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  • Walter Muller

Reopening, Part Deux: a very bad idea

Updated: Dec 1, 2020

August 5th, 2020

(orig editorial date, with recent added updates)

I’m one of many sitting on the edge of my seat, hanging on every announcement the NYC Mayor & the Governor makes – worried about when they will try and reopen NYC. Worried, because I know enough about this virus to say it’s a rotten idea. But the Mayor of NYC has no other bullets in the barrel and political pressure dictates he must look like he’s doing something. So I sit here, watching TV, worried that he’ll act on the only ideas he has left –which are all bad.

And in this case, that means re-mobilizing millions of people in NYC thru reopening city schools. Mobilizing 1.1 million school age children that have largely been stagnant since last March (and freeing up their 2 million or so parents to go back to work, or about their days unencumbered by their children) might sound like a great idea. I mean, let’s get the economy going, right? Sure, it certainly sounds great. But when several million people who’ve stayed put, suddenly start moving around the city in the middle of a pandemic, it can only spell out disaster. Because this virus spreads based on movement. And so, the virus will begin to spread again & infections will increase overtime. Then its ER visits. And then hospital stays. And then deaths. It’s all so predictable.

But let me digress a little. Because if you live outside the city, you might not be entirely familiar with how a day in the life of a city dweller functions. NYC essentially functions as its own giant commuting town. Hardly any kid goes to school where they live. And hardly any parent goes to work where they live. The same goes for shopping. Or going to see your family doctor. Or going to a movie. Or for a walk in the park. Or for anything, really. Everything you do is commute away from where you are. That’s life normal in NYC.And in order to get anywhere in NYC, it usually involves negotiating a commute via subway, a bus or a train and/or a walk or a drive. Fox example, kids that live in Brooklyn or Harlem take a subway or school bus to attend school in Queens, Manhattan or the Bronx. Folx that live in Staten Island, take the Staten Island ferry off Staten Island to go to work somewhere else in NYC. And people that live in Brooklyn commute to places like Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx. And so on and so forth. The whole city is interconnected via one giant messy, shared commute to somewhere else in the city. It’s almost akin to a bad game of Twister, with people painfully contorting their daily lives just to get from home to work or school and back in one piece. And then there are the added layers of extra commuters. Because NYC just doesn’t have to deal with inter-borough commuters. NYC is also full of out of town & out of state commuters traveling daily into the city for their jobs too – and those workers travel from bedroom communities in PA, NJ, CT, Upstate NY and Long Island.

While this normal way of life in the city routine might fly-well on an average day, in the throes of a pandemic this kind of messy, shared commuting is exactly the last thing NYC needs. Because when you add all these commuting-lives together, it spells out trouble. Because there is no way you can reopen any part of NYC – let’s say something as simple sounding as the NYC school district - without commuters of all types moving around & fanning the flames of this pandemic. Reopening schools (or anything else for that matter) will bring the virus back with a vengeance. That is a guarantee. Oh sure, politicians will give us reassurances. We’ll be told there’s plans in place; that we’ll be protected by testing, and so on and so forth. But the unvarnished truth is you can’t control this virus, for several reasons:

First, commuters. In NYC, we have 6 primary types of commuters: inter-neighborhood &outer-neighborhood, inter-borough & outer-borough, tri-state commuters and out-of-tri-state-commuters. Now, in order to control this virus, you need to be able to control or monitor people’s movement. But that’s impossible in NYC, because the amount of daily commuting that takes place.

Second, this virus is a cold and it spreads like a cold. You know, the kind of cold you get from your aunt when you visit for the holidays? Yeah, that kind of cold, albeit one with a juiced-up gain of function. And in your life, have you ever heard of anyone being able to quarantine or control the spread of a cold? Of course not - it’s not possible. Just like you’ve never heard of anyone able to cure the common cold. It can’t be done. So, to say we’ve all of a sudden found the magic bulletin the middle of a pandemic is disingenuous at best.

