28 THE QUEENS COURIER • HEALTH • APRIL 2, 2020 FOR BREAKING NEWS VISIT WWW.QNS.COM
From social distancing to quarantine: I felt
indestructible, and I still caught coronavirus
BY TODD MAISEL
I survived the collapse of the World
Trade Center, went to war in Iraq in 2003
and have been shot at and threatened with
death in the fi eld. I’ve seen the horrors of
world catastrophes from Hurricane Sandy
to the terrible results of 100,000 people
being killed in the great Haitian earthquake
of 2010. Yet, I felt indestructible —
a mistake to say the least.
Now I have the coronavirus, as confi
rmed by a lab test.
Yes, I have been keeping social distancing
and avoiding handshakes, but obviously,
this was not enough. Th e nature of
my work has always been to be close to
people — it’s been my way to get to know
the subjects and to help the public understand
what was the truth from fi ction.
So somewhere along the way, I encountered
someone who had COVID-19, and
they probably didn’t know they had it.
At what point I contracted the virus, I
will never know. Was it at the many press
conferences and press briefi ngs with the
mayor? Was I sitting there with my colleagues
and getting exposed and conversely
exposing them? I saw one member
of the media actually wearing a mask
at those pressers.
Yes, I went to the supermarket, walked
my dogs in the street — aft er all, only a
hundred or so people had the virus in a
city of 9 million. Again, many of us felt
invincible — a big mistake with this very
On March 14, I felt the fi rst twangs of
the coronavirus — a full night of no sleep,
tossing and turning, hot and cold fl ashes,
a runny nose and a bit of a cough. It
went away in the morning, but then the
next day, a spiking fever of 100, but then
down to 97. On March 15, I felt fi ne until
the end of the day, when I had a spiking
I contacted my family physician, who
recommended I contact the Health
Department Coronavirus hotline. Social
distancing was certainly on my mind as I
continued working, staying a safe distance
from subjects and no interior jobs. Th e
Health Department operator said it didn’t
sound like coronavirus, but since I’d been
exposed to so many people, they moved
ahead and I got an appointment to be tested.
I no longer had a fever, wasn’t coughing
and my breathing was fi ne. I have
9/11-related asthma and I just turned
60, so it seemed prudent to make sure I
was fi ne.
Unfortunately, I am not, having received
a call from the Health Department
informing me that I indeed was infected.
So now I’m home, quarantined for 14
days that started on March 23. My family
has been out of town for nearly two
weeks away from me, so I’m alone with
two goldfi sh who innocently look up to
me for their fl akes. Being confi ned is so
opposite my entire life and habits, as I’m
a social creature. My work and reporting
will continue by phone only for the next
couple of weeks.
My fever has been consistently low. I
have an occasional cough, a little upper
respiratory congestion — but it’s nothing
compared to others.
I have a colleague in the hospital in
Long Island in an induced coma from
coronavirus. We have a family member in
Staten Island who, at 85, died of the contagion.
I’m among the lucky 80 percent with
very mild symptoms. Th e worst part for
me will be dealing with cabin fever —
stuck inside and avoiding any type of contact
Did we take this seriously enough?
I admit to feeling indestructible, but I
should’ve known that my work and my
habits — despite social distancing, hand
washing and sanitizing — would not be
Todd Maisel is the photo editor for
amNew York Metro, one of our sister publications.
Todd Maisel works on his computer during quarantine in self portrait.
state loans of $6 million every two weeks
to stay alive.
“It was just too little too late,” Marshall
told the TimesLedger at the time. “If the
economic times weren’t so bad, I think they
would have been saved.”
More than 600 hospital beds were lost a
result of the three hospitals’ closure, along
with vitally needed emergency room services
that would have proven priceless
during the coronavirus pandemic.
The fi rst pandemic
St. John’s and Mary Immaculate closed
on the weekend of Feb. 21, 2009, leaving
Elmhurst and other nearby hospitals to
pick up the slack.
But within weeks, before Elmhurst
Hospital could catch up with the new
demand, they and the rest of Queens were
hit with a pandemic — a swine fl u outbreak.
Th e pandemic wound up sickening hundreds
of Queens residents, primarily children;
nearly two dozen schools had to be
temporarily closed to help curb the spike
Th e H1N1 fl u outbreak wasn’t nearly as
widespread or lethal then as coronavirus
is proving to be today, but it was prevalent
enough to send many Queens residents to
Elmhurst Hospital seeking care.
“Th e ER is just inundated,” said Dario
Centorcelli, then an Elmhurst Hospital
spokesperson, in a May 2009 TimesLedger
report. “A busy day for our Pediatric ER
Department used to be 250 patients a day.
Now we’re seeing 350 on a regular basis.”
Th e TimesLedger report noted that the
hospital had treated on May 18, 2009 “a
record 407 children and more than 800
patients in total.”
Th e city, state and federal governments
worked together to limit the spread and
scope of the swine fl u outbreak. While the
crisis abated, the pressure on Elmhurst
Hospital’s emergency department would
continue to increase in the decade to come.
City data revealed that visits to the hospital’s
ER grew by 38 percent between 2009
and 2014. As a Level 1 trauma center, as of
2018, it was receiving 1,200 trauma admissions
Last year, a long-awaited expansion of
Elmhurst’s emergency department fi nally
got off the ground. Th e project, estimated
to cost $43 million, includes renovations
as well as the creation of a second story for
the department. Th irty-three new patient
rooms would be created, including rooms
for bariatric, special pathogens and critical
But these improvements will come
long aft er the coronavirus crisis ends.
Construction was scheduled to start this
spring, with completion projected for 2023.
While the city and state scramble to
fi nd ready-to-use hospital bed space across
the region, they won’t fi nd them at the
long-shuttered medical centers in Queens.
St. John’s and Mary Immaculate were
redeveloped over the past decade, transformed
primarily into new residential
units. Th e former St. John’s Hospital
changed hands several times, and is now a
mixed-used development featuring apartments
and retail/offi ce space.
Parkway Hospital, meanwhile, remains
abandoned. Plans reported in 2018 to redevelop
the site into residential housing have
yet to come to fruition.
Along with Elmhurst Hospital, nine
other hospitals currently serve Queens
residents: Mount Sinai Queens, Astoria;
Northwell’s Long Island Jewish, Forest
Hills; Wyckoff Heights Medical Center,
Brooklyn; NewYork-Presbyterian Queens,
Flushing; Jamaica Hospital Medical Center;
Flushing Hospital Medical Center; NYC
Health + Hospitals Queens, Jamaica; St.
John’s Episcopal Hospital, Far Rockaway;
and Northwell Long Island Jewish Medical
Center, New Hyde Park.
From Page 25
File photo/Christina Santucci
Dr. Victor Politi stands in St. John’s Queens
Hospital’s empty emergency room in April 2009,
weeks after the medical center closed.