The Shutdown Has Ended. Long Live the Shutdown!

There seems to be some confusion regarding Governor Cuomo’s latest executive order. The following, from PIX11, should clarify:

In the new executive order, issued late Thursday, Cuomo extended New York On PAUSE until May 28, for regions that do not meet the criteria to begin reopening. The order also extended the governor’s emergency powers to June 13.

As I discussed on Tuesday, starting from today, New York State will pursue a region-by-region reopening strategy (five of the states ten regions have thus far met all seven of the benchmarks to enter Phase One), and should New York City – or any of the other four regions yet to qualify to begin reopening, namely: Western New York, the Capital District, the Hudson Valley, and Long Island – meet all seven of the benchmarks before May 28th, it will be able to begin phased reopening immediately. Technically, the statewide shutdown is over; effectively, New York City will almost certainly remain shut down at least until June, and given our slow and tenuous progress, it is hard to foresee when the City will begin to reopen. I remain cautiously optimistic that we may be in a position to by the time the Governor’s renewed emergency powers are slated to expire (on June 13th), but will, sadly, not be surprised if this condition of municipal suspended animation extends into July, though I certainly hope it doesn’t.

Why is my optimism cautious? Construction companies have been extensively violating the PAUSE order across the City [paywalled]. Our neighborhood has felt like a block party on recent weekends. It’s starting to feel like summer, and people are understandably desperate to live a little.

At least regarding New York (and the greater Northeast), it’s optimism I hold, though. Looking to much of the rest of the United States, my concern deepens by the day. To quote from Dr. Anthony Fauci’s testimony before a Senate committee on Tuesday:

There is a real risk that [by prematurely reopening] you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control, which, in fact, paradoxically, will set you back, not only leading to some suffering and death that could be avoided, but could even set you back on the road to trying to get economic recovery.

Yesterday, whistleblower Dr. Rick Bright testified before a House Committee and said, among other things:

Americans yearn to get back, to work, to open their businesses and to provide for their families. I get that. However, what we do must be done carefully and with guidance from the best scientific minds. Our window of opportunity is closing. If we fail to improve our response now, based on science, I fear the pandemic will get worse and be prolonged. There will be likely a resurgence of COVID-19 this fall. It will be greatly compounded by the challenges of seasonal influenza. Without better planning, 2020 could be the darkest winter in modern history.

Both Fauci and Bright were subsequently attacked by the President for their service to the country. (As an aside, as the President attacks public health experts and courageous public servants, his Secretary of Education is using the disaster-capitalist discretion granted her by the CARES Act – which name I’m scare quoting in my mind – to direct millions of dollars to private schools that are definitely not cults.)

Meanwhile, New Zealand has reopened its economy after new COVID-19 cases fell “to zero,” while many US states have now reopened their economies even as their new case counts remain well above zero. In Wisconsin, the state’s majority-Republican “Supreme Court has struck down a remain-at-home order backed by Democratic Governor Tony Evers” and some bars promptly “reopened and [were] filled with patrons for the first time since nonessential businesses were closed on March 25.”

(Regarding the above, I’ll direct you to the wisdom of Xi Jinping, whom I quoted last week: “(We) must not let all our previous work be wasted.”)

In New York, we have reasons to worry. Our Mayor, it must now simply be said, is an asshole. A colossal asshole, and not a competent one either. As a recent New York Times lede reads:

The head of New York City’s public hospitals pushed to keep the city open in early March. Now the mayor has put him in charge of contact tracing, deepening a rift with the Health Department [which warned the mayor repeatedly in the weeks leading up to the emergence of a full-blown crisis in the city that his actions were misguided and tragically insufficient].

That same Mayor has submitted a budget that cuts all funding for municipal organics recycling (i.e., composting), and, understandably, “New Yorkers [are] Opt[ing] For Cars Over Public Transport Due To [the] Pandemic”; austerity and retreat from public space/goods were to be expected, but that doesn’t make this reactionary turn any less disheartening. Nonetheless, I continue to expect that we here in New York – chastened as we’ve been by these past two months – will weather what’s to come with relative grace, though how we do so as much of the country melts down is anyone’s guess.

Albert Wenger has a good piece up on “Resetting Our Priorities” in which he posits:

Now lots of people are asking how will we bring these jobs back? But the more fundamental question to ask is: what can people spend their time and attention on if they don’t need to have that specific job? Or possibly any paid job [because Albert is a believer in UBI]?

And half answer his own questions:

So here too our question shouldn’t be, how can we bail out all the businesses and keep making more stuff, but rather what is it that we need and won’t get from the market? We know some of these areas already and the crucial one of course is solving the climate crisis.

I continue to find the NEJM‘s new COVID-19-themed podcast excellent, informative, gently humorous, and admirably succinct, and finally, if you’re looking for a less-gently-humorous, but also half-heartwarming story (or inspiration for a play), David Dayen linked – in yesterday’s Unsanitized newsletter – to this article, the title of which speaks for itself: “US man tries to sneak into Germany dressed as a janitor to see his girlfriend during [the] pandemic.” The following passage is just gold, and we can only hope that German immigration finds it in their hearts to quarantine the young man as they see fit and then reunite him with his lover (if being reunited is something in which she, herself, is at this point interested):

However, border security officials stopped him after he tried to empty the bins multiple times despite being denied entry. One officer noticed that he was also not wearing an identification pass, and the man was also unable to speak German.

We’re in this for the long haul, and unfortunately, we haven’t come all that far yet. Finding ways to stay healthy, engaged, sane, and connected; to make meaning; to make rent and stay well and healthfully fed; to care for ourselves and each other; not to utterly cede the future to the reactionaries and fascists – these are the tasks for the weeks and months ahead. I’m still searching for the right image, but the best I’ve conjured to date is that of climbing to a high place. I think most of us, at some point, have come, winded, to what we’re certain most be the peak, the crest, the hilltop, the ridge, only to round a corner and see, far in the distance, and much higher up, our actual destination. That’s where we are right now, and patience, perspective, determination, and imagination will be necessary to carry us to the point where we can actually see the other side of this.

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