Good morning. It’s Thursday. We look at two years of the corona pandemic. We’ll also be looking at a new kind of ice rink coming to Rockefeller Center.
In March 2020, it was clear it was coming. But it could be managed. minimized. Couldn’t it?
New York soon learned—painfully, sadly—that the answer was no.
But in February and early March 2020, a city that didn’t know where it stood was optimistic it would fare better than hard-hit European countries like Italy, which lacked New York’s well-organized hospital system. Despite New York’s post-9/11 culture of emergency preparedness, preparations were minimal.
And then cases skyrocketed, emergency rooms were overloaded, ventilators were scarce and trucks were parked outside the ER’s office. There was the lockdown — and the morass of new rules for gatherings, restaurants, and gyms. On faces.
Infectious disease experts such as Dr. Celine Gounder had heard about Covid-19 months earlier, after the end-of-year break as 2019 gave way to 2020. She had told residents she was guiding at Bellevue Hospital in January to be wary.
“I’m saying we need to be on top of this because this is going to come here,” Dr. Gounder, now a senior fellow and general public health editor at the Kaiser Family Foundation and Kaiser Health News, joined me this week. “They look at me like I’m crazy. It’s something from the movie that will never happen here.”
[What New York Got Wrong About the Pandemic, and What It Got Right]
Officials have been slow to understand the magnitude of the coming crisis. Bill de Blasio, then-mayor, sent an email late on March 11 to four top assistants titled “case studies needed ASAP.” He told them to assign the city administration and budget office or the mayor’s operations center — not the health department — to “make me a quick initial analysis” of which three countries that appeared to be controlling the virus “have done well.” – Germany, South Korea and Singapore.
“Have to learn what works really, really fast,” said de Blasio. “We’re flying too blind.”
That email was a turning point for De Blasio, who had been slow to understand how quickly the virus was spreading. He sent the email on March 11, 2020 just after 10 p.m., the day the St. Patrick’s Day Parade was postponed and the NBA season was suspended. It was also the day the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic.
“It seemed like the world turned upside down in just a few hours,” de Blasio said the next morning. Just 12 days earlier, he had said the virus could be “anywhere” but people could continue their normal routines. Andrew M. Cuomo, the then governor, had said the new virus would be “spread in the community”, but added there was “no cause for concern”.
The city’s first death from the coronavirus was reported on March 14. “Very painful moment,” said De Blasio, although he added that it was “a moment we all knew was coming”. The victim was an 82-year-old patient at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn who had emphysema, an underlying condition that officials say contributed to her death.
Now New York is having a hard time moving forward. Bosses call the rank and file back to their booths. Restaurants are open for dining in – restaurants that haven’t gone out of business anyway. A new mayor has lifted most pandemic requirements, including the mask mandate. Gunder said she was concerned that the objectives were not clear enough — and that they were mainly economic.
Her prediction, based on statistics such as the number of cases in Asia and Europe, is disturbing. “I think we’re at the beginning of a new wave here too,” she said.
“The good news is that New York is relatively well vaccinated,” she said, “especially compared to the rest of the country.”
Expect rain and some patchy fog during the day and night, with steady temperatures in the 50s.
parking on the other side
Suspended today (Purim).
Rikers’ troubles continue, a watchdog says
The Rikers Island prison complex remains “unstable and unsafe,” said a federal monitor overseeing reforms there.
The monitor, Steve J. Martin, said the condition was fueled by chronic absenteeism. About one in three guards did not show up for work at the end of January, about the same as last year at the height of the Rikers crisis, when violence escalated and more than a dozen people were killed.
Martin’s assessment, in a report filed in federal court, was the first since Mayor Eric Adams took office and the first under Adams’ corrections commissioner, Louis Molina. Martin said the corrections department “remained trapped in a state of persistent dysfunction”. Molina did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the monitor’s findings.
The latest New York news
A kind of skating ends. There’s one more coming.
It’s almost time to put those skates away. And then? As our writer Jane Margolies put it, get ready to roller-skate at Rockefeller Center. Next month there will be a roller skating rink about half the size of the ice rink.
Rockefeller Center owner Tishman Speyer is working to transform the venerable Art Deco complex into a vibrant place, trendy enough to attract locals as well as tourists and office workers (when they eventually return). Tishman Speyer has signed a deal with Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace, which was founded by the daughter of the man who opened the original Flipper’s roller track in Los Angeles in 1979. That was the year the movie “Roller Boogie” came out – “the dopiest movie of the year,” according to our critic Janet Maslin.
Tishman Speyer has also brought in new retailers and restaurants, including the US outpost of British record store chain Rough Trade. It moved there last year with its inventory of 10,000 vinyl records after eight years in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Stephen Godfroy, one of the owners of Rough Trade, acknowledged at the time that Rough Trade and Rockefeller Center were not “obvious bedfellows.” But a call for Rough Trade was the prospect of hosting events at the Rainbow Room, at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
Liberty Ross, who started Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace and is its creative director, said programming at the Rockefeller Center rink would range from “meditative” skate sessions in the early mornings to disco nights.
“Most people skate for that sense of freedom,” she said. “I have a feeling it will be an injection of joy, community and unity, which is sorely needed right now.”
I walked slowly down the street, unable to take a full breath. There is a sharpness in my chest, my feet are too heavy to lift.
And then a sound, a gentle brushing, like a drummer keeping time. Two women are sweeping leaves. The strokes are close together, but not together, a rhythm upon rhythm.
There is more noise around the corner. Three more women sweep crisp, brown leaves. Somehow they all came out at once this December morning to paint the street with music.
The sound of many brooms, each with many straws, each straw sings a pitch that fades into a wash of high throbbing tones.
The women look down on their own doorsteps, play their own part, and here I am to enjoy the chorus of the blows.
Five different rhythms, more intricate than most songs, taking place simply because the leaves fall to the ground, simply because somehow it’s still autumn even though it’s December.
Autumn is the season he left. Is it possible that this fall will never end – that I will forever look at trees that are part bare, part colored in leaves, as if we’re all waiting to change but can’t quite let go?
— Mare Berger
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here†
Glad we could get together here. I see you tomorrow. — JB
PS Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and game match† Here you will find all our puzzles†
Melissa Guerrero, Reagan Lopez, Joseph Goldstein, Jeff Boda and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at: nytoday.†
Sign up here to receive this newsletter in your inbox.