“At the beginning of the Covid news coverage, one of the first things we saw was the people in Italy at 8pm. They all came out on the balcony. So I started clapping,” says Ignacio Correa Ortiz. “Then a couple days later, this opera singer came out and sang his aria—and then somebody else brought out their violin. All of a sudden it became a community concert.”
So the 2600 block of Syracuse Court in Central Park decided to do the same. “I don’t play any instrument other than the drum and the vuvuzela, so I brought them out,” says Ignacio. “Then Shirley is a bell ringer at her church, so she brought out her bell. Bonner brought his vuvuzela as well. And Claudia and her partner came out—she whistles with her lips so loud. And then the kids, when they heard the drums, they all came out looking for what it was. So it was a lot of excitement. We kept on going every night for months, especially when we could not go anywhere. In the early days, it was a party.”
The “kids” in the neighborhood are Ella and Avery Fowler. They climbed on top of their car and their camper and waved ribbons. They say they loved howling—and gave a demonstration. “It was really sweet to honor the people who save our country and save people. I just thought it was really kind of our whole entire block to do that,” says Ella. Her sister Avery adds, “I think it’s really respectful, especially to the doctors who have been working for a very long time to figure out the vaccine. And now, it’s a lot safer to go out in public and masks aren’t required barely anywhere. And I feel like the support of the people on our block and everywhere helped that. “
In late July, the neighbors are still coming out. “We have had family members who have had Covid and friends who have died of Covid—and my siblings are in the medical professions,” says Ignacio. “So we just come out and recognize that. Last night we were somewhere else and my watch goes off at 8pm. Wherever we are, we just clap.
The neighbors speak out about their connections with front line workers and Covid patients. At Shirley Johnson’s church, there are several nurses who were on the front lines. Chris Neukom’s family knows nurses, doctors, and paramedics. Wendy Correa has a client who’s a respiratory therapist working with Covid patients at University Hospital and a nephew in St. Louis who got Covid. “He’s 41. A police officer, no smoking, no underlying conditions. Three of the four officers in his unit got sick and recovered in two weeks. Johnny wound up in ICU for eight weeks on an ECMO, a heart lung machine. They didn’t think he would live. He’s now in rehab, but he has like 50 percent lung capacity. It’s personal that we know so many people who got Covid before they were able to get a vaccine.”
The first time Ignacio knew he wasn’t going to be there, he told Shirley she had to hold the fort. She went out. “All alone in the rain and sleet and snow,“ Shirley adds.
In May, the neighbors had some discussions about an end date, but then the Delta variant arrived and people started getting sick again, “You know, we’re not done. It’s still going on. So, we’ll keep going,“ says Ignacio. “It’s like we’re not gonna stop, says Shirley, “and we haven’t.”
“Covid is going to go on for awhile” says Wendy. “Luckily those of us that are vaccinated may not get really sick. We may not die. We may not wind up in the hospital. But we don’t really know the long-term effects for those who’ve already gotten sick—and so it’s just important that we still remain vigilant about this and take good care of the doctors and nurses and people that are working to help us.”
Front Porch photos by Steve Larson