Foss: Time to batten down the hatches over COVID

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Categories: News, Sara Foss

I arrived in Maine in the nick of time.

I traveled there on Halloween to see my parents and sisters. Upon arrival, I dressed my son in a bear costume, and he and his cousins went trick-or-treating, knocking on different doors of my parents’ house and getting candy.

It was a lot of fun, but I felt a pang of sadness when we departed.

My husband and I have decided to forego holiday traveling this year because of the pandemic, and the rapid growth in COVID-19 cases suggests we won’t see my family again until spring, at the earliest.

The day after I returned to the Capital Region, Maine announced that visitors from New York would be expected to quarantine for 14 days or receive a negative COVID test within 72 hours of arrival. According to some reports, the virus is spreading faster in Maine than anywhere else in the U.S.

“It is time to batten down the hatches,” I told my parents, when I zoomed with them on Tuesday. “Be careful.”

In truth, it was probably time to batten down the hatches some time ago.

We are in a bad place in the pandemic, and it’s going to get worse.

Nationally, the numbers are bad, with coronavirus hospitalizations reaching an all-time high this week.

And it’s bad at the state and local level, signaling that the dreaded second wave of the virus has finally arrived, just as epidemiologists said it would.

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In the Capital Region, the number of COVID-19 cases has reached levels not seen since spring. New York is doing more testing now, and catching more mild and asymptomatic cases. But the trend is extremely worrisome, and public health officials are sounding the alarm.

I’ve already started to exercise greater vigilance, while continuing to engage in activities that are relatively low-risk, like going for walks outside.

On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo sent a strong signal that we are entering a new phase of the pandemic, issuing new restrictions on activity. Starting Friday, all restaurants, bars and gyms will have to close at 10 p.m., and private gatherings, both outdoors and indoors, will be limited to 10 people.

These restrictions strike me as too little, too late — a show of responsiveness that’s unlikely to accomplish much of anything.

Shutting down gyms and restaurants when they’re least likely to be crowded — how many gyms in the Capital Region are even open after 10 p.m.? It won’t do much to reduce COVID spread.

Public health officials have said that small gatherings are a major source of new COVID cases, but will people weary of restrictions on social activity abide by Cuomo’s new order? The answer is probably no.

To be clear, I don’t support returning to a full lockdown.

I think we know enough about COVID to curtail higher-risk activities and allow other businesses and organizations to function with some restrictions.

It’s been apparent for some time that indoor dining and drinking seeds COVID outbreaks — just look at how many COVID advisories issued by county health departments identify a bar or restaurant as a source of possible exposure.

Ideally, federal aid would be made available to restaurants and bars, allowing them to close without falling into financial ruin while the third wave of coronavirus rages.

But that type of help seems unlikely to materialize, leaving governors like Cuomo in the impossible position of figuring out how to limit high-risk behavior without destroying bars and restaurants all over the state.

This desire is understandable — but it doesn’t mean a curfew for bars, restaurants and gyms makes much sense. And it could backfire, leading people to crowd these businesses earlier in the day.

Then there’s the restriction on gatherings in private residences, which strikes me as unenforceable, perhaps with good reason. I plan to skip large holiday gatherings this year, and I hope others do, too, but I’m not comfortable with an edict that imposes such heavy-handed restrictions on what people do in their homes.

Ultimately, weathering the second wave of COVID-19 now crashing down upon us will hinge on whether people exercise common sense and restraint in the coming days and weeks.

Can we make the small sacrifices necessary to get the pandemic back under control.

It won’t be easy.

Can we do it?

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

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The Daily Gazette is committed to keeping our community safe and informed and is offering our COVID-19 coverage to you free.

Our subscribers help us bring this information to you. Please consider a subscription at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe to help support these efforts. Already a subscriber? Thank you!

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