We have survived the coronavirus, with some difficulty, and are thrilled, sort of, that New York City is now, finally, in Phase 1 of “reopening.” Roughly two weeks ago (it seems more recent), we began to go out again for short walks. With the exception of a couple of medical visits, this was the first going-out since the pandemic and lockdown began in mid-March. By then, unbeknown to us, the die had been cast. I was infected sometime just before the lockdown and passed the infection to my wife. I will spare readers the grim details. We are both better. I had it easy. She, the opposite. Trust me on this one thing – if it isn’t obvious to you from the statistics, accept that this is disease is, as I have previously reported, mean as a junk yard dog.
Which brings me to the point of this post. The Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, a man both revered and despised by different people for reasons with which I am largely unacquainted, has held daily news briefings for more than 100 days and throughout that time has begged, demanded and cajoled New Yorkers to “be smart.” New York City in particular was the epicenter of COVID-19 in the United States, with a rapidly mounting hospitalization and death toll beginning in early March, threatening to overwhelm even the vast medical resources of the city.
The steep rise in cases and deaths continued until one fine day when it began to level off (“flattening the curve,” was the term applied), stayed more or less level and then began a slower decline to where it is now, with daily deaths attributed to COVID in the neighborhood of 35. The Governor has made clear that the reopening of the state and of New York City was strictly dependent upon the data. If there are upticks, restrictions will be swiftly re-imposed. “Be smart” about how you conduct yourself, he has repeatedly urged, and we will be fine. Each region of the state will be separately evaluated every day.
So, with that as background, we emerge from our “bunker” and begin to take walks of up to 2 miles, just in the neighborhood and sometimes into Central Park that is about a third-of-a-mile away. We try walking early, say at 8 or 9 am, on the theory that there will be fewer people on the street at that time, but this is not apparent when we’re out there. We also walk at noon and in the early evening. It’s the same. As the days progress, both pedestrian and automobile traffic noticeably increase everywhere we go. But in no sense is it crowded. It just seems that way. The psychology of the pandemic, I suppose. Open space feels cramped when every person you encounter is seen as the possible source of re-infection with a disease that could kill you.
As we progress through the two-week period, a couple of things change. Mask-wearing seems to be diminishing. It’s not a scientific determination, more of a gut judgment, but it feels quite accurate. At the beginning, the end of May, we estimated non-compliance was around 10 percent of people we saw. That seemed high and mildly concerning, but as we approached June 8, the official reopening of New York City, non-compliance rose to about 20 percent. Not a comfortable or encouraging situation. The infection rate is also creeping upward, slowly but inexorably upward according to daily reports from covidactnow.org. On May 3, the 7-day rolling average infection rate was .63 and on June 2 was .84. As long as that number is below 1.0, the total number of COVID cases will continue to decline, but the projections indicate a rate of .9 by June 9, now three days ago. We anxiously await updated numbers, but we are getting perilously close to the point at which the Governor has said he will order another lockdown. In a few more days we likely will begin to see the results of the massive protests that recently occurred throughout Manhattan and the boroughs.
The Governor now says that the key number to watch going forward is the “tested infection rate” that is holding in Manhattan at 1.2 percent based on about 50,000 statewide tests per day. Time will tell.
Non-compliance in the neighborhood is not limited to any group. It is young, old, bike riders, casual strollers, mothers with children, delivery personnel. “My mask protects you; your mask protects me” seems to be a hollow sentiment to those who shun masks or wear them under their chin. Smoking on the street is still seen. We try hard not to breathe exhaled smoke. Any breeze is always a welcome relief because we’ve been told that the virus does not remain concentrated in moving air.
Yesterday, our early evening walk took us to Columbus Circle where we observed, for the third time, a phalanx of police vehicles and Central Park West closed by metal railings, all to protect the Trump International Hotel. A large number of police were present as well. My inquiry as to why NYPD was set up to protect the private property of Donald Trump who does not live in this hotel (it’s just one of his branded commercial properties), an officer said they were expecting protesters. Since Trump can easily afford his own security for the businesses he continues to own while serving as president, I resent the use of city resources to provide security services for his properties.
Finally, a few nights ago, we came across a restaurant on Broadway that was open for business outdoors, with numerous tables occupied by un-masked dinners/drinkers. A large sign in front proclaimed “open.” I reported this to the mayor’s office and the city health department. We haven’t been back that way yet to see if it’s still violating the reopening rules. The fact that this happened so openly is not a good sign for the future of reopening. If that restaurant is not stopped, competing restaurants may decide to follow suit and the proverbial barn door will be open.
The data from states that have reopened incautiously is not encouraging. Virtually all of them have experienced significant spikes in infections following their reopenings. Today the Governor reported 23 states with spikes, of which 15 are experiencing their highest- ever infection rates. Their political leadership seems not to be concerned and under the sway of those who scream that their “rights” are being violated by lockdown orders. We truly live in insane times. I don’t know what else to say. Stay well if you can.