How do we move forward from this long, miserable period of lockdown?
Change is hard, even from a difficult situation like quarantine. We become established in our routines and ideas; the fear of catching a deadly virus adds a layer of complexity. But we need to start moving toward reopening, and that will mean rearranging some of the ideas that have ingrained themselves in our minds.
We have to look anew at who needs our help. And we need to notice where we might find safety as we reopen: namely, outside.
First, on the imperative to reopen: As hospitalizations dwindle, we need to pay attention to the masses of people descending on food banks. Americans are going hungry. The Hamilton Project/Future of the Middle Class Initiative Survey of Mothers with Young Children found that 17 percent of moms with children 12 and under reported that the kids in their households haven’t eaten enough since the lockdowns began, “because we just couldn’t afford enough food.” In 2018, that figure was 3.1 percent.
We need to shift our sympathies to Americans who aren’t working and can no longer afford to put food on the table. We need to help them now, and reopening is the only viable solution.
And we also need to start moving outdoors. Several studies, including one out of Northwestern University, found a link between Vitamin D and mortality from COVID-19: “Not only does vitamin D enhance our innate immune systems, it also prevents our immune systems from becoming dangerously overactive. This means that having healthy levels of vitamin D could protect patients against severe complications, including death, from COVID-19.”
The easiest way to get vitamin D is to just step outside; it’s produced in reaction to sunlight.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday that New York would follow New Jersey’s lead and reopen Empire State beaches on Memorial Day weekend. Naturally, New York Times reporters and blue-check worrywarts fretted about the “potential public-health peril” of the move.
But study after study has shown that the coronavirus is far less transmissible outdoors. Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s chief medical officer, said recently, “There is a definite truism across all of the science literature that ventilation is a most critical part of reducing transmission from respiratory viruses.”
And a Yale University study in March found that “winter’s cold, dry air makes such viruses a triple threat.” Yale immunobiologist and senior author Akiko Iwasaki said: “When cold, outdoor air with little moisture is heated indoors, the air’s relative humidity drops to about 20 percent. This comparatively moisture-free air provides a clear path for airborne viral particles of viruses, such as COVID-19.” The lesson: Hot, moist air is our ally.
We need to move outdoors, and we need to have space to continue to socially distance as we do that. Which is why Cuomo is right, and Mayor Bill de Blasio is wrong (as usual). Even as the state relaxed beach rules, Hizzoner said city beaches are “just not ready” to reopen. Sigh.
The final adjustment might be the most difficult. Accepting that not all jobs can be done from home, we need to temporarily make New Yorkers less reliant on the subway. I’m a lifelong New Yorker, and the subway has always been our lifeline. But right now, decreasing density on our public transit has to be the goal.
We can do that by making it easier to drive in New York. What if parking in Manhattan became easier? What if we could extend meters for several hours? It doesn’t have to be forever; these can be changes made in three- or six-month increments and reversed as things return to some sort of normal. The Big Apple can’t become a driving city in the long term. But in the short term, it makes sense to make driving easier for those who can do it.
We have to live after COVID-19. To save our city and our nation, we need to adjust today.