There are heroes all around us. Meet some of them here.
We see them on social media and in family group chats. We hear about them when we call our friends or talk with a neighbor across the street. They’re churning out homemade masks on their sewing machines or babysitting the children of emergency responders. They’re delivering groceries to neighbors or risking infection to keep soup kitchens open or posting selfies of their tired faces after a long day at the hospital without adequate protective gear.
They may not be on the nightly news, but these everyday heroes are on the front lines of the fight against the novel coronavirus.
Even as we’re confined to our homes, more isolated from each other than ever before, we’re also bearing witness — if only virtually — to acts of bravery and generosity that lift our spirits.
We asked readers to share stories of people doing extraordinary things in this extraordinary time. Many of them are here. If you know someone acting heroically right now, let us know — we’ll be adding to the collection in the coming days.
They’re delivering meals — while staying at home
Who they are: Lili Garfinkel and Michael Taub
What they’re doing: These two New Yorkers have delivered 3,200 meals to hard-working staff at hospitals in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
But they’ve done it all without leaving home because, although Garfinkel declined to share her age, both she and her husband are “in the high-risk group, age-wise.”
Taub, who owns real estate in Manhattan, rents to several small restaurants for whom the pandemic has been devastating. So he and Garfinkel came up with a plan to help them stay in business while also giving a break to healthcare workers. The couple are giving tenants a break on rent while purchasing a steady stream of meals for delivery to local hospitals. Restaurants get to keep their doors open and their employees on payroll, while hospital staff who may have only a few minutes to snatch a meal get their choice of Thai, Mexican, and Japanese dishes — cookies for dessert are always included. The couple are funding the initiative personally and with donations collected through a GoFundMe campaign.
“I’ve never met them, but they’re angels,” said Rivka Mintz, Assistant Vice President at the Heart and Vascular Institute at Maimonides Medical Center, who has been coordinating meal donations. “And the cookies are to die for.”
Both Garfinkel and Taub are children of Holocaust survivors. She was born in a displaced persons camp, and he was born on the grounds of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Garfinkel said that the pandemic had made her especially aware of the bravery displayed by essential workers.
“This has blindsided us all, but we never lose sight of the fact that there are people out there giving so much,” she said.
He’ll make you a face shield. Just don’t say thanks
Who he is: Max Seidel, rising sophomore at Northeastern University
What he’s doing: On Tuesday and Thursday nights, you can find engineering student Max Seidel at an Atlanta maker space, directing his crew of volunteers — also known as his high school friends — in assembling plastic face shields. They’re using a Czech design that Seidel, a longtime 3D printing aficionado, discovered while searching for ways to help first responders burdened by shortages of protective gear.
Seidel, 19, made his first masks on a 3D printer at home in late March, soon after university closures sent him home for the remainder of the school year. He put out word about the project on Facebook, hoping that enough friends would band together to produce a few hundred face shields. Just over a month later, he’s at the helm of Atlanta Face Shields, a grassroots organization that has put 2,400 shields on faces in the greater Atlanta area. Seidel now spends his days on the road delivering rolls of plastic sourced through corporations like Coca Cola to volunteers with 3D printers, picking up parts ready for assembly and distributing the finished products — that is, when he isn’t attending classes on Zoom.
Manufacturing some of the most high-demand products in America comes with a certain amount of attention, but Seidel said he tries to dodge the limelight. “I’m just enabling the actual heroes: the doctors, the nurses, the firefighters,” he said. When fulfilling a recent order for his childhood pediatrician, he went out of his way to avoid thanks.
“My mom said I had to go there and give them this note and say how they’ve helped me all my life, and how I’m so happy to help them now,” he said. “And I was like ‘Mom, can you just go drop these off for me?’”
Thanks to him, the kids are all right
Who he is: Ezra Fields-Meyer
What he’s doing: Over a month into shelter-in-place, there are plenty of bored kids looking for new activities and plenty of harried parents too busy to design them. That’s where Ezra Fields-Meyer, a 24-year-old living with autism, steps in.
For several years, Fields-Meyer, a lover of animals and animation and a serious connoisseur of children’s literature, has been a fixture at several Los Angeles-area preschools, where he reads aloud to enthusiastic audiences. “When he comes onto the playground this small army follows him,” said Carly Port, his support person. When schools closed, Ezra wanted to continue volunteering from a distance. So he designed a website, where he regularly posts recordings of himself reading selections from his library, an expansive collection he builds by regularly scouring library book sales. Parents who need some downtime can even schedule a live reading, for which Fields-Meyer selects books based on the child’s age and interests.
