First night out to dinner in New York City
After months of lockdown, it was a relief. But still felt precarious.
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Last night my husband David and I went out to eat for the first time since March, when the entirety of New York City shut down amid the coronavirus pandemic. Now, in phase two of re-opening, with New York having the lowest coronavirus positivity rate in the country (less than 1%, while Florida is seeing nearly 20%), restaurants can be open for outdoor dining only and socially-distanced seating.
We went to a favorite place nearby and sat in the street — the city has allowed restaurants to expand seating into one lane — and had a nice meal. It was pleasant and relaxed.
But it was still a bit weird.
We’ve become so accustomed to distancing — a good thing — that, even though we were in the street, just having masks off while the waiters had theirs on, felt odd. At the same time, everyone was happy to see one another, and the restaurants need the business and we wanted to support them. So I felt the tentative interaction, which I suppose is just normal and also better than everyone not being highly aware.
But more so, here we were in a place that was the center of enormous illness and death in this pandemic just two months ago, locked in and rarely venturing out. Now here we are, enjoying ourselves, sitting outside having drinks as cars whizz by, but the pandemic is surging across the country with the highest daily case rate we’ve seen since the beginning.
At the height of the early pandemic with New York as the epicenter, the U.S. was seeing daily cases in the 30,000 range. But now, as the epicenters have shifted to Arizona, Texas, Florida and elsewhere while New York has flattened the curve, the numbers nationally have blasted past 40,000 per day. And Dr. Anthony Fauci testified yesterday that at this rate we’re likely to see 100,000 cases per day in a matter of weeks.
There’s a feeling of guilt, knowing people in other parts of the country were obviously facing what we’d faced two months ago, while we were letting loose a bit. I couldn’t help but think of the man who called my SiriusXM show on Monday, waiting outside a hospital emergency room in Texas while his wife was inside and he couldn’t go in, couldn’t be near her — a scene many have experienced or witnessed in New York over and over again.
But there was also a sense that we might not be doing this for long. Already New Jersey is postponing indoor dining — and New York is set to do the same — worried about the possibility of a surge, after seeing what happened in the South and West. And I support that, as we don’t know what’s going to happen next.
Of course, there were several things leaders did in Texas, Florida, California, Arizona, North Carolina and elsewhere that New York didn’t do. They opened up too early, when they still had high positivity rates — Florida was at 10% — and they went fast, allowing the opening of gyms, spas, bars, indoor dining and nightclubs. They also didn’t urge or mandate wearing of masks statewide at the outset — something New York did while we were still in lockdown.
They could have avoided this surge if they’d just stayed shut down longer, opened up slower and mandated mask-wearing immediately. But governors were bowing to business interests and to Donald Trump — and GOP governors were bowing to their crazed base and anti-lockdown protesters.
Now it’s too late to only mandate mask-wearing without shutting down again — which is what they’d like to do — because there’s too much virus out there. Florida is headed for disaster, as Governor Ron DeSantis is refusing to shut businesses again. Arizona’s Governor Doug Ducey is rightly backtracking almost entirely, however, shutting all businesses while not exactly putting a full shelter at home order in place as ICU beds at Arizona hospitals are near capacity.
But it all seems too late. Now that the U.S. coronavirus pandemic is completely out of control nationally — while the European Union has flattened the curve — it’s inevitable that surges will happen everywhere.
Already, in parts of the Midwest, including Kansas, Michigan and Minnesota, the numbers are rising after they’d declined. Governor Andrew Cuomo has added eight new states to the list of nine states from which travelers to New York are mandated to quarantine for 14 days.
But those kinds of measures do very little in the long run. I’m under no illusion that, as the country sees cases growing exponentially, we won’t see a rise again in New York, and everywhere, as Trump and the GOP have completely, tragically botched the response from the beginning.
So, it was a nice night out. But I’m not sure how long we’ll be able to do it, or when we’ll even do it again.