NOTE: This story is the first installment of “Together/Alone”, a new column from Spectrum News Chief National Political Reporter Josh Robin that explores life during the COVID-19 pandemic.

BROOKLYN, NY — I was halfway through reading an article about how dead bodies were piling up unburied in Italy when my wife interrupted to ask whether it was safe to eat lettuce anymore.

Startling questions intrude everywhere these days, starting with the most primal: Will I get sick? Will someone I love get sick?

In this case, though, it was about salad. Can inadvertent saliva globules from a supermarket stocker or a fellow shopper taint our greens with COVID-19? (An internet search found no expert warning us to do anything other than give them a good rinse. Phew. And still, yuck, so gross.)

Photo via Angi Gonzalez, Spectrum News NY1.

This is the dawning of the age of coronavirus. My mind toggles from the resolute to the paranoid, with a fitting backdrop outside my window here in New York City: gloomy rain amid the perfect pops of budding tree branches. 

I am charged with writing these dispatches at least a couple of times a week. They are musings of another human trapped in our invisible biologies. My kids are out of school until who knows when. We are weeks at least from seeing my parents and in-laws. I think of my brother and sister and brother-in-law, all MDs, donning surgical masks to tend the growing number of sick and worried. 

I think often about others, everywhere, out-of-work and without health insurance. I think about how this virus is changing us so quickly. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says the peak is still a month and a half away.

“Ever seen anything like this?” I asked someone who has seen his share of struggles and tragedies. 

“No, of course not,” Richard Ravitch replied.  “It’s scary and worrisome.”

Ravitch, 86, grew up during the Great Depression and World War II. He’s a personal hero of mine, the former New York lieutenant governor best known for helping steer New York City during its brush with bankruptcy in the 1970s. We talk once in a while. Usually I call when something awful is happening and I need some perspective.

Richard Ravitch in his Manhattan office, Dec. 22, 1982. (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler)  

This time, for the first time, he rattled me. Right around when he started talking about the shelves at his supermarket emptied of eggs and butter: “And they’re not sure there are going to be deliveries tomorrow.”

“I think illness, life-threatening illness, is very different from insolvency,” he told me, adding that he was watching a lot of movies.

He changed the subject, as if to force himself to think about something brighter. He said his 6-year old grandson was recently studying Black History Month.

“Grandpa, did you know Martin Luther King?” the boy asked.

“I said ‘Yes, I knew Martin Luther King’,” Ravitch said.

“Tell me about him.”

“So I started telling him stories about the civil rights movement.” Ravitch met King through Bayard Rustin, a longtime activist instrumental in setting up the march where King delivered his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech.

I told Ravitch hopefully that I see some parallels to today in his story, that we are in a bleak moment, but with perseverance we will emerge. 

And I do believe that. I’d love to tell you Ravitch agreed, with hearty assurances that we will all be fine. But frankly, he sounded tired and wanted to get off the phone. So there’s that, friends.

Here are my two goals with this:

First to convey to you that this isn’t a drill. You need to take this extremely seriously, for the sake of your health and those around you. We collectively need to limit our exposures to others, to safeguard against a virus that is much deadlier than the normal seasonal flu. Experts say we weren’t helped by a very slow start from the federal government that played down our risks even as it had the benefit of seeing the carnage across the globe, a pathogen moving indiscriminately. 

This shared fate leads me to the second goal: To do a small part in connecting us, even as necessity requires our distance. We are social beings, and behind these bricks walls from Seattle to Tampa there are stories that I want to hear and share. There are also important decisions our elected leaders are making that need exposure and investigation.

Feel free to send tips on all of the above to my Twitter or Instagram accounts. 

Attractions and landmarks from California to Florida are shut down because of the COVID-19 (Photos via AP, Spectrum News)  

This is a painful time; it’s an uncertain time. It’s a time that will summon qualities that maybe we haven’t been using as much as we should: humility, kindness, patience. 

But we will emerge, that I’m sure; perhaps stumbling into daylight two months hence, squinting at the sun. And perhaps then we retain the best of what got us through it.

Sanity Clause

Push-ups. With gyms closed, we are back to basics to keep in shape mentally and physically — or to get in shape. Nothing is more basic than the push-up. You just need a level floor. If you’re just starting out or think you can do it, just start with one. But whether it’s one or 1,000, don’t sag; tush and back up; abdomen tight, and keep even speeds pressing up, and coming down. 

Trapped Parent Tip

Walks. Even the San Francisco area, which is under “Shelter in Place” regulations, allows for a bit of fresh air and exercise by yourself or with your housemates, provided you maintain 6 feet of space with passersby. Stress can drain your immunity; rain or shine, I’ve found a quick daily walk with the kids after hours indoors is restoring my equilibrium and theirs.

Source: Spectrum News NY1 | Brooklyn