For parents desperate for downtime, the service can be a godsend. Tom Fields-Meyer, Ezra’s father, said he recently received a photo of a delighted child listening to a story while her mother cooked dinner. For Ezra himself, the task of daily recordings has helped replace the routines on which he normally depends. Still he said, he’s ready to resume reading in schools again.
“[I’m excited for] all these things I know and love to go back to normal,” he said.
She’s keeping the country in touch
Who she is: Eleanor Mandelstam, writer and blogger
What she’s doing: Almost every day Mandelstam, a writer based in London, sits down at her kitchen table to craft handmade cards, decorating them with painted hearts or inspiring quotes. The weird part? She doesn’t even know who’s receiving most of them.
When shelter-in-place orders took effect in the U.K., Mandelstam, who has long been active in the online mental health community, realized how much prolonged isolation would affect vulnerable people. So she posted on Twitter, offering to make and mail cards to anyone who needed a message of hope or just something nice to look at. In just a few hours, she’d received 20 requests.
Now she’s expanded her team to include three more women, some of them professional artists, and is dispatching physical cards across the U.K. and digital ones to countries as far-flung as Canada and Nigeria.
“It’s easy to feel that no one cares about you, that you’re really alone,” she said. “We’re just trying to spread a little bit of joy.”
They’re bringing the doctors duck sous-vide
Who they are: Danielle Gordon, future resident at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, and Joshua Kleyman, venture capitalist
What they’re doing: Slices of brisket from one of Brooklyn’s priciest steakhouses. Focaccia fresh from the oven. Duck sous-vide. It’s not what doctors are accustomed to eating in hospital canteens. But those are some of the meals Danielle Gordon and her partner, Joshua Kleyman, are delivering to a trio of hospitals in Crown Heights, one of the areas hit hardest by coronavirus.
Almost every day, the couple drive to a different Brooklyn restaurant that has agreed to donate meals or sell them at a discount. Masked, gloved, and heavily hand-sanitized, they venture inside to retrieve trays of hot food prepared by a lone chef or the restaurant’s skeleton crew. At the hospital, residents are waiting and another handoff ensues. These days, staff are heavily reliant on donated food: most area bodegas have closed, and at least one hospital served by Gordon and Kleyman has converted its own cafeteria into an ICU ward.
Kleyman said that in the past month, he’s put 3,000 miles on his car. It’s been an unexpected joy to cruise freely through Brooklyn’s normally packed streets. “It’s a once in a lifetime experience,” he said. “It’s so pretty to see New York without traffic.”
A mutual aid network grows in Beacon
Who she is: Dara Silverman, organizer, Beacon, NY
What she’s doing: A call from the Forward found Silverman on her front stoop, waving — from a safe distance — at the volunteers on her sidewalk, ready to ferry bags of groceries to nearby homes. Her home had become an ad hoc warehouse for Mutual Aid Beacon, a benevolent association for the era of coronavirus. Once an informal group chat rustling up groceries for homebound friends, in five weeks the organization mushroomed into a 300-member task force distributing food, tech support, and virtual companionship across the Hudson Valley. While some volunteers take shifts packing prepared meals, others operate church food pantries normally staffed by elderly, now-homebound congregants. Still more field calls at a hotline available 10 hours a day.
A delivery from Mutual Aid Beacon can be an economic lifeline or simply a bright spot amid a long day at home. “When you brought the box of vegetables, my baby was so excited,” one mother told Silverman recently.
And for volunteers, the chance to help out a few hours each week combats the sense of powerlessness that often descends after weeks of social distancing. “I was able to reassure people in need that they were not alone, that they and their needs are not a burden,” a volunteer wrote on Facebook.
She’s sourcing masks from every corner of Facebook
Who she is: Rena Leinberger, artist
How she started: What she’s doing: An artist and professor based in the New York town of Newburgh, Leinberger has received treatment for a chronic illness at the same clinic for years. So when she arrived for a routine appointment in mid-March and saw a doctor wearing a dust mask, she knew something was really wrong. Like many, she’d been following the spread of coronavirus for weeks. But that was the moment when she “fully realized what was going to happen,” she said.
