Reopening the Battlespace

Wuhan was shut down for 76 days, New York City – reopening today – for 78. If we can trust the numbers out of China – which the absence of explosive renewed epidemic spread suggests to me we can-ish – less than two months after the implementation of the lockdown order in Wuhan, new confirmed COVID-19 case counts across the entire province of Hubei (of which Wuhan is the capital) had effectively dropped to zero. In New York City, two and a half months after the promulgation of our stay-at-home order, we continue to see hundreds of new cases daily and dozens of deaths. We should be concerned about this.

There’s a new article out in Nature Medicine suggesting that the seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in Wuhan is somewhere below 4%. Multiple surveys in NYC have put the seropositivity rate here in the vicinity of 20%, give or take. Given that New York and Wuhan are of roughly comparable size and we suffered roughly 5x as many deaths here as they did there, these ballpark figures seem to comport with the grisly realities. As I’ve written multiple times lately, let’s hope that some combination of cross-immunity (from other common cold-causing coronaviruses with SARS-CoV-2), summer weather, benign mutations of the virus, and perhaps factors yet unknown to us put us, in NYC, at little risk of further spikes in COVID-19 morbidity and mortality. But – learning from hard experience what the price of magical thinking can be – let’s also plan ahead this time.

I’d say it’s largely been the actions of hundreds of millions of everyday people that has kept the virus partially in check in the United States since April – I say partially, though, because we continue to see ~1,000 COVID-19 deaths per day across the country; trends are worrying in at least half of US states; and localized outbreaks – the latest in Arizona – continue to threaten to overwhelm healthcare systems. New confirmed cases nationally have been level at around 21,000 per day for the past two weeks, but given the timing of reopenings, and, on top of them, the nationwide protests, I continue to be concerned about new spikes (though will admit, things have gone better than I predicted they would), and again, believe the situation nationally is less-than-catastrophic primarily because the majority of the population of the US has continued to take the pandemic seriously in spite of the greed, negligence, and cruelty of many people in power.

Axios reports that “New Zealand is now free of coronavirus,” while FAIR points out that the “Media Downplay Global South Leadership on Covid-19” in an article that notes that both the Indian state of Kerala and the country of Vietnam have thus far achieved feats of pandemic control comparable to New Zealand’s but with far fewer resources and under much more challenging circumstances. FAIR also has a Chomsky-esque piece up dissecting the “Euphemisms US Headline Writers Used for Police Beating the Shit Out of People” and another with “Corporate media headlines [on police brutality in the midst of the nationwide uprising] revised as though they were journalism.”

Under cover of the pandemic (and now the “civil unrest” as well), implementation of disaster capitalist deregulatory agendas and attacks on journalists/freedom of speech continue apace. In terms of the institution of actual fascism/martial law in the United States though, the President seems to be in open retreat for now (so maybe I was wrong and institutions will save us!), but I wouldn’t get too comfortable just yet.

Regarding the protests, I’m embracing the possibility that we are witnessing/participating in something new in our history that will have an outcome different than what has gone before, though I’ll note that a core difficulty in strategizing/theorizing this uprising is the lack of coherent vision and goals uniting its participants. Right now, under the movement’s big tent, there coexists everything from the modest reformism of #8cantwait to the militant insurrectionism of Decolonize This Place. My suspicion is that participants’ political orientations follow a normal distribution, or something like it, with median view roughly aligned with the radical but still reformist agenda of significantly defunding police departments, or disbanding police forces altogether and replacing them with community-based alternatives. Still, it can be hard to achieve meaningful consensus on goals, strategy, and tactics, when some protesters believe we’re working towards modest legislative reform, and others, that we’re in the early stages of armed revolution to overthrow the state.

If you’ve been tormented and infuriated by the ever-presence of helicopters overhead of late, you’re not alone. Here are some maps from BuzzFeed that show just how much helicopter traffic there’s been over major US cities.

And, finally, for New Yorkers who care about our mass transit system and are concerned about its future, I recommend reading this Second Avenue Sagas post, entitled, “The MTA Has a Transportation Plan for NYC’s Reopening. Why Doesn’t Bill de Blasio?” As has been the case at least since his reelection, our hapless, imagination-less Mayor is out-to-lunch when it counts.

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