In a recent phone call with my cousin Sarah, I told her a big “congratulations!” She is now part of a New York law school’s class of 2020 and is blessed to already have a job lined up once she passes the bar this fall. But like many graduates this year, Sarah doesn’t get to have the big university celebration she deserves.
“In the beginning when school shut down I was like, oh it’s okay, it doesn’t really define my career or life,” said Sarah. “But as I got closer to graduation it is kind of too bad that my family can’t come to celebrate. I was looking forward to seeing all my friends for possibly the last time all on one place.”
Her school may postpone a celebration to next year, but in a toned-down way, and Sarah believes many west coast friends from law school won’t be willing to fly back for a party a year later.
“We’re trying to make up for it by eating cake,” said Sarah, who was vacillating between ordering Thai food or something else for an at-home celebration with her husband.
Looking towards summer, Sarah has some quiet months ahead studying for the bar while her husband, a medical doctor, goes into the hospital during the week. She says he’s going into the hospital more than at the start of the pandemic, serving for two months in the NICU as part of his contract, but nowhere near the frequency of his usual schedule. He is not being regularly exposed to COVID-positive patients while working in the clinic. His clinic’s policy is to send any COVID patients to the emergency rooms and keep it all contained. He has also tested negative for the antibody test, which currently means it’s a 90% chance he has never had COVID-19. Some of her husband’s current infant patients were born with moms who tested positive for the novel coronavirus, but it doesn’t appear to have passed down to any of them.
At this point she says her husband is lucky not to be furloughed or have decreased pay. Some doctors, especially in New Jersey, have seen a 30% cut in pay or have been asked to take voluntary pay cuts. With reduced patient volumes in clinics, a lot of private practices have had to furlough some of their doctors, an unprecedented change in a field that normally isn’t considered unstable.
When Sarah and her husband leave the house it’s for groceries or a short walk together. It’s been convenient for them to go to stores like Trader Joe’s and Costco that allow frontline medical workers to cut the line, but it’s only the medical worker that’s allowed to go in, so Sarah has to stay home or in the car.
Sarah keeps a grateful mindset, thankful they continue to have steady employment and that they don’t have to worry about paying rent or food. Some of her friends graduating law school with her have had their job start dates pushed back to January 2021, which has created a lot of stress for those without financial support in the meantime.
Sarah’s work start date has been pushed back to November, but beyond this she is concerned about commuting into Manhattan from Westchester County and wonders how telecommuting might work in the future for her firm. From what she’s heard her future office has had a rough time learning how to work from home.
“Organizations that didn’t have (telecommuting) in place have had difficulty transitioning to not seeing people in the office,” said Sarah.
The future of work for a lot of jobs are going to see a transformation, especially as more companies implement telecommuting options that are more permanent in response to the pandemic. It will be interesting to see what kind of ripple effect these changes in work policy have on smaller businesses, government institutions, and computer-based jobs in the next few years.
Through the remainder of our call Sarah and I gabbed about about how the coronavirus test’s deep nasal swab reminded her of how ancient Egyptians used to pull the corpse’s brains out through the nostrils and how the thought of that alone made her want to stay home. Similar to us, she has been limiting her intake of daily news, especially when it is upsetting information. And while some friends still gather together in a socially-distanced way, Sarah and her husband cannot risk exposure since they have a direct connection with the hospital system. They refrain from participating socially, but are careful not to respond negatively to those who do.
“The best that we can do is protect ourselves and not participate,” said Sarah.
We both feel the atmosphere of fatigue New Yorkers have about the stay-at-home measures. But Sarah is surprised how well she has been able to handle it, believing it is partially because she doesn’t live in the city anymore and her living space is larger now.
“My husband and I can spend time together and also not be in the same space at the same time. Plus he goes to work so I have plenty of alone time and can get done a lot from the apartment.”
And, she said, “I can see the sky from our home.”
To respect my cousin’s privacy request, I have purposely avoided identifying any of her personal attributes in this article.