‘Coming to the mountains was a good investment’

THREE months have passed since Roger Holmes and his wife Yesi left their New York home in the dark of night and headed for the country.
Roger, who is from Drumardagh on the outskirts of Letterkenny, and his Peruvian born wife drove for twelve hours, stopping only to re-fuel, leaving the city and the coronavirus epicentre in their wake.
That all night journey from their apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens, took them to Gatlinburg, a mountain town in eastern Tennessee which is the gateway to the Great Smokey Mountain National Park.
Speaking to the Donegal News this week, Roger said that it was good decision to leave New York City to spend the majority of lockdown in Gatlinburg.
“During our first few weeks in Tennessee there was nobody around, and we really benefited from that. We probably saw more bears than people! By early to mid May, the town of Gatlinburg and nearby Great Smoky Mountain National Park had reopened, so we gradually got accustomed to things returning to some kind of normality,” he said.
Roger and Yeti are able to work remotely so they enjoyed walking and hiking in the mountains in the evenings after work and on weekends.
“Coming to the mountains was a good investment in mental health and peace of mind. New York City might be a different story,” he said.
The couple plan to time their return to New York to coincide with the city entering into the second phase of reopening, which will allow for a return to offices, next month.
“It’s interesting to watch from afar what is happening in New York. Some people are looking forward to getting back to normal, but many others are considering moving out to the suburbs, or moving out completely.
“Others are going to wait until mid-August when children start going back to school, to see how things are before making any major decisions. It’s all very tentative for now. The general consensus is that there will be a lot more remote working for the foreseeable future,” he said.
Reopening and the ‘new normal’ is further complicated by economics and politics.
“It’s also election year, so decisions on reopening and easing of restrictions are based more on whether a state is democrat or republican, rather than on a universal public health strategy.
“One of the few leaders to emerge with any sort of enhanced credibility is New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose daily briefings are seen by many as a more accurate reflection of reality than any briefings from the Whitehouse.
“I think most people in New York are expecting a bumpy ride over the next several months, as some sort of new normal begins. But whatever happens, things have definitely improved from when we left the city,” he said.
“Back at the end of March the atmosphere was very tense. The mood seems to have shifted gradually since then. Thankfully, the curve seems to have bottomed-out, although being virus-free is still some way off.
“Our neighbourhood, Jackson Heights, which at 300 acres is roughly twice the size of Letterkenny Golf Club at Barnhill, saw 2,490 cases and 231 deaths,” he added.
In New York City as a whole, there were almost a quarter of a million cases, with almost 22,000 deaths.
“While restrictions being lifted is giving people a much needed boost, it may also be the case that only now is the full realisation of what happened beginning to sink in,” Roger said.

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