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New York in the Age of Coronavirus

It was not the grand affair of their dreams. She wore a borrowed maxi skirt. He felt the absence of his sister and grandmother. They swapped mood rings bought days earlier on Canal Street.

Dana Cohen and Adam Quinn had planned a spring wedding, but instead married on Friday at the drab Brooklyn Municipal Building — so Mr. Quinn could add his new wife to his health insurance.

“We don’t know what the world will look like in three months,” said Mr. Quinn, 38, who works for the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

That sentiment reverberates along the subways and sidewalks of New York City, where the usual throngs and random interactions with strangers — the very things built into the magic and texture of this city — are approached with an unsettling caution in the age of the new coronavirus.

As the number of cases grows across the United States, the threat of the illness can seem to lurk in the mundane — a door handle, a hug — prompting many to think the unthinkable.

“Am I next?”

Perhaps that question was once alarmist. But now that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has declared a state of emergency in New York, now that about 2,300 people in the city are in some kind of self-quarantine because of potential exposure to the virus, a creeping anxiety looms.

New York in many ways serves as a kind of every town for the cities and countries where the virus is far from overwhelming, yet clearly spreading. More profound than the stockpiling of hand sanitizer or the hoarding of face masks, there has been a shift, a heightened awareness that everyday life has suddenly become strangely uncertain.

When a Manhattan woman who had traveled to Iran was confirmed as the first New York case this month, Ms. Cohen and Mr. Quinn rearranged their nuptials. Afterward, in lieu of a candlelight reception at a boutique hotel, they toasted their marriage at a pizza joint — a joyful event attended by family members.

“I feel bizarrely fortunate in a twisted way,” said Ms. Cohen, 37, a designer with a line of sustainable handbags.

New York City, of course, has not faced the cataclysmic impact of the virus that has been visited upon areas of China or Iran or Italy, and government officials are scrambling to ensure it remains that way.

New York State has at least 105 confirmed coronavirus cases, 12 of them in New York City, and no fatalities so far. Still, there is an odd sense of limbo, and it can be unclear where the sane space between overreaction and naïveté exists.

There are long lines just to enter Trader Joe’s in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Managers at a hedge fund in Manhattan spent hundreds of dollars on hand sanitizer, and plan to keep a log of what is rationed out to employees — and the rest locked up.

A real estate agent in the Brooklyn neighborhood of East New York holds her breath when changing the bedsheets in her short-term rental. A woman stopped attending her beloved Methodist church and instead searches YouTube for inspiring sermons.

A taxi driver from Queens experiences a jolt of dread with each passenger who climbs into his car.

“I never know where people are coming from,” said the taxi driver, Jaswinder Singh, 52, who has not stopped serving travelers at La Guardia Airport.

Mr. Singh has taken to pulling over his vehicle and cleaning the doors and partition continuously throughout his shift, which often ends at midnight. If someone pays in cash, he sanitizes his hands afterward. Then it’s back to the airport.

“We have to go because business, it is slow in the city,” he said. “Otherwise, you’ll just drive around for an hour.”

(On Saturday, officials announced that an Uber driver in the borough had tested positive for the virus.)

Subway commuters have come up with tricks, including keeping a napkin between their hands and the subway poles, or wearing winter gloves in 50-degree weather. Others take a wide, determined stance, intent on avoiding the need for a strap as their train lurches forward. Coughs and throat clearing are suppressed so as not to cause alarm. A woman spotted on Thursday on a No. 2 train pulled her gray turtleneck up over her mouth as she stared at her phone.

Covering one’s face can draw leery looks, but some take their chances. “People don’t practice basic hygiene, and they don’t cover their mouths, so I think that it might help even just a little bit,” said Adrianne Williams, 21, on why she recently started wearing a mask outside.

Lysol is sprayed liberally at workplaces, while employees who feel the slightest tickle in their throat are sent home. Clerks at supermarkets and retail stores don plastic gloves. Makeup artists at beauty counters compulsively sanitize their brushes.

At a graphic-design company in Midtown, a line formed in the break room behind a woman who scrubbed her hands at the sink for several minutes.

“I thought, ‘Am I losing my mind? Why is nobody saying anything?’” said Sonja Savanovic, 40, as she watched her colleague. “In a weird way, I kind of respected her for being so savage.”

