The COVID-19 pandemic is the gravest public health crisis the United States has faced since the Influenza pandemic of 1918, but it will not be the last. Disaster research is often by necessity retrospective, providing accounts of past actions and ongoing recoveries. The temporal profile of the COVID-19 pandemic presents an opportunity for social research in the middle of an unfolding crisis, providing contemporaneous insights into risk perception and sensemaking under duress, community and organizational resilience, transformations in social structure, and real time adaptations to severe economic and social dislocations. Concentrating on New York City, this study uses surveys, interviews, and written testimonials to create a contemporaneous record of the city’s battle with COVID-19 across the epidemic curve. New York is a critical site for understanding the course of this pandemic because it was an early epicenter of the disease in the U.S., because it has a robust municipal emergency management system with deep experience of past disasters health-related and otherwise, and because it is home to one of the nation’s strongest urban healthcare systems. We must rigorously document this emergency to better understand how it is unfolding, to better inform the recovery, and to learn lessons that will aid our fight against the next pandemic. This project does exactly that, by capturing a diversity of perspectives over the course of the pandemic, from its early stages to the time when it inevitably recedes.
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