Leinberger left the appointment worried for the doctors whose daily work had suddenly become life-threatening, and she spent an afternoon researching different methods of making handmade cloth masks, which makers across the country were already churning out in hopes of protecting frontline workers. There was plenty of disagreement as to best practices, she found, and many healthcare facilities accepting masks had different specifications for patterns and fabric.
While Leinberger herself is an indifferent seamstress, she knew she could be useful organizing mask-makers and distributing their work. The next day, she launched a Facebook group to connect makers of masks to those who could use them.
How it’s working: Through the Facebook group, mask-makers can choose between different mask patterns used by different healthcare facilities. When they’ve finished a batch, they can mail them to Leinberger or leave them at a network of drop boxes across the Hudson Valley. Leinberger then distributes each batch to the right recipient. The immediate response was so strong that Leinberger recruited two women from her synagogue, Alison Spodek and Kimberly Ruth, to manage logistics, adapt mask designs to evolving medical guidance, and help with outreach.
Just over a month later, the three have sourced and distributed about 6,000 handmade masks to 31 different healthcare facilities. Many come from less affected states who want to help hard-hit areas: when contacted by the Forward, Spodek said that she had just received a shipment of 50 masks from California. And since many people are using the group to organize informal mask donations in their own communities, the impact may be even larger.
Leinberger said she was moved and heartened by the collaboration she’s encountered throughout the project, from moderators of similar online groups who share resources and ideas to friends who have used her Facebook group as a template to start similar initiatives in their own communities. Their response reflected the sense of communal responsibility that had prompted her to action.
“This whole project came out of a sense of obligation,” she said. “It came out of rage and sorrow, and some part of my Jewish identity, the idea that we need to look out for each other.”
When no one knows what to say, she’s finding the right words
Who she is: Rabbi Kara Tav, Manager of Spiritual Care Services, NYU Langone Hospital-Brooklyn
What she’s doing: An experienced hospital chaplain, Rabbi Tav is no stranger to counseling patients from behind a mask or having tough conversations about end-of-life care. But the particular cruelties of coronavirus have brought new responsibilities for medical clergy: In crowded hospitals where visitors are banned, they may be the only link between patients and loved ones, and the only people able to stay with patients during their final hours. On Facebook, Rabbi Tav has chronicled the crushing solitude in which many coronavirus victims die and the efforts of chaplains to “ensuring every person’s dignity when they’re most vulnerable,” said Rabbi Sarah Friedson, Tav’s former chevruta, or study partner, at the Jewish Theological Seminary.
What she says: Each morning, Tav wrote on Facebook, she makes condolence calls to the families of those who died overnight, before updating relatives of patients still struggling in the hospital. One woman begged Tav to daven, or pray, for her husband, from whom she’d never spent a night apart in 30 years of marriage. On the same day, Tav advised an 18-year-old on explaining her father’s death to her four-year-old sister. She told her to “keep it concrete,” explaining honestly that their father’s “heart doesn’t pump anymore, his eyes don’t see.”
Friedson said that Tav’s forthright personality equipped her well for this kind of work, to which she’d been drawn since her first years of seminary. “She can be blunt, she doesn’t sugarcoat things but she has the kindest heart,” Freidson said. “She’s one of the most real people I’ve met.”
While schools are closed, they’re caring for kids
Who they are: Sara Lederman and Sruthi Shankar, students at University of Minnesota Medical School
What they’re doing: When classmates Sara Lederman and Sruthi Shankar learned that classes were moving online, they were devastated at the prospect of spending months without seeing a patient. But they were even more worried about their teachers who had been thrust into dangerous work on the frontlines of a global pandemic.
“When you think about the doctors who taught you to hold a stethoscope and the nurses who held your hand on the first day of rotation…it really felt personal,” Lederman said.
She and Shankar began brainstorming different ways to help frontline healthcare workers. At first they hoped to gather a dozen people to do grocery runs for doctors and nurses. Instead, they tapped into an urgent need for childcare and realized how many medical students were itching to do something helpful. One of Lederman’s friends designed a website overnight; another worked to develop an app. Within a week, the grassroots group had a 13-member board, 100 volunteers, and a name: CovidSitters.
