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Thinker's Notebook

To Be or Not To Be… Open Again.

Monday July 6th is supposed to be the day that New York City moves into Phase 3 of reopening. In Phase 3, restaurants would be able to resume dine-in seating at 50% capacity. Nail salons, tattoo parlors, massage parlors and spas would also be allowed to resume business, also at 50% capacity. Our city was the hardest hit by Covid-19 in the entire nation, with over 200,000 confirmed cases and over 24,000 deaths. Adherence to the Covid-19 guidelines – sheltering in place, social distancing, wearing masks in public – these things have helped our city drive the daily infection rate down. As of June 30, our daily Covid-19 death rate is as low as it’s been since before quarantine began. So, as a city, we have done the work needed to begin the process of reopening.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo stated that he would make the final decision about Phase 3 on Wednesday July 1st. As this paper goes to print on that day, you are reading this column already equipped with the knowledge of whether or not we will be moving into Phase 3 on Monday. Last Monday, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy stated that he was putting a halt on Phase 3 indefinitely, citing the second wave uptick in many states across the nation.

Three weeks ago, I drove down to West Palm Beach Florida. My eldest daughter, Imani, wanted to take her two children, my grandchildren, to stay at their maternal great-grandparents home for the summer. So, we piled into her truck and drove the whole way down. It was both a much needed getaway from quarantine life and an opportunity for me to see how the rest of the world was dealing with Covid-19. On the way down we made numerous stops. The Chick-Fil-A near the White Marsh Mall in Maryland was only doing take-out. The cashier brought our meal to our car, masked and gloved. In North Carolina, we stopped at a Denny’s so that I could jump on a Zoom conference to moderate a panel. The Denny’s was seating people under the guidelines of social distancing. They literally sat us in a closed off section of the restaurant, at least twenty feet away from the next customer. All of the staff wore masks, all of our eating utensils were plastic and sealed before we used them. In both cases, we were pleasantly surprised by our southern neighbor’s attention to guidelines. Once we got into South Carolina however, things changed drastically. In Florence, I was scared to go into a service station because there were at least fifteen people in the place and not one mask in sight. Those plexiglass partitions that have become part of the new point-of-sale norm were nowhere to be found and the cashiers in the station weren’t wearing masks either. At a KFC in Dillon, Georgia we found the same kind of attitude. People weren’t wearing masks and point of sale areas weren’t protected. They gave us extra food, but we didn’t want it. No one in the entire staff was wearing any masks. They had hairnets on, but no masks. I guess getting a hair in my chicken is taken more seriously than passing on Covid-19.
It was in Florida where we found the most troubling examples of a lack of guidelines. In West Palm Beach, restaurants were open for business, no social distancing rules and not a mask in sight. Not one store mandated its patrons to wear masks. Not one point of sale area was protected. Amid the Trump banners and the Make America Great Again bumper stickers, no one in West Palm Beach seemed to care about protecting themselves against Covid-19. Florida was beautiful. Many of the people though were careless. We stayed in a quiet, private house that we rented. We took every precaution as serious as we do in Brooklyn and we got up out of there as quickly as we could.

It’s really common sense. If we want to keep winning the battle against Covid-19 then we have to keep vigilant with regards to the guidelines. That means that you need to wear your mask whenever you are going to be within ten feet of other people. That means that all point of sale areas should be protected with plexiglass. That means no club hopping or packed festivals until further notice. And, that means no matter what phase you find yourself in as you read this, keep to the practices that have kept you safe thus far. Re-opening doesn’t mean the end of the pandemic.

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