April 8, 2020
A View From Near the Pandemic Peak
By Buck Sexton
The air is clean and crisp when you walk through New York City’s Times Square these days. There are few vehicles on the road due to the pandemic lockdown. Scientists estimate that carbon monoxide in the air is down an incredible 50%, along with major reductions in a variety of other air pollutants.
There is also a strange silence around you as you walk – unprecedented in the life of this city. Honking horns define the sound of New York as much as skyscrapers do the sight of it. If you can forget for a moment the tragic reasons for the eerie quiet, the city has never sounded so calm.
If you went outside and closed your eyes right now where I live in Midtown Manhattan, you could almost convince yourself that you’re far away from the city. The silence and rush of clean air overtakes your senses. I tried it over the weekend. As a sensory experience, it allowed a brief mental escape.
But as uncharacteristically quiet and clean as New York City streets have become, one cannot escape for long the painful truth of why everything has slowed down.
The “city that never sleeps” isn’t in a slumber – it’s in a coma.
Within moments of closing my eyes, I heard an ambulance siren. Instantly, I was brought back to the terrible reality of our circumstances here in America’s biggest city. It was almost certainly a COVID-19 patient on the way to a hospital because of trouble breathing. There are thousands of them. Our medical teams’ desperate fight to save as many lives as possible is constantly underway.
The wailing of first-responder vehicles is a constant reminder. Without any other ambient noise – with construction sites and the hustle and bustle of the city at a standstill – the sirens’ sound waves reverberate off the steel and brick cityscape for miles in every direction.
On an early spring day with beautiful weather, the empty streets in Midtown Manhattan are unsettling on their own. It’s the empty storefronts, however, that are the clearest indicator of what’s going on here… Every store, other than groceries and pharmacies, is closed.
Walking around Rockefeller Center, one of the most famous tourist spots in America, it’s apparent that these commercial enterprises aren’t planning to open anytime soon. Metal gates are pulled down… Doors are padlocked… Some have removed merchandise from their window displays, no doubt concerned about the 75% spike in business burglaries over the past month in New York.
Restaurants were supposed to stay open for takeout and delivery, but few have. Some of the more sophisticated establishments have signs near their entrance claiming the closure is “out of concern for the health of our customers.” Smaller, mom-and-pop places have hand-drawn signs that talk of “staying safe now and coming back together soon!” Nobody knows if they will ever open their doors again… or if they do, when that will be.
Out in the street, almost everyone now seems to be taking some visible measures for self-protection from the virus. Masks and rubber gloves have been common for weeks. Now, they are ubiquitous. Given the recent change in guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – masks, it turns out, do work – there are now many New Yorkers walking around with homemade masks, bandanas, or scarves pulled over their mouths to give some protection against the coronavirus plague.
Everyone in New York City knows that life has become deeply abnormal. They also recognize that a frantic struggle to keep our fellow New Yorkers alive is underway in all of our major hospitals. Brooklyn and Queens have been hit the hardest. As I write this, more than 5,000 in the state of New York have died, with about half of those fatalities occurring in New York City. It has been two decades since 9/11… And once again, New York is the center of a mass-casualty event.
Are we at the peak? This is a question on everyone’s mind right now.
If the answer is yes, it would mean that we are getting through the worst of COVID-19 in this city. It also would tell us that the depressing, economy-crushing emergency measures mandated by the state are having some positive effect.
A doctor friend I spoke to at one of the major hospitals in Brooklyn told me that “it feels like a war zone” in the various ICU wards. He said that he is deeply concerned about the health and morale of his medical staff, especially the nurses who spend the most time with patients and could therefore be even more susceptible to this contagious respiratory disease.
There are signs of hope, however. In the last few days, hospital admissions for COVID-19 have started to dip. New York City may be “flattening the curve,” which has been the mantra of top epidemiologists to the public for weeks. As new infections drop, the death toll will also drop. That’s what the models tell us. Increasingly, the medical statisticians are dictating our day-to-day lives.
As someone living under quarantine for weeks now, I can tell you that in this city, we just want to know when this will end. The president has begun to talk about a second task force to figure out when – and how – we can open up the economy. Even during what may be the worst of this health crisis, planning for the future feels urgent.
We know there will be a tomorrow, and this too shall pass – but we need to have some sense of what that tomorrow will look like. We need to find a way through this, protecting as many lives as possible along the way, so we can re-establish that most precious of human conditions: normalcy.
Never before has the average and the mundane sounded so precious.
Now here are some of the stories we’re reading…
‘No Time to Be Lax:’ Cuomo Extends New York Shutdown, NJ Deaths Top 1,000
A best-case scenario would be for New Jersey to hit its peak April 19 with 86,000 cases. Worst-case scenario? More than half a million cases with a peak in mid-May.
Companies Cite New Government Benefits in Cutting Workers
Equinox joins a number of companies, including Macy’s and Steelcase, that are citing the federal government’s beefed-up unemployment benefits as they furlough or lay off staff amid the coronavirus pandemic. The stimulus package is changing the calculus for some employers, which can now cut payroll costs without feeling they are abandoning their employees.
You could get 18 months in jail for visiting Colorado county in coronavirus pandemic
Gunnison County officials initiated a public health order last week that says non-residents and tourists must stay out to help slow the spread of coronavirus, and it comes with hefty consequences if it’s violated… If someone doesn’t follow the public health order, they could be hit with a fine of up to $5,000 and spend 18 months in county jail.
Coronavirus: Paris bans daytime outdoor exercise
France has been under strict lockdown measures for almost a month. Anyone who goes outside is required to carry a document stating their reason for leaving home: shopping for necessities, visiting a doctor, or exercise within 1km (half a mile) of their address. Police have fined hundreds of thousands of people for breaking the tight restrictions.
Who is Dominic Raab? What we know about the man who is Boris Johnson’s ‘designated survivor’ as prime minister
The news that Boris Johnson has been hospitalized and is in intensive care for the coronavirus has led to speculation about what would happen if the UK prime minister became too ill to remain in his job.
And let us know what you’re reading at [email protected].
Executive Editor, American Consequences
With P.J. O’Rourke and the Editorial Staff
April 8, 2020