How it works: CovidSitters matches healthy frontline workers — including hospital cleaning crews and cafeteria workers — with student volunteers who provide free childcare, a rare commodity now that most schools and daycares have closed. If healthcare workers are ill or in self-quarantine, CovidSitters organizes grocery drop-offs instead of in-person services: Lederman herself is currently running errands for a nurse and single mother who has tested positive for the coronavirus.
In a time of disruption and uncertainty, a sympathetic babysitter can help kids parse events that are overwhelming for many of the adults around them. Lederman said one volunteer sent a photo of a three-year-old charge who wanted to dress up like his mother, a doctor. The outfit he chose to represent her work? His superhero Halloween costume, augmented by a homemade paper mask.
Where it’s going next: CovidSitters primarily serves families in the Twin Cities area, but Lederman and Shankar are providing a “starter pack” of their protocols and risk mitigation procedures to volunteers eager to start similar initiatives. Lederman said they’ve received over 100 requests so far, from cities as close as Milwaukee — and countries as far away as Sudan.
She’s staying calm when it matters most
Who she is: Dr. Jana Preis, Chief of Epidemiology, Brooklyn VA Medical Center
How she got here: When Jana Preis arrived in the United States in the early 1990s, it didn’t look like a medical career was in the cards. She’d emigrated alone from then-Soviet Georgia, where Jews faced institutional discrimination. Without friends or family, she found herself cleaning houses for an exploitative employer. Seeking assistance, she wrote letters to several rabbis in the Washington, D.C. area explaining her plight. Only one replied: Rabbi Avis Miller, who took Preis under her wing, finding her a job that allowed her to study on the side and cheering her on as she completed a bachelor’s degree and went on to medical school. Throughout the years the two women became close, celebrating holidays and milestones together. Miller has five sons, but, she said, “I picked the daughter I would have wanted.”
What she’s doing now: A few weeks ago, Preis called Miller to wish her a happy birthday — but she was speaking from the hallway of Brooklyn’s VA Medical Center, where she’s currently the chief epidemiologist. In the coronavirus pandemic, she spends her days supervising hospital intake, treating admitted patients, and devising infection control policies. Going to work, she said, is “like being literally at war. Anything I say may change in a second.”
But although Miller said she’d never seen her protégée so overworked and Preis admitted that she “basically lives” in the hospital these days, she insisted that she was not overwhelmed. As an immigrant who’d weathered enormous changes in her life, she said she was well-equipped to handle the hospital’s volatile atmosphere.. “Am I panicking? No,” she said. “Do I recognize this is an interesting virus? Yes.”
A Tale of Two Laptops
Who he is: Peter Dressner, freelance computer consultant
What he’s doing Long before the era of coronavirus, when computers became an essential lifeline to the outside world, Dressner had experience bringing technology to kids who need it. For years, he’d sourced old computers and laptops from clients, refurbished them, and donated them to needy kids at a Maryland high school. He also helped procure donations for local initiatives, said Brenda Holt, who runs an annual toy drive at Baltimore’s Sinai Hospital. Each time he made a donation, she said, he asked her, “Is this enough?”
As social distancing restrictions ramped up in late March, Holt’s son, a district manager for supermarket chain Aldi’s, asked if she knew where his old laptop was: he wanted to give it to an employee, whose three children were struggling to keep up with online lessons on the family’s single computer. Holt had donated it long ago, but she immediately thought of asking Dressner for help. When she approached him, he quickly produced one of his own computers for the family to use.
“He’s a true mensch,” Holt said. “This woman is working all day in a grocery store. Now, at least she doesn’t have to worry about her kids passing their classes.”
She’s braving a nursing home on lockdown
Who she is: Jennifer Williamson, home health aide
What she’s doing: For the past two years Lina Zerbarini has relied on Jennifer Williamson to care for her elderly parents at their Long Island independent living facility. From the start, she was impressed by Williamson’s ability to manage two elderly people with diverging mental and physical needs: her mother has advanced Alzheimer’s disease, while her father has kidney disease. “It’s extraordinarily skilled work,” she said. “But [Williamson] is so able to be present. She’s really accepting of both my parents and whatever mood they’re in. They can get agitated, and Jen will say it’s just the disease.”
Many nursing homes have adopted strict social distancing restrictions in order to reduce the spread of coronavirus among residents, who are among the most vulnerable to the disease. In the facility where Zerbarini’s parents live, there are already 9 cases of coronavirus, and family members are no longer allowed to visit. But thanks to Williamson, Zerbarini still receives pictures of her mother laughing after a shower. Staying with them throughout the week, Williamson is helping the couple keep their spirits up during a frightening and confusing episode. And as a deeply religious Christian, she prays for them as well.
