Changing Lives: A Bus Keeps Running in a City That Stopped

The buses are still running in Devon County in southwestern England. But the seats are mostly empty.

“If you go to Exeter right now, there are maybe six or seven vehicles going down the high street, pumping out diesel, and there is no one on them,” said one bus driver who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from the transit company. “What is the point of that?”

The driver said the county and bus companies could do more, like making medical tests available to drivers, improving sanitation or adjusting the routes to suit passengers’ needs better.

Over three days last week, the driver said she had only seven passengers. She wiped the seats and railings to protect them, worried that the nightly cleanings at the depots were not nearly enough. One passenger traveling for medical treatment seemed especially nervous, so the driver shared her own hand sanitizer.

“I was just worried about her being on the bus and touching everything, although I’ve cleaned it down,” she said.

But for the most part, the driver was completely alone. She made all the normal stops, driving through the city, past the countryside, down by the coast. She paused at empty stations just to stay on schedule. She stepped out to take photographs of empty streets.

“It’s a zombie bus,” she said.

“It gives you a chance to think about a lot of things,” she added. “There’s nothing open. You can’t get any food anywhere, so you’ve got to pack lunch the night before. You’ve got to have a flask of tea, because there’s nowhere to get tea or anything else.”

During an unrelenting news cycle, CNN is probably the last place you’d turn for a laugh. But when the coronavirus crisis hit New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo began regularly appearing on his younger brother Chris’s show, “Cuomo Prime Time,” and a comedy act was born.

First Chris said their father, Mario, the 52nd governor of New York, said that Andrew had “hands like bananas and can’t play ball.” Then, on Monday night, Chris said their mother, Matilda, only trusted him with her sauce recipe. That’s probably true, since Gov. Cuomo acknowledged during a news conference Sunday that he would try to pass off store-bought meatballs as homemade to his children while trying to carry on the family’s Sunday dinner tradition after his divorce.

On Tuesday, however, things turned serious, when Chris announced on Twitter that he had tested positive for the coronavirus and would be isolating himself in his basement, where he will continue to host his show. “He will be fine,” Andrew Cuomo said in Tuesday’s news conference, just minutes after the announcement, adding that Chris’s news was an important reminder for everyone to stay home and keep elderly relatives, like their mother, at a safe distance.

“Sometimes love needs to be a little be smarter,” he said.

It was a start contrast to just a night earlier, when the brothers traded barbs about Andrew’s “ill-fitting jacket” and Chris’s broadcasting from his basement. “Momma didn’t raise an armchair general in me, anyway, I’m not going to sit in my basement,” Gov. Cuomo said before signing off. “Thanks … Meatball.”

Colin kicked off the project with an email to about a dozen families, asking for pieces from their children about going to school at home and sheltering in place. He expected to get half of them to play along. But, the original group forwarded his proposition, Colin kept remembering more people he could ask and used social media to get the word out. “I stopped counting at 40,” he said when discussing the number of submissions he’d received.

They are all in the finished product, which includes poems, drawings, reviews, recipes, trivia, horoscopes (!), nature writing and service journalism, with contributors ranging in age from 2 to 19. A piece by Elise, 2, titled “What I Know About Coronavirus,” is more of an “as told to,” Colin admitted.

Maddy, 9, made MADdy Libs that start with “Many families are stuck at ______ (adj.) home. You may feel ___ (verb), ___ (verb), and ___ (verb).” Ava, 10, recounted a dream about milk sprinklers. Delilah, 14, recommended books for other kids of all ages.

“I really think kids are just as confused by this whole situation as grown-ups are, but they experience it totally differently. These stories sort of reflected that,” Colin said.

Critics reviewed books, including “Wings of Fire” by Tui T. Sutherland and “Big Game” by Stuart Gibbs; TV’s “The Good Place”; the movie “Spies in the Skies”; and food. Ender, 7, gave “tonight’s dinner,” linguini with meat sauce, three out of five stars. Griffin, 14, made a map of all the restaurants still serving food on Bernal’s usually busy Cortland Street.

The project took off, in Colin’s estimation, because “I made it clear that my editorial process is ‘yes’ so that helped people feel like they could do this,” he said. “The main point was to give them something to do, but I wanted to sneak in a little anti-perfectionism.” He also found out kids write much faster than grown-ups.

At 7 and 11 years old, Colin’s kids pitched in with a joint advice column called “Tips for Squabbling.” When people asked if they could send the project to families outside of Bernal, he stuck to his “yes” policy by adding a foreign correspondent section, which may expand in Issue 2, now in the works.

“We pay zero dollars and offer a generous benefits package featuring satisfaction, civic pride and probably some other stuff,” Colin wrote in his call for new submissions. “They’re already pouring in.”

Check out Issue 1 of “Six Feet of Separation” here.

Social distancing protects us physically, but it can also worsen feelings of isolation and fear. It’s a problem that compounds itself: Many people who need therapy during an especially stressful time can no longer access it in person.

So mental health care professionals have been forced to find new ways to reach their clients. For many, virtual appointments have been a lifeline.

“It’s really important for us as mental health providers to get creative and think outside the box,” said Amanda Fialk, the chief of clinical services for The Dorm, a mental health treatment community for young adults. “Doing that face-to-face individual session, or face-to-face group session, isn’t responsible or safe right now.”

The Dorm serves clients in New York City and Washington D.C., many of whom used to visit the facilities at least five days a week for intensive treatment. Two weeks ago, those services had to be moved online.

“You can get Zoom fatigue sitting in virtual therapy sessions hour after hour,” Dr. Fialk said. “We added in a lot of creative and fun programming for home, because we’re trying to let them know that social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation.”

Robyn Suchy, the chapter manager for Active Minds, a nonprofit organization dedicated to metal health awareness for college students, said that talking to his own therapist online in recent weeks has been a little jarring because he was accustomed to having more separation between those sessions and his personal life. Now, everything happens on the same screen.

“It’s been weird to be on this computer that I use for work and then just click into another video meeting for therapy,” he said.

Across the United States, therapists and patients are suddenly grappling with a whole new set of questions: Is telemedicine covered by insurance? Can I still talk to my therapist in California after I move back home to Iowa? Which online chat forums are compliant with patient privacy laws?

“There’s a lot of really interesting and complex conversations happening, but it all kind of comes down to that service delivery, and making sure that people have access to these support networks,” Mr. Suchy said.

He added that it was good to see providers and their patients experimenting with different, more accessible forms of communication that might prove useful even after the threat of coronavirus fades.

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