Well, this is madness.
The resumption of indoor dining in New York City hinges on a “huge step forward” — like the development of a coronavirus vaccine, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday.
The mayor sounded less than optimistic that eatery owners and workers would be able to start earning a living again — and diners able to enjoy a meal inside an eatery — before the June 1, 2021, return date, set earlier this month.
“We do expect — and pray for and expect — a vaccine in the spring that will allow us to get more back to normal,” he said at his daily press briefing, “but I will absolutely tell you, we’re going to keep looking for that situation where we can push down the virus enough where we would have more ability to address indoor dining.”
De Blasio’s grim message came despite the city recording a 0.59 percent COVID-19 infection rate — “one of our lowest” rates since March, he said Monday.
Quite when de Blasio will decide that he has pushed down the virus “enough” is anyone’s guess. His resemblance to one of the more obtuse First World War generals grows by the day. He is fighting the wrong war in the wrong way. And praying for and expecting a vaccine is just another way of saying that his only strategy is to double down on what has been tried so far.
Yes, the COVID-19 infection rate is right down, but what we don’t know is what the other longer-term health consequences of this prolonged lockdown have been. We do know that they will not only be psychological — and those, in some cases, are serious enough as it is.
To take one example, via Cancer Health:
Harvey Kaufman, MD, senior medical director of Quest Diagnostics, and colleagues analyzed weekly changes in the number of patients with newly identified cancer during the height of the spring COVID-19 outbreak, in which New York and other states in the northeast were hardest hit.
The outbreak prompted shutdowns in many states, with people being advised to stay home—and in particular to stay away from health care settings to avoid exposure to the new coronavirus. What’s more, medical centers curtailed other services to devote staff and resources to COVID-19 care, and many doctors temporarily closed their offices.
This led to a sharp reduction in the number of people receiving medical care unrelated to COVID-19. An analysis by the electronic medical records vendor Epic, for example, found that screenings for breast, cervical and colon cancer dropped by around 90% after the declaration of the COVID-19 national emergency. Between March 15 and June 16, an estimated 285,000 breast cancer screenings, 95,000 colon cancer screenings and 40,000 cervical exams were missed. Things have since picked up but are still not back to normal.
A follow-up analysis showed that in mid-June, screening rates for the three cancers were still down by about a third.
And then there is the little matter of what this closing is doing to the livelihood of tens of thousands (or more) of New Yorkers, a cost that will not be just financial.
De Blasio’s Verdun-like war of attrition against the virus may be winning the war (for now) against COVID-19, but it’s hard not to think that he is destroying Gotham in order to save it.
Some words once quoted by Tacitus made a similar point:
[U]bi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.
Where they make a desert, they call it peace.
Those are words that have some resonance in Midtown Manhattan at the moment — and not just Midtown.
I wrote a bit about lockdowns in an issue of the Capital Note last week, and included these two paragraphs from a thoughtful piece by Greg Ip in The Wall Street Journal:
Five months later, the evidence suggests lockdowns were an overly blunt and economically costly tool. They are politically difficult to keep in place for long enough to stamp out the virus. The evidence also points to alternative strategies that could slow the spread of the epidemic at much less cost. As cases flare up throughout the U.S., some experts are urging policy makers to pursue these more targeted restrictions and interventions rather than another crippling round of lockdowns.
“We’re on the cusp of an economic catastrophe,” said James Stock, a Harvard University economist who, with Harvard epidemiologist Michael Mina and others, is modeling how to avoid a surge in deaths without a deeply damaging lockdown. “We can avoid the worst of that catastrophe by being disciplined,” Mr. Stock said.
That catastrophe, I added — should it occur (and should it not have already happened) — will be far more than just “economic.”
I fully accept that COVID-19 is not “flu,” and it is true that most preparations for pandemics were prepared with a flu in mind. Nevertheless, this (also from Ip’s article) was striking:
During the 1918-1919 flu pandemic, some American cities closed schools, churches and theaters, banned large gatherings and funerals and restricted store hours. But none imposed stay-at-home orders or closed all nonessential businesses. No such measures were imposed during the 1957 flu pandemic, the next-deadliest one; even schools stayed open.
The way humanity has learnt to deal with disease has been to find a way to live with it, and to do the most that can, to the extent compatible with keeping ordinary life going, be feasibly done to minimize its effects, while working towards a cure, more effective treatments and, where possible, a vaccine.
But waiting for a vaccine is not an answer. It is an evasion.
Steve Cuozzo in the Post, but from three weeks ago:
Sure, there’s a real danger of spreading the coronavirus at bars where densely packed drinkers breathe into each other’s faces. But bars and restaurants aren’t the same thing.
Besides rules for lower density, mask-wearing and other viral-blocking steps, there’s an obvious way to more effectively minimize risk: No more bars inside restaurants. Some owners won’t like losing the easy money that flows from $20 cocktails, but nobody said the “new normal” would be easy.
Most owners came to terms with the new requirements months ago and launched good-faith efforts to live up to them — only to have Cuomo postpone indoor service that was supposed to be part of the Phase Three reopening on July 7.
Yes, reopened restaurants can and should be heavily regulated. For sure, some won’t be able to cope with the rules and will ultimately close.
But losing some restaurants is better than losing all of them — and much better than losing all of Midtown, the place that symbolizes New York City, as well.
And Midtown does more that “symbolize” New York City. It does a lot to drive it. And if that engine is not properly restarted soon, the damage will be felt far beyond Manhattan.
One last thought (for now): If there is to be a “second wave” in New York City, it cannot be postponed indefinitely, as is now becoming clear in parts of Europe. Postponing it until flu season is unlikely to be the wisest way to go.
I am certainly planning on getting a flu shot soon.