“The most difficult aspect of this isolation is that I can’t see them,” she said. “But I am eased by knowing that [Williamson] is there with them.”
She’s bringing cookies where they’re needed most
Who she is Robyn Frank, owner of Thumbs Cookies
What she’s doing: In March, baker Robyn Frank got a call from Dr. Erica Kuhlmann, a doctor treating coronavirus patients at St. Paul’s Bethesda Hospital. Kuhlmann needed to provide food for her staff, who were too busy to duck out of the hospital for snacks during their shifts, and she wanted to use her food budget to support small businesses in the Twin Cities area.
“I started crying right away,” said Frank, touched that a doctor treating coronavirus patients had thoughts to spare for small businesses. She assured Kuhlmann that she would provide cookies free of charge. Then she recruited other local snack makers into the effort. Assembling packages in Frank’s kitchen, they donated about $5,000 of popcorn, granola, and other snacks to Bethesda Hospital.
“People weren’t even thinking of getting anything back,” Frank said of the initial effort. But she knew that small businesses struggling during an economic slowdown couldn’t provide food indefinitely, so she started soliciting donations to cover wholesale costs. In the past few weeks, Frank and fifteen other snack makers have raised enough money to provide “hero snack packs” to 8,000 healthcare workers, mostly in small donations from Twin Cities residents.
She takes song requests — from the back of the ambulance
Her name: Goldy Landau
What she’s doing: In late March, Goldy Landau drove a recovering coronavirus patient home from a New York City hospital. Since he’d been unable to charge his phone or contact his family for days, his arrival was a welcome surprise. “I’ve never seen a family so thrilled and ecstatic,” Landau wrote on Facebook.
Moments like this are bright spots in Landau’s increasingly grueling workdays. An EMT since 2013 (she’s also written for the Forward), she’s no stranger to difficult assignments, but the coronavirus pandemic poses entirely new challenges, from the cumbersome protective gear in which she greets patients to the sheer physical exertion of lifting sick bodies in and out of the ambulance each shift. Landau’s pants are stained with bleach from sterilizing her vehicle between each call, and even her most basic routines have been interrupted: while first responders normally grab corner store sandwiches during lulls in their shifts, since most New York eateries have closed, she’s reliant on donated food and free coffee provided to healthcare workers by Starbucks. “We live on coffee,” she said.
What she’s saying: Between shifts, Landau posts regular updates about her work on Facebook. She captures the fears of families who must send a loved one to the hospital alone, dispenses advice on what to pack if a trip to the hospital is unavoidable (cozy socks are a must), and cracks jokes about her “Patients” playlist, a collection of songs that stable patients request her to play during transports.
While Landau’s work may seem incomprehensibly difficult to many, she said she’s most frightened of the prospect of self-quarantining at home. “That to me seems way more stressful,” she said, speaking by phone from the back of her ambulance. “Having to be home alone for months? I’d rather lift 100 patients a day.”
She can’t smell or taste, but she’s still treating patients on Rikers Island
Her name: Dr. Kate Baron, family physician at Rikers Island Correctional Facility
Who she is: When Baron began a new job caring for incarcerated people in New York City’s main prison complex, no one was surprised. She was living out the principles of “tikkun olam,” the Jewish concept of repairing the world through good deeds, that she’d learned from her parents and the synagogue she’d attended as a child, said family friend Tina Wasserman. Providing quality medical care within the strict confines of a prison is difficult under any circumstances. “The doctors are really at the mercy of the prison system,” said Baron’s mother, Liz Baron. And that was before the pandemic hit.
What she’s doing: With over 200 confirmed cases of coronavirus at Rikers Island as of April 1, the need for medical care is only growing. Baron is working to test and isolate incarcerated people, but “she’s experiencing a tremendous amount of frustration,” her mother said, because of the prison’s inability to effectively isolate patients. For example, patients waiting for test results are sometimes placed in an area with infected people, increasing their chances of contracting coronavirus if they don’t already have it. Alongside one other doctor, Baron is monitoring the care of 200 patients.
In the past week, Baron has lost her sense of taste and smell, symptoms associated with a mild case of coronavirus. But despite worries about her own health, she’s still going to work and caring for patients.
