This story first ran in Youth Today here.
Here’s an excerpt:
NEW YORK — First, it was just a headache. A migraine burrowing into his forehead, one that heated and cooled his body, made the room spin a little. But he didn’t usually have migraines. The dizziness and the onset of nausea felt wrong. Like they could be something more. On the outer edges of New York City, as the sound of sirens had started to become more frequent, a troubling thought came to his mind.
And he couldn’t risk it. He didn’t live alone. He didn’t even have a room of his own.
He lives in a Sheltering Arms crisis center in Harlem, where there are usually about five to six boys, aged anywhere from 16 to 20, in a bedroom. It was early March and so far no one had gotten sick with COVID-19. Despite losing his job at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. in Times Square, life had largely been business as usual. He and his friends played basketball outside and took walks. The urgency of a global pandemic hadn’t sunk in.
He (he asked to remain anonymous because of safety concerns) moved to New York just three months ago, leaving his family behind in California. The twinkling lights of Time Square called to him on television as he watched the ball drop on New Year’s Eve. He wanted to see it for himself. New York looked like a place of endless opportunity. He could make some money and bring it back to his family, who immigrated from Mexico 12 years ago.
That plan seemed a little silly in the middle of March, as the bustling Time Square that drew him into the city emptied like a nightclub in the early dawn.
It was in the late evening of March 21 when he knew something wasn’t right. He told shelter staff he wasn’t feeling good, about the dizziness and nausea. Perhaps if there weren’t a global pandemic going on, they’d have given him Tylenol and instructed him to lie down.