Midtown's Dark Days
Text and Photography by Stephanie Keith
When COVID-19 hit New York City in mid-March, the entire city of 8.5 million people was put on lockdown. With skyscrapers emptied of workers, famed theaters shuttered and tourists banned, the proverbial heart of the city- Midtown Manhattan- fell into despair.
On March 9, there were 16 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New York City, but by March 25, over 17,800 cases had been confirmed, with 199 deaths from the virus. At the time, the city’s infection rate was five times higher than the rest of the country, and its cases and were one-third of total confirmed US cases.
The once vibrant and bustling area that was arguably one of the business and artistic centers of the world was transformed into a desolate shell of its former self. The area had an ominous vibe.
I started photographing the area in mid-August after it was publicly declared that “New York is dead” in a now famous opinion piece published in the New York Post. New York City is my hometown and I took this very personally.
After months of what seemed to be control of the virus in the city, there were a reported 779 hospitalizations on October 9, the highest number reported since July 15. On November 10, the positivity rate in the city climbed back up to 2.52%, levels not seen since early June.
I stayed in New York City because of the amazing energy that is created when so many people live together, now this part of the city was lacking its main asset- people.
I set out to capture this dark side of Midtown while it still lasts because I do believe New York City will come back. I wanted to document my city at its low point, in a state I’ve never seen it before. While I did find dark and strange scenes, I also found flashes of that resilient New York City energy- people who are continuing to live their lives, make art and make the best of a bad situation.
After reaching an all time peak of 9,469 new cases per day on January 15, 2021, cases in New York City have begun to decline again.
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