“This is really a calling for her,” said her mother. “She wouldn’t think of not being there, even though it’s so difficult.”
They’re taking care of grandparents — dozens of them
Who they are: Rabbi Shimon Andrusier and Rebbetzin Liba Andrusier
What they’re doing Originally from Brooklyn, the Andrusiers moved to Florida five years ago to be Chabad emissaries to Century Village of Pembroke Pines, an organization that operates under Chabad of Southwest Broward. Shimon Andrusier also serves as the Pulpit Rabbi of Young Israel of Century Village. Upon arrival, they founded the Sunshine Circle, an initiative that matches volunteers with Holocaust survivors and seniors in need of companionship. Most members of the Sunshine Circle have no family living nearby, making them especially vulnerable now that coronavirus has confined most seniors to the home, making them reliant on relatives for groceries and other supplies. Fortunately, the Andrusiers had a plan.
As soon as the pandemic started, the Andrusiers organized the delivery of hundreds of kosher meals, groceries, and other necessities to the Sunshine Circle’s seniors, said Michael Levine, who volunteers with the couple. A local kosher restaurant has provided prepared meals, and volunteers like Levine scour the supermarkets for hard-to-find items like toilet paper and paper towels.
But Levine said the Andrusiers, whom he described as “nonstop workers,” also keep track of the needs of individual seniors in the network, calling them regularly to gauge their emotional well-being and delivering the specific items they need, from Tylenol for one Holocaust survivor to chopped liver to an elderly man with anemia. To combat loneliness, Rabbi Andrusier also hosted virtual Passover events and ongoing series of Torah classes via Zoom. So far only one member of the Sunshine Circle has contracted coronavirus, and as he fights the virus in the hospital, the couple speaks to his wife daily.
“Where they have the time to handle all of this, I don’t know,” Levine said of the couple, who have eight children to care for as well. But for them, he said, the members of the Sunshine Circle are like their own parents. “They feel that the seniors are their children’s bubbes and zaydes,” he said.
A podiatrist, she has found her footing in the E.R.
Her name: Dr. Rachel Maslow, Chief Podiatry Resident at Montefiore Medical Center
Who she is: An avid animal enthusiast, Maslow didn’t initially intend to become a doctor for people. But when she realized that becoming a vet would entail euthanizing pets like her own beloved rabbits, she set her sights on medical school and earned a degree from the New York College of Podiatric Medicine. She planned to spend the spring finishing her residency and working in Montefiore’s podiatry clinic. Instead, she’s been learning the ropes of a completely different medical field.
What she’s doing: As Montefiore Hospital admitted more and more coronavirus patients, Maslow was drafted to help — even though she had little experience providing emergency medical care. Her father, Aaron Maslow, who speaks to her by phone every night, said that she was “frazzled” after her first day on the job but soon grew accustomed to her work.
“There really is something so beautiful about different specialities coming together as a united front to treat these patients,” she wrote on Facebook.
The new realities of her work have changed almost every aspect of daily life. Each day when she arrives home, Maslow leaves her scrubs at the door and walks straight into a shower her husband has prepared, careful not to even touch a door handle before she rinses off. And although she normally observes Shabbat, now she’s been working steadily through it.
“I remember how my parents spoke of families whose sons went into the army in World War II,” Aaron Maslow said. “I feel the same now.”
He fights coronavirus and sleeps at Chabad
His name: Dr. Joseph Goldenberg, Resident Physician at the University of Chicago Internal Medicine Residency Program
Who he is: Among friends, Goldenberg has always been known for his “strong sense of friendship and loyalty,” said Jamie Cohen, his roommate at the University of California, San Diego, and for seeking out Jewish community wherever he went. In college, the two men were brothers in the Jewish fraternity AEPi. When Goldenberg moved to Chicago for medical school he became involved with the local Chabad house, where he met his wife, Rebecca. As Goldenberg completed medical school and pursued his residency, he celebrated the birth of his first son, honed his sourdough bread-baking technique and cultivated a sharp goatee — which he had to shave to accommodate his N95 mask.
