxiety], and it did,” Isabel, who asked to omit her last name for privacy reasons, told Business Insider. “I also left because I was nervous about being in such a busy city with people everywhere.”
Like Isabel, many other New Yorkers have left the city, which is now the epicenter of the pandemic in the US, in an attempt to escape the coronavirus. They’re replacing cramped apartments with wide-open spaces, family members, and the ability to go outside without worrying about crowds.
But health experts are wary of New Yorkers’ displacing themselves, and worry that these people could unintentionally spread the coronavirus to places less equipped to handle potential outbreaks.
New Yorkers left the city in search of more space and comfort
Nora, a 25-year-old who typically resides in Brooklyn, told Business Insider that she left the city in search of more space to live and work remotely. She left on March 15 with her roommate and roommate’s boyfriend for Killington, Vermont, where her roommate’s parents own a vacant vacation home.
“They were like, ‘If it’s going to be weeks or months, we would rather be together than apart,’ and I was like, ‘The three of us in that little apartment [in Brooklyn] are going to kill each other,'” she said.
Nora said she mainly had anxiety about the three of them spreading coronavirus to Killington residents, so they stayed inside the house for five days, only leaving to walk up and down the driveway for fresh air.
Isabel said she didn’t take particularly intense safety measures once she arrived at her parents’ home.
“Of course, I was washing my hands every three minutes and very aware of keeping my parents healthy,” Isabel said. “We have the ‘we are all in it together mindset,’ mostly because we wanted to be able to hug each other and cook and bake for each other to try to maintain some sort of normalcy while being home. If I came to Vermont feeling sick, then it would be a whole different story.”
New York City is a coronavirus hotspot, but that doesn’t mean it’s best to leave
New York City has the majority of coronavirus cases in the country, but other locales are starting to experience upticks in cases, which in some cases could be due to travel from New York.
During a March 24 White House press briefing, Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator, said she was concerned about people leaving New York to find solace. Birx cited the recent uptick in Long Island cases and said it suggests New Yorkers spread the virus there.
“To everyone who has left New York over the last few days, because of the rate of the number of cases, you may have been exposed before you left New York,” Birx said. “Everybody who was in New York should be self-quarantining for the next 14 days to ensure the virus doesn’t spread to others, no matter where they have gone – whether it’s Florida, North Carolina, or out to far reaches of Long Island.”
On March 20, New York Governor Anthony Cuomo announced that all non-essential employees were required to work from home and after that, direct flights from New York to Florida increased, Politico reported.
Hospitals bed shortages in some places could make relocating dangerous
Henry, a 24-year-old who lives in Brooklyn and asked to omit his name for privacy purposes, told Business Insider he left New York on March 18 to drive to a family home in a suburb outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Henry said that he left because he was worried about infection risk, but never considered the dangers of going to a place with fewer hospitals that could be less equipped to handle an outbreak. Milwaukee County has more ICU beds per 100,000 people than the national median, but that’s not the case in many smaller towns.
Martha’s Vineyard, for example, has one hospital on the island and it has 25 beds, the Boston Globe reported. The sole hospital on the nearby island of Nantucket has 14 beds.
Groceries have been in short supply as New Yorkers head to vacation homes in other places, too. When New Yorkers started heading to their summer homes in the Catskills region, year-round residents noticed how they left grocery store shelves bare.
“They’re pumping gas. They’re stopping at grocery stores,” Kim Langdon, a 48-year-old resident of Ashland, New York, told the New York Times. “If they’re infected and they don’t know it, they’re putting everyone at risk.”
New Yorkers don’t regret fleeing
Although leaving New York City posed a risk, Isabel and Nora both said they’re happy with their decisions.
“I am aware there are a lot of people that don’t have places to go outside of New York City and I don’t take my home here for granted one bit,” Isabel said. “I think after all this is over, the world will have a different perspective on everything in life. This time has forced me to focus on everything I am grateful for and this little house in Vermont is one of them.”
Nora said she’s thought of the broader implications of people leaving New York and potentially overloading hospitals, and that played into the the isolation measures she’s taken.
“We have no reason to think that we are carrying it, but even so, that is why we have been so careful,” Nora said. “I could probably get it and take a bunch of Tylenol and sleep at home and be fine. I don’t want to risk putting other people in the hospital.”