Third, you can’t possibly contact trace anyone in NYC. The situation is far too complex, the situation is too fluid, the masses of inter-borough commuters, too great. Sure, you might be able to try – but once that infected person gets onboard a bus or a subway, or walks into a gym, mall, restaurant or movie theater, into a public building or goes for a walk in a park, you’ve lost all control of this virus. And it’s going to spread once people start moving around again. But nobody wants to acknowledge that.

Fourth, asymptomatic carriers. This virus is much different than other viruses in that the amount of time a person can actively shed this virus greatly varies by their own level of health. It some cases, an immune-compromised person has shed the virus actively for as long as 90 days while remaining highly infectious but asymptomatic -and the number of asymptomatic carriers may be as high as 30-40% of all infected. That’s insane. Now factor how many people just one asymptomatic person could have potentially exposed over a 3-month period and it’s clear that this virus is not controllable.

But politicians get nervous about reelection. And since this is an election year, I worry the Mayor of NYC will undoubtedly do what’s popular – not what’s right – and force a reopen in NYC, in order to try and curry favor with the public. The trouble with this is, people are going to die because of the choices politicians made. The tragedy with a decision like this is, we have the tools to make this all work remotely, until its safe to do otherwise.

The only safe path for us to take is unfortunately the hard path: we must sacrifice some of our flexibility and keep our schools remote and the city locked down – at least until we develop an effective treatment. That means putting up with your own kids in your home for a few more months.

But we are also fortunate. For as we go down this path, we have the technology to make remote work & remote learning work, which will keep us safe; technology that only just a few years ago wouldn’t have been available in nearly every home. Because now we have smart phones, computer tablets, web-cameras, personal computers and a bevy of assistive learning devices at our fingertips. And each one is perfect for this pandemic – because these devices enable us to school, work & remote-visit with friends and family. Which minimizes the chance of infections and a second wave developing.

So as I sit here watching TV, waiting to hear what the mayor’s next move is, I’m secretly hoping he makes the unpopular choice: force NYC to continue to work as remotely as possible, with our schools closed until a viable treatment has been devised for this virus. Because until we have a treatment to help minimize the spread of this virus all we can do to help each other out, is to stay home.But these days, at least we have the remote tools to do it.

November, 2020

I am not surprised we are here - the schools are closed again because they reopened again in late September. And because of their reopening (& Labor Day weekend) infections are now rising daily along with hospitalizations. Soon too, a rising tide of deaths will follow. But how did this happen? Well, the path that took us to this point is a little more complex. So, lets go back in time.

If you recall, in April 2020, Gov DeSantis arrogantly declared he had defeated the virus in Florida. Infections in Florida were non-existentm while NYC was getting its rear-end handed to it. Some people down South even believed this whole pandemic was invented out of thin air, that it wasn’t even a real virus. So, Governor DeSantis did what any other politician would do with null infections – he naively reopened the beaches just in time for spring break. Not surprisingly, Covid infections bloomed, and it didn’t take too long for Florida to straight to the doghouse after that. It’s still a mess, even now.

But perhaps what was most surprising after watching on TV the Florida-train-wreck, was NY State’s Governor Cuomo lecturing the Governor of Florida about the failure of his leadership on TV. And as Governor Cuomo dribbled on about how his fine leadership had solved the Covid crisis in NY, I thought to myself, this was awfully arrogant of a man to act like an authority on a virus he clearly did not understand any farther then the daily bullet-point briefings he receives. And when in fact we weren’t – and still aren’t – halfway through this pandemic, and we can’t fully predict which way it will turn next.

However, there are precautions we can take to limit the spread of the virus, like refusing to reopen public beaches, bars, restaurants, schools and any place people gather.

Which is why it was so mind boggling, when the Jersey shore and NYS reopened for business just in time for July 4th. And then next for Labor Day weekend. Especially after watching the Florida situation devolve as quickly as it had, you’d think the visionary leadership in NY & the tri-state area would have learned lessons from the suffering of others – and perhaps had developed better ideas to prevent such future situations. But no, nobody listened; nobody learned. And of course, tax revenue was seriously lagging in the tri-state area too. So, our visionary politicians do what they do best when they need money: they put visionary dollars in front of people lives.

