I have to admit, as a New York City mom, it kind of baffles me when people suggest that wearing a mask or social distancing in response to the coronavirus is somehow “overreacting.”
New York City was hit hard by coronavirus, and hundreds of new cases are still being identified every day. But now, with COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations finally on the decline and the city’s positive test rate hovering around 1% (even with high testing numbers overall), my hometown is starting its slow, phased reopening.
Everywhere I go in the city—and I’ve walked a lot—it’s actually rare to see people without masks on. Even now, the majority of people in NYC (with some foolish exceptions) are still wearing masks every time they go outside, every time they go into a store, every time they go to the park.
And I can assure you, wearing a mask doesn’t feel like we’re overreacting. In fact, quite the opposite.
That’s in part because New York City remembers what the “surge” was like. Empty streets. Constant sirens. Lines a block long outside of emptied-out supermarkets. Stretched-to-the-limit health care workers literally begging people to stay home.
One in 391 people in my city died this spring.
In late March, as my city—my tough-as-nails, much-loved, often-tested city—was engaged in its toughest battle, New York’s state governor, Andrew Cuomo, said to other states in one of his daily news briefings, “We are your future.”
It wasn’t the first time a virus epicenter held important predictions for us all. I remember anxiously tracking the outbreak in Italy earlier this year—reading the news then was like watching New York City’s future in a horrible crystal ball.
Now that terrible future has arrived for so many other cities across the country. Nationwide, positive test rates and hospitalizations are all up by significant percentages, and the national case rate is up by a staggering 47% as I write this. Houston’s ICU beds are 97% full.
This is not made up. It’s really happening.
When New York City was at its peak rate of infections and hospitalizations, the city fought back hard—every day, with everything it’s got. But even New York City’s fiercest efforts were not enough to keep infections from skyrocketing to the point where our incredible, hard-working health care system was overwhelmed.
That’s why wearing a mask isn’t overreacting. That’s why social distancing isn’t overreacting. That’s why mostly staying home if you can isn’t overreacting. Because doing these small things literally, actually saves lives when the virus hits your city.
And listen, I’m working from home all day with my husband and my kid while suddenly running the world’s laziest homeschool too—I get that social distancing is not a vacation. I get that we’re all worried about the economy. I get that families across the country are hurting—financially, emotionally—because of the protective measures science is telling us are our best hope of stopping this thing.
But I’m scared for my friends elsewhere who don’t seem to think this is really happening, or who don’t seem to think it can really happen to them, where they live.
I would love nothing more than to enclose you and your kids in a protective bubble and keep you from having to go through anything similar to what happened in New York this spring.
But since I can’t do that, I can do the next best thing—and wear a mask.
[This was originally published March, 2020. It has since been updated.]