The answer, of course, depends on from where and when you count. Dates of earliest known cases of COVID-19 in China, across Europe, and in both New York City and Washington State in the US have moved ever earlier as researchers have deepened our collective knowledge of the disease, and the pandemic itself has, sadly, been politicized in ways that call into question (wrongly, in my view) the timing of the WHO’s declaration that COVID-19 had, indeed, become pandemic.
Anyway, it’s Sunday and the sun is shining on a beautiful late spring day in New York, so rather than dive headlong into narrow questions of definition, or broad questions around geopolitics, I’ll simply mark a local turning point in my own special way. The shutdown in New York City has not ended, but the statewide reopening process is underway, and I’m hopeful that our deliberate, phased approach will meet with less disastrous results than those I expect from haphazard reopenings elsewhere. We’ll see.
In the meantime, as I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve been marking time in different ways. The weather (which was bizarrely level through all of March and April; see further down for a graphical depiction of this fact) has been no help, so I let my beard grow long, and began to slowly make my way through Boccaccio’s Decameron to mark the passage of the days. The book, I am still reading, and plan to finish on May 31st, which is both my mother’s birthday! And the earliest date – going back to March – by which, in an optimistic scenario, I thought we could hope to start to begin to more fully live our lives again. (I say “start to begin” intentionally here, because that’s what it actually feels like. We’ll be in the beginning of this transition for a long time, but it feels good, at least, to start it.)
Writing, on March 12th, in an email to an acquaintance – a prominent figure in NYC’s tech world who was then outside the City, I opined: “Situation here has deteriorated predictably, and it looks increasingly likely that the next month will be a challenging one. I’ll be surprised if we’re properly out of this before the end of May.”
Always the optimist, the acquaintance wrote back: “[I] am hoping that we will be looking at the crisis in the rear view mirror by the end of April.”
Now he’s advising prominent elected officials on the reopening plans, and I’m still sitting around in my apartment, reading, writing, watering plants…
What has changed is my beard though. I no longer have it. May 15th did not mark the end of NYC’s shutdown, let alone the end of our struggle with COVID-19, which I believe remains in its early days, but the 15th nonetheless felt like a turning point, and to mark it, I took some pictures. (The whole transformation series can be found on Instagram.)
As for the weather, here’s what the trends looked like in March and April in New York City.
In Wuhan, official new daily cases had dropped into the double digits within a month and a half of the city’s shutdown, and gone to zero by the two-month mark. Here in New York City, we’re approaching the two-month mark ourselves, and still seeing close to 200 hundred new hospitalizations (not cases!) a day, and hundreds – if not more than a thousand – new confirmed cases daily. More worrying still, the trends in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in NYC are strongly skewed right, and the tapering off has been as gradual as one would expect given the laxity of our measures and the uneven extent to which the population is taking seriously social distancing measures.
I wish that I could say we’re only hurting ourselves, but we’re actually hurting each other. As it is, China continues to see new outbreaks almost daily – to which the Chinese Government seems to be responding aggressively – and we should expect to face similar challenges in New York as we inch forward.
As the City inches forward, so too will I inch, but now, beard-free and very much ready to make the most that circumstances allow of late spring and early summer. We may not be able to live our lives as fully as we’d like right now, but we should live them as fully as we possibly can.