Broadway producers announced that public and backstage areas were being more frequently cleaned, and they implored sick patrons to stay home. Gyms sent emails reassuring clients that equipment was disinfected. “Do pilates to boost your immune system!” read one.

The UJA-Federation of New York chose to donate hundreds of kosher meals rather than host a gala. It also organized an online Torah reading in observation of Purim, a joyous — and, at times, raucous — holiday that features costumes and noisemakers. Purim begins on Monday night, but some synagogues are canceling their gatherings.

Many Catholic churches are skipping communion wine and the sign of peace, which involves shaking hands. Elbows or nods are offered instead.

City Councilman Donovan Richards, a Queens Democrat, began implementing the foot tap, clicking shoes with constituents as he campaigns for borough president. At the end of the day, he dodges his 4-year-old son.

“Before, he would try to greet me downstairs,” he said. “But, no, when I get in, I’m dropping everything and going straight into the shower.”

Warner Bros. called off its Manhattan premiere of the new Superman film. Four friends from the Bronx neighborhood of Riverdale all canceled their bat mitzvahs. A Quaker school in Brooklyn for students with learning disabilities scrapped a trip to Puerto Rico that was four years in the making.

“They are heartbroken,” a teacher, Victoria Muñoz-Lepore, 36, said of the teenagers. “We built so much anticipation and context with the curriculum, getting students excited about what they were going to see.”

A woman with a June wedding is waiting to hear whether her parents in South Korea will be able to fly in. “Is this a six-month problem, a two-year problem, five-year problem? No one has any information,” said the bride’s wedding planner, Jove Meyer. The events industry, like many others, is in a holding pattern as vendors worry about their livelihoods.

New York City’s public schools will most likely remain open, officials said, but parents are brainstorming what to do should there be a large-scale closure. Groups have made pacts to take turns watching children.

Colleges have called back students studying abroad. Those on campus navigate concerns about social gatherings, along with midterms.

“I just go straight back to my room,” said Skylar Kim, 19, a freshman at New York University. “Emotionally, I’m a little distraught.”

Ms. Kim, who is Korean American, also worries about drawing too much attention to herself. The sudden push for self-preservation has come with its share of xenophobia and racist attacks. Chinatown businesses have seen a drop in patronage, and the authorities are investigating a viral video of a man spraying a substance at an Asian subway rider as a possible hate crime.

For those long struggling with social anxiety, the current climate has been fraught with intense stress. Dr. Marianna Strongin, a clinical psychologist on the Upper East Side, has had former patients reach out. They tend to be suspicious about germs on her blue couch before launching into their fears of the coronavirus.

“I urge my patients, whatever they’re anxious about, to not avoid it,” Dr. Strongin, 37, said. “In this case, we can’t really say that.”

Some have mastered the art of staying home — shopping online, making groceries last longer than usual, keeping older family members safe by sticking to FaceTime visits.

But the degree of fear is not universal. In Harlem, if there was hysteria, it was hard to find last week.

“People up here aren’t really paranoid, not yet,” said Sharon John, a street vendor selling T-shirts in front of the Apollo Theater, who had been a nursing assistant for more than four decades.

“It’s going to take a little more than that to get Harlem going.”

And children, while aware of all the grown-up talk, are inclined to have a lighthearted take. “I am the coronavirus!” shouted a boy playing with classmates at a park.

The usual city snark also found its way into the conversation: “#coronavirus is forcing @MTA to clean up its buses & trains. Who says this disease has no upside?” wrote one Twitter user.

Some even used the virus as a timely excuse.

At a bar in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, a young couple parted ways, their meeting via the dating app Hinge ending without a spark.

While leaning in to say good night, there arose an awkward moment ripe for affection.

“Oh, we shouldn’t kiss because of coronavirus,” the man said.

His date paused. “OK.”

Reporting was contributed by Jo Corona, Annie Correal, Alan Feuer, Emma G. Fitzsimmons, Christina Goldbaum, J. David Goodman, Nicole Hong, Sarah Maslin Nir, Patrick McGeehan, Wadzanai Mhute, Andy Newman, Sharon Otterman, Azi Paybarah, Sean Piccoli, Aaron Randle, Michael Rothfeld, Edgar Sandoval, Nate Schweber, Eliza Shapiro, Liam Stack and Anjali Tsui.

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