By Leah S. Dunaief
Perhaps the worst is over. With this first phase of recovery for Long Island, suddenly there is hope that the strange pandemic life we are leading will pass into history. Of course, we are far from home free. The virus is still just as contagious and the threat is still real. We continue to ache for those whose lives have been cut short by this virulent disease, and our hearts go out to the families who lost loved ones without even a farewell or proper service.
But we have, to a great extent, adapted to a coexistence with the virus as we wear face masks, habitually practice social distancing, wash our hands frequently for at least 20 seconds each time and otherwise limit our interactions with family, friends and colleagues to regular Zoom sessions.
Working remotely, for those who can, has proven not to be so bad and will probably carry over well beyond sheltering-in-place. And for those on the front lines of response, the intensity, if not the fear, may have somewhat diminished.
We are thrilled to see the stores open up, if only for curbside or doorway pick up of items. Some of the establishments have constructed barriers to keep customers safely apart or added ultraviolet lighting to kill the microbes. And perhaps those on unemployment can now be called back to work.
Some may not return even though they are required to respond to their employer’s call. Ironically, they may be doing better financially by being on unemployment, at least for the short term. The federal government has put itself in competition with small businesses, who can’t pay workers as much, and sometimes the Feds win. Those small businesses that have received the Payroll Protection Plan money are able to call back workers and to pay them until their eight-week period runs out.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who has built up quite a following for his daily briefings and won positive ratings for his down home manner, offered this as he rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange Tuesday: “Wearing a mask has got to be something you do every day. When you get up, when you walk out of the house, you put the mask on. This is cool.”
He also admonished people not to be rude to those who might not be wearing masks, that we should encourage them to do so nicely and politely. He did go on to add, recognizing that he was, after all, governor of New York State, “But it’s New York. We have to be careful that nice and polite stays nice and polite.”
Cuomo met with President Donald Trump (R), a longtime fellow New Yorker, Wednesday, and urged spending for infrastructure as a way to provide many jobs. That goal was mentioned by Trump shortly after he took office in 2017 and is considered one of the few subjects on which there could be bipartisan support. In particular, Cuomo advocated for an AirTrain to La Guardia Airport, a rail tunnel under the Hudson River and a northern extension of the Second Avenue subway.
It is most unfortunate that, along with the deadly consequences of the novel coronavirus, there is an underpinning of highly partisan sentiment in the country. Traditionally, when there is a crisis, Americans pull together. Certainly that was true during Pearl Harbor, 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy, for example. But the nature of this pandemic is asymmetrical in that areas of greater density tend to be more stricken, while those more rural or away from the big cities and the coasts are more lightly touched.
It is hard for those not in the throes of the ghastly metrics of death and affliction to feel the extreme stress of those who are. It just so happens that the divide between red and blue states overlays our map, not perfectly, but remarkably. Suffolk County, considered a red county, yet in a dense area, is an exception with its high casualties.
So we have those demanding an “opening” of the economy vs. those who are concerned about contagion. We must unfailingly continue to practice what has worked to win us entry thus far into Phase One.