New Yorkers have suffered extreme whiplash at the hands of their public officials.
Only a few short weeks ago, city residents wary of a rapidly spreading contagion in Asia were castigated for their concern. To avoid at-risk populations, enclosed spaces, and mass crowds then was considered anal-retentive, at best; racist, at worst.
A few short weeks later, and underreaction has been replaced with excess and hyperbole. Actions that were once praised as altruistic are now regarded as reckless and misanthropic. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio—who less than one month ago was encouraging New Yorkers to congregate and patronize local businesses, contending that it required direct physical contact with a symptomatic individual to come down with COVID-19—now insists that at least 4 million New Yorkers will contract the Coronavirus.
It’s now certain that the defiance and lethargy encouraged by city officials over those crucial early weeks of the outbreak contributed to New York City’s dubious status as the nation’s leading exporter of COVID-19 cases. On Tuesday, Dr. Deborah Brix, the response coordinator for the White House’s Coronavirus task force, revealed that a staggering 60 percent of all new cases in the United States originated in the New York City metro area. She advised “everyone who has left New York over the last few days” to shelter in place, wherever they may be, for the next 14 days. Accordingly, residents of New York City and the surrounding suburbs are now an unwanted presence in much of the country.
In Rhode Island, Gov. Gina Raimondo is “mandating, not suggesting” that New Yorkers coming to her state self-isolate for the next two weeks. “National Guard troops will be stationed at bus stops and train stations to speak to collect contact information from travelers arriving from New York, and the state police will be stopping cars with New York plates that enter the state,” the Providence Journal reported.
Rhode Island isn’t alone. In Florida, travelers entering the Sunshine State are greeted first by National Guard soldiers, who inform them that residents of the tristate area must self-isolate or face criminal penalties. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a similar directive that compels air travelers entering the Lone Star State from the NYC area to self-quarantine for no fewer than 14 days or the duration of their stay—whichever comes first. The message couldn’t be clearer.
But Abbott did not limit this order only to the metro area, which is indicative of the policy’s likely fatal flaws. Travelers arriving in Texas from neighboring Louisiana—specifically, New Orleans—are also required to shelter in place for the maximum observed length of this unique Coronavirus’s incubation period. The situation in the Big Easy is growing more dire by the day. The story is much the same in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami, Detroit, Washington D.C., and the greater Los Angeles area.
The impulse to affix a scarlet letter to New York City-area residents is understandable; it’s the same instinct to which the city’s elected leaders deferred when the COVID-19 threat was purely academic. No one wants to suffocate their local economies, even for the sake of public health. The Northeast, West Coast, and Mid-Atlantic states were forced to make that terrible choice only when all other options had been exhausted. But in procrastinating, the states that now operate under the assumption that they can avoid New York’s fate are inviting something worse and more prolonged.
In theory, if everyone in America stood still for two to three weeks, the spread of this virus would be all but arrested. That will forever remain a theory. But the staggered, piecemeal implementation of ordnances that temporarily close non-essential businesses and guidelines that require all citizens to self-isolate will only ensure that this crisis rolls along for an indefinite period. Branding New York City-area residents as a unique threat to the nation is a faulty panacea and a source of false comfort.
It is a historic tragedy that a pandemic of this scale is upon us, but it is upon us. The sooner the nation, as a whole, commits to measures that prevent communities from transmitting the disease—a phenomenon that the CDC has observed in almost every state—the sooner it can be behind us.