Opinion: Coronavirus is coming back to New York City

The spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York
People drink outside a bar during the reopening phase following the coronavirus outbreak in the East Village.
REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

This coming Tuesday, New York will have a primary election, and on Tuesday night — and most likely, for days afterwards — the New York City Board of Elections will be counting more absentee ballots than it has ever received before.

The weather is nice, life feels like it’s beginning to return to normal (whatever that means), and the city has had fewer than a thousand new cases of coronavirus every day except one for the last twelve days, which means new diagnoses are down more than 90 percent from the peak two months ago.

Make no mistake, though: the coronavirus is coming back.

The number of people infected with coronavirus is growing in the three most populous states in the country: California, Texas, and Florida. Those states, especially Texas and Florida, never took strong enough measures to prevent the spread of the disease, and have relaxed some of the measures they originally implemented. For the first time this week, Houston and Miami had more new cases than the New York City metropolitan area, with much smaller populations. Los Angeles first passed us a couple weeks ago, but they are closer in population to us.

It’s not surprising that there would be a second wave of the pandemic. The second wave of the Spanish Flu pandemic over a century ago occurred six months after the first, and was more deadly. And it’s not just the US; China is implementing new measures as it races to contain a second wave in Beijing.

But no country on earth has handled the disease as badly as the United States. It will be a lasting shame and tragedy for us. Why is it so much worse for us? I can identify five reasons. First, our leadership from the government has been very poor, though other countries and cities have bad leaders, too. Second, we have the shoddiest and most expensive health care system of any rich country. Third, we are a callous and unequal society, content to let slaughterhouse workers and prisoners and bus drivers die at alarming rates because of racism and classism. Fourth, there has been widespread flouting of the guidelines laid down by public health authorities, because so much of our population lives in its own entitled reality. Fifth, American exceptionalism: we believed we were different and better than the other countries and this could not happen to us.

In a few weeks, if not less, our infection rates will begin climbing again as hot spots in the rest of the nation re-transmit the disease back to its largest city. I hate to echo Mayor Bill de Blasio’s advice from three months ago, but it is perhaps applicable for this brief window where the city’s rate is declining: go out a little bit and enjoy yourselves responsibly, for another lockdown is coming.

Nick Rizzo is a Democratic District Leader representing the 50th Assembly District and a political consultant who lives in Greenpoint. Follow him on Twitter @NickRizzo.