New York City is the epicenter of coronavirus infections and deaths in the United States. Mayor Bill de Blasio put in place mandatory shelter-in-place orders, closed businesses, churches, and any place where people gathered. The ban on businesses and churches remains in place until Monday, June 8, and the ban on large gatherings, which has shut down many parades and celebrations, is scheduled to run through June.
Unless, that is, you’re protesting. Then the estimates of how the virus spreads and the inherent dangers of gathering in large crowds don’t apply anymore. Obviously that’s not the case. Instead, officials are weighing social issues and health concerns.
When asked about the difference in approach, Mayor de Blasio said:
“When you see . . . an entire nation, simultaneously grappling with an extraordinary crisis seated in 400 years of American racism, I’m sorry, that is not the same question as the understandably aggrieved store owner or the devout religious person who wants to go back to services.”
But the mayor’s comments miss the point. Either gathering in crowds includes an unacceptable risk of transmitting the disease and thereby leading to more deaths, or it doesn’t.
As many thousands of protesters gather for a common cause, they are providing an unexpected test of reopening the nation at a faster pace than many mayors and governors had anticipated or have allowed. If virus hot spots don’t appear what does it tell us about the effectiveness of the lockdowns?