And voila, just like that, guess what? Reopening for Labor Day weekend created our own super-spreader event in the tri-state area when folx ran out to Montauk and the Jersey shore and points east, west, north and south in that traditional last minute vacation, just before throwing their kids back into newly reopened public schools.

Already by late September, infections were rising steadily, just as school started to reopen. And thru October, infections continued to double at a disturbing rate. Then November came, and that holy 7-day-rolling-average of 3% figure (which Mayor DeBlasio was confident we could never reach) was breached on 11/11 (that data was withheld from the public for another 9 days).

And then a few days before Thanksgiving, NYC began the process of closing again. All because our politicians were too ignorant to learn from the suffering of others. In the end, NY became another Florida. The only difference between the Florida and NY, is our Governor got a book deal out of his “leadership” and an EMMY for his “plot lines & stories”, while the Governor of Florida just got trounced on national TV.

Of course, that Emmy award and the book deal did little good for the families of NY suffering with new exposure to Covid. So, we ended up exactly where Florida had ended up 6 months earlier – with infections raging & hospitalizations surging. Now, here we are back somewhere in time, probably around April 2020, reliving the same pains of the first wave of the pandemic that our Governor believes he “defeated” with his supreme leadership. Don't believe me? Go buy his book.

Thanksgiving weekend, 2020

Just as I had thought the situation couldn’t get any worse – with the recent tidal wave in infections rising - and that the decisions of the Mayor of NYC and our Governor couldn’t get any more irresponsible - here I am again, back on edge, watching once again, my TV with baited breath on Thanksgiving weekend. For yet another press conference with the NYC Mayor on when schools are slated to reopen. Yay.

But right now, reopening schools is the last thing we should be doing. The virus is going mad in NYC and the rest of the country. Hospital admissions are once again surging like they did early this year in NYC. So are ICU cases in hospitals. What comes next ultimately, will be deaths. If we should be doing anything right now – if we have learned any lessons from round 1 of this pandemic, we should be preparing to bunker down & stay put for a while, to ride out this second wave. So what, in all his infinite wisdom, did Mayor Deblasio announce in his Thanksgiving weekend presser? What did he do? The exact opposite of common sense, of course.

As the virus is again reaching an apex, the Mayor decides that schools are reopening for a third time. Full steam ahead! Why? Because he’s confident that schools are the safest place for everyone to be. Really? Is he insane? Has he not learned anything? Believing that folx traveling throughout NYC – a giant hot zone – just to get to another place in NYC (like schools) – isn’t going to increase the risk of infections is just mad. And it’s just not possible, in any scenario. There are going to be massive cases of cross contamination among every commuter/passenger on every bus, train, subway and car. Never mind the weekend-wave of cases coming from Thanksgiving-weekend (which we won’t see fully for 4-6 weeks) amid the already rising tide of Covid infection rate & hospitalizations.

If I've learned anything from watching the gyrations of our worthless politicians throughout this pandemic; if it’s time for anything in NYC nowadays, it’s time to digest a really healthy dose of common sense. Politicians, cut off from the reality of our lives down on the streets, lack any propriety of reality on which to base their decisions. But they still broadcast their marching orders to us, directing our daily routines as if we’re soldiers and they’re Generals.

Once I did as you, I had marched & followed their orders blindly, thinking we’d all done the right thing for our own city. But look to where their orders are leading us - once again, for the third time – directly into the slaughterhouse.

I won't go there again.

But it we don’t effective a massive change of direction right now, this forced reopening will lead us back to the covid/slaughterhouse - the difference being, this time around, the second wave will make the first look like a milk-run. And that's when we'll wish we had changed course. Except of course for the Mayor & the Governor - who'll be sitting in their Ivory towers, safely distanced from the nasty effects of this virus. While the rest of us all suffer from their marching orders.

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