Many New Yorkers probably don’t remember what they did on February 29, 2020.
It was a Saturday and the last weekend of utter normalcy as we knew it in the state. Bars and restaurants were open and full of people. St. Patrick’s Day parades were planned. Albany was preparing for the first rounds of the NCAA tournament. And for a lot of people this thing called “Coronavirus” or “COVID-19” seemed to live mainly on the opposite coast of the country or in another country as a whole.
The next day, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the first case of COVID-19 in New York. That was a year ago.
In the few weeks after March 1, the normalcy observed on February 29 became an old story as New York quickly became the epicenter of the country’s biggest health crisis in a century. College campus emptied. Schools sent children home. Bars and restaurants went dark. Grocery shelves were searched. At the height of March Madness, there was no longer any sport. Tens of thousands of people were suddenly thrown from work. Our daily vocabulary has been filled with brand new phrases that are iconic today, such as “social distancing” and “flattening the curve”. And the number of cases and the death toll began to rise. By the end of that month, it had exceeded 1,000 lives. More than 1.6 million New Yorkers are now infected and the death toll is over 38,000.
Unlike local or regional traumatic events with which we are more familiar – like mass shootings or hurricanes – this was something that affected everyone everywhere in some way that has not been seen since the homeland was rationed during World War II . In fact, every New York county had cases of the virus within a month of the state’s first reported case, with the brunt of the virus in New York City and the immediate Downstate area.
New York peaked in mid-April. Between 700 and 800 people died every day for almost a week. A few days later, Governor Cuomo initiated the mandatory mask ordinance in public places, which will no doubt remain in place for the foreseeable future.
A month later, on May 15, after weeks of protests demanding a full reopening of the state economy, the state began the first phase of the return to workforce, a slow bi-weekly process that lasted with a few exceptions until the end of June.
Throughout the summer, COVID-19 cases and deaths remained extremely low while other parts of the country saw the worst outbreaks of the pandemic. With that in mind, New York has been able to look the most normal since the pandemic began.
A second spike in late fall, triggered mostly by holiday gatherings, put some restrictions on it. The winter flood resulted in new daily caseloads, higher than at any point in spring. The most commonly reported new cases in a single day were actually January 14th, although the daily death toll was nowhere near as high as during the spring peak.
The winter surge also came with the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines, which have since been circulating across the state and country. About 14 percent of New Yorkers got their first dose and about 8 percent got both.
As the virus enters its sophomore year, it remains the state’s priority to vaccinate the public, followed by the task of fully bringing personal instruction back into schools and achieving an economic recovery that the virus will most likely outlast itself . The current unemployment rate remains above 8 percent and the state still faces a significant financial hole unearthed by the pandemic. The budget talks over the coming weeks, as well as Washington’s federal support, will help determine the state’s financial health for the months and years to come.
The state now also has some sort of political crisis in its hands as scrutiny by members of the legislature and the federal government over how the state is handling the coronavirus in nursing homes is likely to continue. Talks on limiting Governor Cuomo’s powers of emergency have already been held, but nothing concrete has changed in Albany at this point.
Nobody knew how long this would take when it started, and nobody can be sure how long it will be now. Some projections about the pandemic have been on the good and bad of being wrong. A model projection released by the Bill Gates Foundation in early April estimated that 16,000 New Yorkers could lose their lives before this is all over. The death toll is more than double that and is far from over. On the positive side, hospitals across the state were not congested, which was a big problem to begin with as hospital stays increased.
New York is going to have many challenges in its sophomore year from COVID-19 and on the other side of the virus at this time.