Chairing a Gala While Stuck in Mustique

With the New York gala scene on hiatus, here is how some patrons and society figures are spending their time and resources during the coronavirus crisis.

Age: 78

Occupation: lawyer, philanthropist, chairwoman emerita of TotalBank.

Favorite charities: Arsht-Cannon Fund, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, the Adrienne Arsht Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center.

Where are you sheltering?

At my house in Washington, D.C.

Has self-seclusion altered your routine?

I’m up earlier. By 6:30 I’ve I picked up my newspaper. I read more or less till 9. I’m still doing full hair and makeup every morning. I believe you always dress as if you’re going to meet the queen of England. That’s just you.

Do you have a favorite at-home retreat?

It’s my office. My desk is piled with the same papers as before the pandemic. There is a basket where I keep my knitting and a ball of yarn. I’m on my fourth afghan right now. I collect pillows. I have a new one with a motto that reads: “You don’t have to be productive during a pandemic.” Take that, Marie Kondo!

Which causes are urgent to you now?

If you’re being abused, sheltering at home is like lighting a match to a tinderbox. You have nowhere to go. I’m supporting the D.C. Volunteer Lawyer Project, which represents women who are victims of domestic violence.

How do you keep up your spirits?

I adore change. I say, just deal with it. I had a younger sister who committed suicide at 29. I’ve wondered, what was it that made her feel that death was easier to bear than life? My focus is on resilience, the ability to survive, adapt and construct a new way of life. You could almost say this pandemic is the equivalent of the meteor that crashed to earth and destroyed the dinosaurs. We’ll see what comes out of the rubble.


Credit…Rebecca Smeyne for The New York Times

Age: 54

Occupation: writer, producer, advocate for women’s health

Favorite charities: March of Dimes; Brooklyn for Life.

Where are you hunkering down?

With my husband [the film director Spike Lee] and two children at our apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

How does your day go?

I get up, exercise and make breakfast. I clean — that’s on me. Then I go into my office to work. During the first several weeks of this quarantine I found working difficult. It was really hard to focus. My pace slowed significantly. I feel like now I’m moving into a better pattern.

Have your domestic habits changed?

We used to order out a lot. Now I cook. We eat a lot of fish. I did a delicious Thai soup last night. I’ve been thinking about growing my own food and what that would look like. I hope this is the new normal for us. We are healthier for it.

What do you do with your downtime?

Drawing and painting are a release. I run a couple of days a week along the East River. On a good day the river is so beautiful, it’s almost like not being in the city at all.

Which causes are most vital to you now?

I’m on the board of March of Dimes, focusing on issues of maternal mortality in the United States, especially as they relate to black women. Corona just makes these problems more apparent and dire.

What can we learn from this crisis?

I hope we come out with a better of understanding of what is an essential worker. Who is the store clerk, the sanitation worker, delivery person? Will you remember to thank the person who rings up your groceries? Without these people, what would we do?

Parting thoughts?

Eat well. Exercise. Don’t drink too much. Give yourself a break.


Credit…Nina Westervelt for The New York Times

Age: 53

Occupation: fashion designer, commodities broker.

Favorite charities: Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Glam4Good, Nancy Davis Foundation for Multiple Sclerosis

Where are you hunkering down?

At our beach house in Mustique, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

What took you to Mustique?

The Coronavirus Outbreak




  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated May 20, 2020

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      Over 38 million people have filed for unemployment since March. One in five who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March or the beginning of April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on May 14 showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $ 40,000 or less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than $ 100,000, a Fed official said.

    • Is ‘Covid toe’ a symptom of the disease?

      There is an uptick in people reporting symptoms of chilblains, which are painful red or purple lesions that typically appear in the winter on fingers or toes. The lesions are emerging as yet another symptom of infection with the new coronavirus. Chilblains are caused by inflammation in small blood vessels in reaction to cold or damp conditions, but they are usually common in the coldest winter months. Federal health officials do not include toe lesions in the list of coronavirus symptoms, but some dermatologists are pushing for a change, saying so-called Covid toe should be sufficient grounds for testing.

    • Can I go to the park?

      Yes, but make sure you keep six feet of distance between you and people who don’t live in your home. Even if you just hang out in a park, rather than go for a jog or a walk, getting some fresh air, and hopefully sunshine, is a good idea.

    • How do I take my temperature?

      Taking one’s temperature to look for signs of fever is not as easy as it sounds, as “normal” temperature numbers can vary, but generally, keep an eye out for a temperature of 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. If you don’t have a thermometer (they can be pricey these days), there are other ways to figure out if you have a fever, or are at risk of Covid-19 complications.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • How do I get tested?

      If you’re sick and you think you’ve been exposed to the new coronavirus, the C.D.C. recommends that you call your healthcare provider and explain your symptoms and fears. They will decide if you need to be tested. Keep in mind that there’s a chance — because of a lack of testing kits or because you’re asymptomatic, for instance — you won’t be able to get tested.

    • How can I help?

      Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities using a numbers-based system, has a running list of nonprofits working in communities affected by the outbreak. You can give blood through the American Red Cross, and World Central Kitchen has stepped in to distribute meals in major cities.



Tommy, my husband, has had a home here for almost 30 years. We left in March for our son’s spring break. I packed for a two-week trip and we’ve been here since. I’m looking out at the ocean as we speak. Our stay wasn’t planned, but I’m grateful it worked out this way.

How have you kept up your giving?

We are co-chairs of the B.C.R.F. Virtual Hot Pink Evening in support of cancer research. It was a Zoom situation, a new frontier for me. We expect to raise substantial funds. [The May 20 virtual gala brought in $ 5.2 million]. I’m also on the board of Glam4Good, founded by my friend Alice Stephenson. We provide clothes for women in shelters.

Are there positive aspects to life in seclusion?

I’m loving that I’m able to spend time with two of my six children: my stepdaughter Kathleen, who is 24, and my son Sebastian — he’s 10. Having this time to engage with him, that’s been a blessing for sure. We’re doing home schooling, Lego projects, swimming and playing silly games like hide and seek.

What are some other distractions?

We spend a lot of time playing backgammon and chess. I’ve seen every episode of “Ozark.” And I’m hiking around the island with Tommy every morning. Those routines have been a necessity for everybody’s sanity.

Have there been challenges?

I’ve had my cries. They come from a pent-up frustration at feeling so helpless. Ordinarily we have everything planned out months in advance: school, travel, evenings out. Now there are so many unknowns. I don’t know when I’m coming home.

Interviews have been edited.


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