What It’s Like To Live at Brookdale During the COVID-19 Pandemic

I wake up at 9 a.m. to the sound of my alarm. It’s Friday. I draw the curtains and the rising sun fills my room with light. Outside, a seemingly infinite stream of cars coasting up the FDR Drive signals that, for many, the day has already begun. I change into sporty clothes, brush my teeth, mask up and make my way to the elevator, down to the first floor and out onto the sidewalk.

One of the first things I remember being told on the day I moved into Brookdale was to leave my room as often as possible. Whether it’s going on walks down the East River or going home to my family, the man explaining the move-in procedure emphasized the importance of social interaction, something I knew would be difficult with the rules all residents agreed to abide by when they signed The Purple Pledge. This contract states that only two people can be in a lounge or kitchen at once, there can be no outside visitors, and no more than one person can be in a single dorm room at a time. The lounges, where Resident Assistants used to host events and students celebrated birthdays and holidays, are now empty except for two chairs and two tables. To be social in-person, Brookdale residents have to work around these restrictions by meeting outdoors. This morning, I’m running along the East River with a friend.

We meet right outside of the Brookdale entrance, both wearing masks and shorts. We make our way up the overpass, walking perpendicular to the passing cars, trucks and buses on the FDR Drive below us. When we get down, we begin running. We make it to the Williamsburg Bridge and pause for a moment to appreciate the view of the water and the architecture of the bridge.

Back at Brookdale, we present security at the front with our Hunter IDs, resident ID cards and completed health screening forms, which we fill out through an app on our phones. We part ways once the elevator stops at my floor. I exit the elevator, sanitize my hands at the sanitizer dispenser next to the elevator buttons, and head into my room. I have a seminar at 11:10, so I change into a bathrobe, mask up, and head to the bathroom for a quick shower. In class, our teacher begins by asking how we’re all doing; we respond with a thumbs up, thumbs down or thumbs to the side. Next week I have several midterms, so I respond sheepishly by alternating between a thumbs up and a thumbs to the side.

Class ends. We finished our discussion about climate change, and I think about the East River and New York State’s plan to demolish the park to create a mile-long seawall. I mask up, gather a pan and some groceries, and cook up eggs with toast. I eat in the lounge, alone. I clean up and head back to my room, where I attend an organic chemistry lecture from 1:10 to 3. I find it much more difficult to focus during online lectures compared to in-person classes. Time passes by slowly; I get distracted by my phone; I get tired. Soon enough, class ends, and I grab lunch at a deli on 2nd Avenue and 25th Street. By this point, I’ve gone to the deli so often that the chefs know my order before I say anything.

I get back to Brookdale and eat in the lounge (alone again). I clean up, then head down to the cafeteria with my laptop, a pair of headphones and a bottle of water. The cafeteria looks like the classrooms I took my AP exams in. The desks are all a couple of feet apart. I work for some time, get tired and head back upstairs.

Brookdale cafeteria
“The cafeteria looks like the classrooms I took my AP exams in.” Photo by Robert Novo

Many of the people I met at Brookdale last year are not here this year, and Brookdale itself is not near full capacity. Luckily, a handful of friends are here at Brookdale with me. I meet two fellow sophomores right outside Brookdale around 8 p.m. It’s drizzling, and none of us have umbrellas, so we make our way through the drizzle to a restaurant. We’re screened with a temperature recording device, eat pasta and talk about our favorite movies. On our walk back to Brookdale, we pick up some snacks at Walgreens, to be eaten later tonight. Thankfully, the rain has stopped, so after grabbing warmer clothing, we meet up at the East River, where we sit on the benches by a pier and talk as the waves roll against the concrete under us. At 11 p.m., I walk back to my room, wash up and go to sleep. 

Not every day at Brookdale is like this. Some days, especially in the beginnings of my weeks, I spend my days locked up in my room attending Zoom class. On these days, my only in-person social interaction may be with someone I meet in the kitchen or elevator. With a lack of social interaction, things become difficult at times. But, as much as I can, I try to interact with others in-person, whether it’s through studying together in the courtyard outside or taking a walk to Chipotle with a friend. Right now, it’s not that bad. We’ve been lucky with the weather; it hasn’t been too cold yet so we can be comfortable outside if we dress appropriately. I’m a bit nervous for the winter. I’m not sure how social I’m going to be able to be if my only option is to meet outside in freezing temperatures. I hope that by then we’ll have figured something else out.

view under Williamsburg bridge
The view under the Williamsburg Bridge at the East River. Photo by Robert Novo

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