Towards a post-pandemic city and nation in New York
Towards a post-pandemic city and nation in New York
At the end of last week, following new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, I walked without a mask in Morningside and Riverside Park for the first time in over a year. I have been fully vaccinated since March and my university has tested me twenty times since December and found me COVID free each time. About 35% of all New Yorkers are fully vaccinated, but I can tell you that less than 10% of the residents of these parks were maskless. It’s going to take a while before we remember how to be comfortable with each other in the public space. Part of the problem is that the rate of COVID-19 infection remains high, even if it is declining. We have seen the infection rate rise and fall rapidly before, and the treatment and long-term impact of this virus is still relatively unknown. COVID-19 terrifies us, as it probably should.
Nevertheless, the lockdown will have to end soon. Maybe not as soon as the needy New York mayor and governor thinks so, but certainly before the start of the new school year next September. The reason for this delay is economic. The United States, under President Trump and Biden, spent about $ 5.3 trillion on COVID relief. Our economy has survived and is recovering from this intense stimulus, but our ability to provide outright subsidies is coming to an end. Biden’s proposals for infrastructure and rebuilding a social safety net are investments to bring the economy back and make our economy more productive and fairer. It is not a simple subsidy, but a method to make this country work harder. For these investments to bear fruit, Americans must return to work. In order for Americans to return to work, our K-12 schools must be fully reopened. It means reopened without social distancing. America does not have the classroom space to teach its children who sit six or three feet apart.
To keep the pandemic at bay and bring it to a manageable level, we will need mass vaccination of children as well as the rest of the country, as well as the development and implementation of boosters to deal with the variants. that will emerge. Assuming COVID vaccines are proven to be safe and then authorized for children, and assuming institutions and places require vaccination of employees and customers, then we can return to normal life. We still will not eliminate COVID. We will have to learn to tolerate its presence and modernize our public health infrastructure to keep it under control. Testing, tracing, isolation, masks and vaccination are tools that we will have to apply and learn to live when needed. Just as we go through physical security checks at airports and other sites, we will have to get used to increasingly sophisticated methods of biosecurity checks.
But social distancing will have to be abandoned and we will have to tolerate once again crowded theaters, subways, airports and streets. Our economic engine requires human density and the idea that we will always be on Zoom must also be ruled out. It starts with schools because people cannot concentrate on work while looking after their school-aged children. Schools educate and socialize children, but they also protect them while their parents are at work. There are over 56 million school children in America. According to US Bureau of Labor Statistics:
“In 2020, 33.0 million families, or two-fifths of all families, included children under the age of 18… Among married couples with children, 95.3% had at least one parent employed in 2020 and 59 , 8% had both parents employed. ”
In 2020, 13,705,000 families with children had both parents employed, a decrease of more than one million since 2019. Annie C. Casey Foundation, in 2019, 23,756,000 American children lived in single-parent homes. Here in New York, according to the Citizens’ Committee for Children in New York, 965,037 children were raised by two parents and 428,214 were raised by lone parents.
These data give an idea of the number of people who depend on schools for child care. Whether there are two parents at home or one, there are many households where all the adults work for wages. We know that one of the effects of COVID has been an increase in the number of women with children leaving the workplace. To reduce this trend and improve the productive capacity of our aging population, we will need to fully reopen our schools. Only then can we fully reopen our economy.
The reopening of schools will have a catalytic impact on the reopening of New York. If conditions allow schools to reopen safely, why should anything else remain closed? If schools cannot reopen and our ability to stimulate the economy is depleted, we will enter an economic depression that will cause much more political and economic suffering than we experienced during the COVID recession of 2020.. Much depends on our ability to convince our neighbors to get vaccinated and reducing rates of COVID infection.
It is indeed unfortunate that the wisdom of Dr Fauci and his colleagues has been politicized and that a mature discussion of the trade-off between the virus and economic impacts has not been able to take place. One particularly absurd discussion has been the recent attack on Fauci by Congressman Jim Jordon. Nathanial Wexel provides excellent report on Jordon’s shameless attack in The hill:
“A congressional hearing on the pandemic became personal when Rep. Jim jordan (R-Ohio) attacked loudly Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease physician, on when Americans can stop taking public health precautions like wearing masks and physical distancing. During multiple rounds of questioning at a House coronavirus watch subcommittee hearing on Thursday, Jordan pressed Fauci on the idea of herd immunity, and when Americans can expect to get back to normal. “When will the Americans regain their freedom? … Fauci tried to explain that the best solution is to gradually lift the restrictions and return to normal “when the level of infection in this country is low enough”. Jordan interrupted him, urging Fauci to “give me a number.” “You indicate freedom and liberty. I consider this a public health measure to prevent people from dying and going to the hospital, ”Fauci said, adding that life would return to normal when people get vaccinated.
The point is that threats to our security in a complex, interconnected and interdependent society have already curtailed our freedom and, unfortunately, this trend will not be reversed. Cameras on the streets, on satellites, on smartphones, in doorbells and on drones have created an observed world. There are tradeoffs between freedom and security and between health restrictions on our behavior and economic well-being. These compromises require an impartial and reasoned discussion. A dialogue where facts and values are informed, and choices made with a clear understanding of benefits and costs. The demonization or praise of Dr Fauci and his colleagues is not a useful part of this discussion.
The COVID crisis has caused two rounds of unnecessary extremes. On the one hand, we see people who simply refuse to leave their homes. On the other hand, and much more common, we see people who think COVID is a hoax that they can safely ignore. For those in hiding, we need to convey the fact that all life comes with risk. We all need to calculate the real risk posed by the virus and see what we are willing to tolerate. For those who refuse to understand the science and recognize any risk, our task is more difficult. It will not be the last pandemic, and climate threats against COVID will be more prevalent in our complex and interconnected world. Ultimately, they will find that if they ignore the virus, they will not be able to travel or attend public events.
Here in New York, we have the months until August to adjust to the post-pandemic world. It will be a gradual and bumpy transition. Commuters who have traveled to town to avoid public transport are already starting to see roads start to block. When I walk home from work, the daily northbound traffic on Riverside, Amsterdam and Broadway looks like vacation traffic. People will finally remember why they took the train. In other parts of the country that are built around the automobile, this transition will not be necessary. In New York, going back to public transportation is like going back to school – without it, our region’s economy cannot function.
While the political and economic reality demands full openness after Labor Day, the trauma of the past year will stay with us for a long time. While most of the work falls back to the office, some will remain remote. The first time someone coughs near you at the theater or in a bar, you will notice them like you never have before. The trend towards pedestrian towns has been delayed by the temporary benefit of the COVID-free bubble that we call the car. We need to be prepared for the stress and angst of stepping out from behind our screens, but we should also be prepared for a time when hands can be clenched and hugs can be given, and our tactile social species is capable again. to expire.