I live part-time in NYC, in the heart of midtown Manhattan. The past few months have been very challenging. The city was dealt a severe blow at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in this country. People in droves were getting sick and dying. The hospitals were at capacity and over; corpses lay in refrigerated units for days before they could be buried or cremated. I personally knew three people who died. A close friend couldn’t get in to see a specialist when she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer because doctors and hospitals were overwhelmed with COVID patients. New York’s numbers — cases, hospitalizations, deaths — soared way above all of the other states. People fled the city. It was a scary place to be.
Yet slowly but surely, NYC got its numbers down. We shut down very quickly. Our governor gave a televised briefing every day, reporting the latest statistics — whether hopeful or disheartening — and strongly urged New Yorkers to take all possible precautions. People listened. They stayed at home, They practiced social distancing on necessary trips out. In the early weeks of March, I might see half a dozen people wearing masks in the course of a few blocks’ walk. I myself didn’t start wearing a mask until Cuomo encouraged us all to do so.
Now the numbers are reversed. During a similar walk, I might see half a dozen people maskless. People ALWAYS keep their mouths and nose covered on the subway and buses. I have never seen an argument in a public place over mask wearing. I do not see people from New York complaining on social media about having to wear a mask, or about not being able to go out to eat or drink, or about how their businesses are failing. Never. Instead I’ve noticed many acts of courage and kindness. And unity — a spirit of “we’re all in this together.”
New Yorkers are survivors. They’ve dealt variously with rampant crime in the ’70s and ’80s, the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath — to name just a few challenges. The motto in the city right now — as seen on billboards and elsewhere — is “New York Tough.”
The city got hit hard because of two factors — the population density and the large numbers of tourists from Europe and Asia. It was a perfect setup for an infectious disease. Now consider the situation on the Vineyard. The population increases about tenfold in the summer. The downtown areas and beaches are crowded. The visitors come from places all over the country, including areas that are as hard-hit now as Europe and China were in March, when tourists brought the disease to the U.S.
The Vineyard has managed to keep its numbers down throughout the spring and early summer. The general feeling then, as now in some cases, is — we’re isolated, we’re safe. It seems that some Islanders have relaxed a bit on the safety protocol front. It’s only natural right now to feel frustrated and to adopt a false sense of security when the immediate threat may seem to have been averted.
Tourists are naturally going to have less of a stake in the welfare of another community. And, of course, people let their guard down when they’re on vacation — especially in a place they see as a safe haven in many ways.
New York has pulled back on its reopening. The city has opted not to allow indoor dining or drinking at this time. Governor Cuomo is closely monitoring the situation, and has wisely decided to risk erring on the side of caution. Our economy is slowly crawling back up. Full financial recovery is a long-term prospect. Some businesses will fail. Many workers will certainly suffer. But, in the meantime, as of this writing, only five people died yesterday from COVID-19, as opposed to more than 500 a day at one point in April. New Yorkers have pulled together for the good of their neighbors and for the city as a whole.
To those of you who are bothered by the fact that you are required to wear a mask in public, and are requested to practice social distancing, I’m not sure how you believe this disease is spread if not through the respiratory system. Or maybe you think it’s a hoax. I can assure you — it is not. I’ve witnessed the devastation.
I was born in NYC, and have spent the majority of my life in the city. I have never been more proud to be a New Yorker than I am right now. I urge Vineyarders and visitors to maintain the attitude that has made the Island the special community that it is — pride of place, compassion, and a willingness to not follow the flock, but to make intelligent, informed decisions.
We will survive. We can do this.