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Covid-19 has struck New York and the worlds most dynamic city has become something strange and unsettling

It is a miracle that New York works at all, EB White once wrote. The whole thing is implausible.

Every New Yorker instinctively understands the truth of that observation. The citys infrastructure is a disaster; its apartments are famously tiny; everything is overpriced; there are too many people in too small a space; and the whole city will one day have to reckon with the ravages of an encroaching sea.


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  • Top: A construction worker in the financial district of New York City. Bottom left: New York stock exchange. Bottom right: A commuter talks on the phone while walking through the Fulton Street metro station.

Yet New York has grown from a tiny New World trading post to a muscular global metropolis whose very name evokes dynamism and fierce, unruly vitality. It has survived booms, busts, world wars, the threat of cold war nuclear annihilation, 9/11, gentrification and more, and thrived. The city swallows people of every nation and language and spits out New Yorkers; it generates vast fortunes; and it is responsible for a dazzling expression of art, literature, music and intellectual life. By comparison many other world capitals feel like sleepy museum exhibitions.



  • Top: Grand Central Station at 3pm in Manhattan, New York. Bottom: A doorman in New York City.

Now, however, this city of eight million people has met its match: a deadly virus, invisible to the human eye and ruthlessly efficient. Covid-19 has stretched New Yorks health infrastructure to breaking point. Every day cases, and deaths, mount. A military hospital ship is docked, imposingly, in New York harbor. There are field hospitals in Central Park. Millions of New Yorkers have shut themselves into their homes.

This is a city under quarantine. No longer were there individual destinies, Albert Camus writes in The Plague: Only a collective destiny, made of plague and emotions shared by all.

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  • Top left: An EMT at Bellevue hospital center in Manhattan. Top right: A member of the press takes video of the temporary morgue at Bellevue hospital. Bottom left: Creative face masks in midtown. Bottom right: Used vinyl gloves and a dead pigeon on the streets of Manhattan.

The photographer Jordan Gale ventured out to capture this strange new world.

In Woody Allens film Manhattan, the narrator found it impossible to look at the city without feeling that it pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwin the jazzy, life-affirming exuberance of Rhapsody in Blue. Yet New York, now, is eerily quiet.

Any noise you hear is startling, Gale said. He was walking down a street in SoHo when he realized that the only sound was a clip on his camera bag, clacking as he walked.



  • Top left: Empty streets outside Central Park. Top right: Empty park seats at Bryant Park in Manhattan. Bottom: The Brooklyn Bridge deserted at 4pm.

The city is a vacant lot, he said. Roads are empty. Sidewalks are empty. Stores are boarded up. The owners clearly believe looting could start any minute.

In residential areas occasional people can still be seen in the street; they are making expeditions to the grocery store or bodega or taking the daily walks which increasingly feel like a minimum mental health requirement. The commercial areas of New York, on the other hand, are ghost towns.




  • Top: A lone person along the streets in the Bronx. Middle: Gloves and surgical masks line the curb outside a Covid-19 testing facility at the Brooklyn medical center. Bottom: An empty subway car.

Times Square, a crowded intersection most New Yorkers gladly cede to tourists, has been abandoned by both. You can take a photo down 42nd Street and theres not a single person, a single car, Gale said. The only people you see are other photographers.

The more iconic the landmark, the more empty and unsettling. Grand Central Station looks like a tomb, he said.

Its eerie. To take a photo of Grand Central like that, normally, youd need some kind of special clearance youd need to shut down the whole place.

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  • Top left: A bench outside an apartment complex in Queens. Top right: A flower arrangement in a window at the same complex in Queens. Bottom: Flushing Meadows Park in Queens.

Many parts of the city, he noted, look cleaner than they have been in years, thanks to diligent scrubbing and disinfecting. The ground, however, is littered with blue vinyl gloves and broken surgical masks.

When New Yorkers come out to scout for provisions their faces are concealed with whatever they can find surgical masks; scarves; painters masks; bandannas draped across their faces like outlaws in the old west. As they pass in the street, they keep a wary distance; if they acknowledge each other it is with terse, silent nods.

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  • Left: A customer leaves Family Dollar in the Bronx. Right: Empty shelves at the Family Dollar.

When people do talk, all conversations in some way concern the coronavirus. The rest of America tends to regard New Yorkers as liberal, unflappable, even heedless; but these days New Yorkers sound like rightwing survivalists. They speak of stockpiles, shortages, contingencies, plans.

Everyone knows someone who has lost their income to coronavirus, or been hospitalized. Everyone wonders when the present predicament will end but, of course, no one knows, and for New Yorkers, like people the world over, that may be the hardest part of all.


  • Cherry blossoms at an empty park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

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