Does Gotham truly want to rebound from COVID? Or do we prefer a permanently hopeless, helpless future of restrictions that are laughably unnecessary and certain to snuff out a recovery before it can gain traction?
Both possibilities were on view at a Silverstein Properties reception on the 80th floor of Three World Trade Center last week to celebrate downtown reconstruction 20 years after 9/11. Our likely next mayor, Eric Adams, was there, signifying that he means business when he says, “New York will no longer be anti-business.”
But signs in tower elevators told a different story. They read, “Refrain from speaking in elevators.” Apparently, “How was your weekend?” can be a potent viral vector. This, mind you, in the building’s large elevators, where only five people are permitted to ride at a time and then only masked.
Is Larry Silverstein, who built the new Three, Four and Seven World Trade towers and who got One World Trade off the ground, trying to dampen his own tenants’ fitful efforts to bring people back to their offices?
Of course not. But whoever was responsible for posting “no talking” signs, they reflect the doom-and-gloom school of viral risk in the Big Apple, though the danger by any metric is not much.
While the Delta strain continues to wreak havoc in parts of the country, data for the city as a whole reveal that all the barometers of viral effect are plummeting. According to the city’s Department of Health, all the indicators are moving in the right direction and have been for weeks (despite Gov. Kathy Hochul’s recent remark to the contrary about the entire state).
The daily positivity results have fallen to 2.77 percent. The numbers of probable and confirmed new cases and daily hospitalizations and deaths have also been declining for weeks.
None of these numbers is secret. They’re updated every day at 1 p.m. by the city. The positivity rate for the Big Apple is even lower, just 2.15 percent, according to the state, which uses different methodology.
Many of our citizens and businesses seem to grasp this truth, which explains why sidewalks, restaurants and stores are crowded; why apartment-seekers are snapping up the ones left vacant last year; and why parents can’t wait to get their kids back in school.
Yet for our relatively minor outbreak, many firms, government organs and institutions continue to “protect” us as if it’s still April 2020, when vaccines were a distant dream and 801 New Yorkers perished in a single day. (The current daily average of COVID-related deaths is nine, in a city of 8.4 million, virtually all of which occurred among the unvaccinated).
The lunacy is everywhere.
Public toilets at the Ralph Lauren women’s flagship on Madison Avenue closed for COVID and have yet to reopen. Customers who get a bladder-stimulating caffeine fix at the store’s coffee bar must grit their teeth and hold it in. Lauren has yet to learn that viral spread by surface contact is rare enough to disregard.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority makes us wear masks on all its properties — including outdoors — even though viral spread outdoors has been proved to be almost impossible. For the record, I abide by rules and mask up on all trains and stations, even on deserted elevated line platforms 40 feet above the street.
While it needlessly annoys riders about masking, the MTA refuses to require its own employees to be vaccinated, an immeasurably better bulwark against catching or transmitting the virus or getting seriously ill from it.
People without masks eat and drink on top of each other in restaurant dining rooms without spreading much, if any, virus. Yet the Metropolitan Museum of Art not only requires masks in its vast indoor halls, but for its open-air, rooftop garden. Like the MTA, the Met has yet to heed the findings of every credible research organization that found the risk of outdoor transmission nearly nonexistent.
No, we aren’t “out of the woods.” Maybe there will be a worse strain than Delta. Maybe COVID will one day wipe out every creature that lives upon the earth. But if it’s truly that evil, goofy rules like elevator silence won’t stand in its way.