What he’s doing: For family and friends, Cohen said, Goldenberg was one of the first sources of warning and advice during the coronavirus pandemic. His words carried the weight of personal experience: though he had not yet finished his residency, at the end of March Goldenberg was transferred to an ICU ward for coronavirus patients. As the pandemic intensified, his workload left him no time for meals; during shifts that stretch up to 18 hours, he subsists on protein shakes gulped down in the hospital hallways. Worried about bringing the virus home to his wife and son, Goldenberg made the wrenching decision to isolate himself even from his own family, moving into a hospitality suite owned by his local Chabad house. In brief breaks between shifts, he lifts weights in his new home to relieve stress.
“He’s underprepared and overworked,” said Cohen. “But he’s still doing it, every day for the foreseeable future.”
She tended patients until she gave birth
Her name: Dr. Nicole Simuro O’Connell, pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center
What she’s doing: O’Connell already had big plans for this spring — she was due to give birth to her second child at the end of April. But instead of preparing for a new arrival, O’Connell found herself weathering one of the biggest challenges of her career as COVID-19 tested New York’s hospital system. Taking on new duties in the emergency room, O’Connell cared for contagious patients, even though the virus’s effects on pregnant women are still unknown. Although she’d planned to begin maternity leave a few weeks before her due date, she worked until the minute her water broke — weeks ahead of schedule, in a hospital hallway. “She gave it everything she can, because that’s the kind of girl she is,” said her aunt, Osnat Beck.
What she said: In late March, O’Connell posted urgently on Facebook about the lack of protective gear at hospitals. “Being 36 weeks pregnant and working in an ER and watching as personal protective supplies are less and less available … it hits home,” she said. “We worked so hard to be able to help you and your families and yet are not given the respect of being protected.”
He’s chronicling coronavirus from the front lines
His name: Dr. Steve Zlotowski, Emergency Medicine Physician, Enloe Medical Center
What he’s doing: On March 23, Dr. Zlotowski posted on Facebook for the first time in over a year, recording a video about the importance of social distancing from the trailer where he was isolating from family while treating coronavirus patients. He was more successful than he imagined: in a few days, the video had gone viral, even appearing on the local news.
Since then, he’s posted daily updates after each exhausting shift at the hospital. Zlotowski’s chronicles show readers how healthcare workers are adapting on a granular level: he describes replacing cloth privacy curtains with construction paper in order to curb transmission and explains how nurses are taking on new duties even as their usual ones grow more time-consuming.
But he’s also ruminated on the connection between the pandemic and his Jewish heritage. He discusses drawing inspiration from his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor whose bravery and determination he interpreted as coldness while she was alive. And he records conversations with his mother, a child Holocaust survivor for whom this is only the most recent episode of sheltering at home.
What they’re saying: Rabbi Matt Friedman, Zlowtowski’s former rabbi, said he was amazed to see a doctor sharing his thoughts so openly on social media. But he said Zlowtowski’s behavior now is a reflection of his open-minded character and genuine interest in other people’s lives. “He’s very much a deep thinker but he’s not wrapped up in his head or in himself,” Friedman said. “He’s very much a people person.”
She’s finding masks in unexpected places
Her name: Dr. Bess Stillman, Emergency Room physician at Brookdale Hospital
What she’s doing: Before coronavirus hit, Bess Stillman had plenty of experience in the emergency room — but now, she’s found that treating patients is only one of her responsibilities. She knew that crowded emergency rooms, where patients come seeking help and safety, are actually very unsafe environments when a contagious respiratory disease is making the rounds. So she’s helping Brookdale Hospital develop a telehealth system that will reduce crowding and lower the risk of transmission for patients and those who care for them. Meanwhile, Stillman and her coworkers had to worry about protecting their own health as the hospital’s stores of personal protective gear dwindled. Unable to count on a steady supply of masks and gloves at work, Stillman turned to her personal network for help.
Where she’s getting them: Donations of personal protective gear have flowed in from unexpected sources, said Stillman’s partner, Jake Seliger. Several of the couple’s friends regularly attend the Burning Man music festival in Nevada, where concert-goers often wear masks to protect themselves from desert dust. Now, their unused N95 masks are protecting Stillman and her coworkers as they fight coronavirus on the front lines. Other friends in the hair and makeup industry contributed boxes of nitrile gloves which they use in their own group.
While it’s heartwarming to receive support from one’s friends, Seliger said that for Stillman, the lack of adequate protective gear and the additional work necessary to supply it is the most stressful part of being a doctor during the pandemic.
“It’s basically like having two jobs at the same time,” he said.
Irene Katz Connelly is an editorial fellow at the Forward. You can contact her at [email protected].