For more than a week there has been a new daily ritual that echoes through the streets of New York. The eerie quiet that has descended over the city is pierced by the sounds of clapping, cheering, whistling, cars honking and the beating of pots and pans in raucous percussion. The two minute celebration that begins every night at 7pm is a citywide show of appreciation for the medical workers, first responders and essential personnel that has earned the hastag, ClapBecauseWeCare.

New York has existed in a state of virtual shutdown for nearly a month. Businesses are closed, schools are shut, churches now meet online and there is a ban on non-essential gatherings of any size. For Larissa, on the Upper West Side of New York, this means living alone in a small studio apartment. She, like millions of others around the city, have spent weeks staying at home, in one of the most densely populated cities in the world. 

The population density is one of the quirks of New York City and it is not uncommon to look outside a window and peer right into someone else’s personal living space. Noisy neighbors often receive irate notices because their volume was too high and drunken exchanges on the street echo upwards for all to hear.

Now, however, the intense proximity is the perfect catalyst for this inspirational daily routine that reverberates through each neighbourhood. In the Theater District, the lights of Broadway have been out for weeks and the exuberant applause is a welcome sound. In Brooklyn, where casualties have been high, the emotion is palpable. 

In Peter Cooper Village, near the neighbouring Mt Sinai and Bellevue Hospitals, the massive high rise tenements thunder with appreciation and music blares from the rooftops. The playlist has included Sinatra’s New York, New York, Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind and Lean on Me as a touching tribute to the singer Bill Withers, who passed earlier this week.

For those of us living in isolation, the daily ovation is a visceral reminder that we are not alone. The two minute revelry is an affirmation of just how connected we are and our need for communion.

For Elizabeth and her daughters, Penny and Sofia, they eagerly anticipate the start every day, and even dress up to celebrate. Three-year-old Penny will often be heard saying, “It’s almost seven! We gotta get ready!”

For Larissa, on the opposite side of Manhattan, the cheering is a sign of hope.

“It brings a sense of unity. When I looked outside my window it felt we were unified and together again. This is a glimpse of what it will be like when we beat this thing and celebrate together as New Yorkers.”

In Hell’s Kitchen, where I am writing this from, each day the sounds are getting louder and louder as more and more people join in. What began in mid-March in Italy as a rendition of their national anthem, quickly transformed into expressions of appreciation consisting of applause, instrumental blasts, cheers and makeshift percussion. It took less than a week for the celebration to begin in Spain, India, England, the US - and it continues to build up momentum throughout the world. 

The ever-increasing sounds of gratitude that reverberate throughout New York are a visceral demonstration that joy, thanksgiving and community spirit can spread faster than any virus.