We’re All in This Together One Co-op’s Response to the COVID-19 Crisis

Seward Park Cooperative on the Lower East Side of Manhattan (where this author has lived for the last 15 years, and has served on its board of directors for the last six) is a remarkably diverse community of 5,000 or so New Yorkers that prides itself on its culture of neighborliness, service, and coming together in times of crisis. Residents have supported each other through blackouts and gas outages, rallied together after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and carried water and supplies to elderly and homebound neighbors during days without heat, electricity, or running water after Hurricane Sandy. On days not marked by crisis, there are communal picnics and potlucks, swap meets and service exchanges, and organized events for all age groups. Lifelong resident and long-time board member Karen Wolfson calls Seward Park “our little village in the big city.”

When the specter of coronavirus initially appeared, it did not immediately seem to be another potential test of our strength as a community. At the end of February 2020, the Seward Park board was beginning plans for its usual spring and early summer events: the 10th year of its popular Hester Street Fair...a yearly party for residents called Summerfest...and the annual shareholders meeting and board election that normally takes place in early June. Like most communities in this part of the world, we were proceeding with business as usual.

On February 28, I got the following text from our general manager Frank Durant, VP of Lower Manhattan Real Estate for Charles H. Greenthal & Co.: “What do you think about temp Purell stands for each elevator bank? That’s only 12 units and they can be removed after and used during flu season in the future.” 

On his suggestion, we had already installed extra sanitizer and cleaning supplies for our complex’s children’s playroom, community room, and gym, since it was becoming clear that the novel coronavirus was not going to stay confined to Asia and Europe. That same day, Durant sent shareholders and residents the first of what is at the time of this writing a series of a dozen memos titled “Measures to prevent spread of infectious diseases (Coronavirus).”

That was exactly one month ago. In the ensuing weeks, the world has turned upside-down, the time marked in my mind by the measures the co-op instituted to protect residents, vendors, staff, and visitors. Week 1: we stocked up on supplies; increased sanitizing schedules; alerted residents to CDC protocols (e.g., encouraging use of elbows, hips, and knuckles for opening doors, pressing buttons, and greeting others). Week 2: we introduced the concept of social distancing; asked residents to limit visits to the management office and hold off on non-emergency maintenance requests, move-ins/outs, or deliveries; discouraged large gatherings. 

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