Coronavirus Update From New York City: December 3, 2020

I was really hoping that I wouldn’t have to resume my weekly updates on the coronavirus ever again. But alas, here I am, resuming my weekly updates on this virus.

While there are still many places in much worse shape than my city and my state, we are trending in a very bad direction. Just a few weeks ago the COVID test positivity rate in my zip code was quite low, but now we are at a positivity rate of 6.5%. Given that we are trending in a direction that could lead to many more hospitalizations and deaths (deaths being a lagging indicator but an indicator that’s also starting to go in the wrong direction in New York State), it seems like a good time to restart my weekly updates.

Another reason I’m restarting my weekly updates is that, even though we’re not quite the center of the COVID universe in terms of cases and deaths right now (though if numbers keep on trending the way that they are, I fear we will be in bad shape before long), we still seem to be at the center of the American universe (or at least a center) when it comes to questions over COVID-related restrictions. Two instances where my city was at the center of questions about COVID restrictions were with the closure of schools citywide and the restrictions on the number of people attending religious gatherings in COVID hotspots.

With regards to the school closures, the public schools had a hybrid of in-person and online learning at the start of the school year, with schools in COVID hotspots (or schools with COVID issues) going fully online until those issues with COVID were resolved. However, with COVID rates spiking in New York City, a decision was made to go fully online for now. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has received significant criticism for this move, which perhaps explains why there’s work towards schools reopening again for hybrid learning in the coming days.[1] We’ll see how that goes.

With regards to the restrictions on the number of people attending religious gatherings in COVID hotspots, what happened was that entities of various kinds, from religious gatherings to non-essential businesses, faced various restrictions if COVID were bad enough (based on the test positivity rate) to warrant placement in an “orange” or “red” zone. In the case of religious gatherings, they were limited to 25 people in orange zones and 10 people in red zones. These restrictions were controversially struck down by the Supreme Court.[2] My thoughts on this are…complicated. Personally, I think that it was rather bizarre to have such arbitrary numbers for the number of people allowed to attend religious gatherings, regardless of the size of the religious building (whether it be a large cathedral like St. Patrick’s or a smaller church like the one I go to every Sunday)–it would have been better in my humble opinion if the capacity limits were determined by percentages (33% of space capacity, 25% of space capacity, etc.) instead of arbitrary numbers that applied to religious spaces of all sizes. That being said, I don’t see eye-to-eye with the argument made by the religious institution I am a part of,[3] and by extension the Supreme Court’s argument, that this is an issue of religious freedom for Catholics[4]–the real infringement on this freedom is if we don’t take the proper precautions, get ourselves and each other sick, and then prevent ourselves and others from feeling up to a vibrant exercise of our religion. In other words, the attack on religious freedom, at least in my own humble opinion, is from the virus itself and those unwilling to take basic precautions against it. I would also add that with the existence of televised and online Masses where you can even receive the most important sacrament (the Eucharist) spiritually,[5] I have a hard time seeing how being forced to watch a Mass virtually for the sake of COVID precautions crosses the line from “not ideal” to an attack on religious liberty. Maybe someone can enlighten me though, as I know I have readers with substantial amount of knowledge on Catholic theology.

Between the news coming down from the Supreme Court (just in time for major religious celebrations) and the number of people travelling during the holidays, I fear that these numbers are about to get much worse. I hope my fears are inaccurate.

I do have hope though for New York City. This hope comes from the fact that we know so much more about this pandemic now than we did in the spring, and that as a result we hopefully will not have hospital and death rates anywhere near as high as what we did back then. I want my hope to turn into reality, but alas, global pandemics do their own thing and do not listen to any hopes I may have.


[1] https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/nov/29/new-york-city-public-schools-to-reopen

[2] https://newyork.cbslocal.com/2020/11/26/scotus-rules-against-ny-religious-gathering-restrictions/

[3] I am a Catholic, and I live in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn. It’s the same diocese that was involved in legal challenges to Governor Cuomo’s restrictions for “red” and “orange” zones.

[4] However, I cannot speak for other denominations of Christianity, let alone other religions.

[5] Catholics have something called Spiritual Communion, where one who desires to physically receive the Eucharist but is unable to because of circumstances can receive the Eucharist spiritually.

12 Replies to “Coronavirus Update From New York City: December 3, 2020”

  1. These must be such hard posts for you to make emotionally Brendan, please take care of yourself. Closing the schools is a good idea, kids just don’t keep distances from each other, though they are least likely to be impacted statistically. churches should face the same restrictions as theatres (or old folks homes where I am due to the average age (70+) of the typical congregation) but a complete 14 day closure of everything would see the numbers drop dramatically and life with minimum restrictions could then go on. Mixed solutions work far less and have to be in place far longer! You don’t need to go to a particular building to worship, the first believers didn’t, and these days most churches can set up online services if they haven’t already. Having known someone fit and healthy who died from it and having seen and heard from some of the nurses dealing with it, seeing people treating it as a hoax or as a common cold just makes me wonder for humanity because it just boils down to how much we will put ourselves out to protect other people.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You raise some fair points Dee.

      While I understand the challenges of online learning, kids just act in ways that they end up being disease vectors (I was talking about this with a friend who’s a teacher a few months ago). The test positivity rate in schools was actually much lower than the city-wide test positivity rate, but it was probably only a matter of time before that changed.

      As for houses of worship, I completely agree with your assessment, but unfortunately for many I think worship is limited to a house of worship. Which I think is a rather limiting God, if you ask me.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Our restrictions here in Massachusetts have changed also, but so far not as much as NYC. The separation of church and state seems a little fluid. I was born and raised a Catholic and raised my kids that way but it seems at times that they do not always adhere to that tenet of separation, only when it works for them. Churches around here were doing televised services and then moved back to in person with restrictions as to size. From what I hear quite a few people were not ready to go back to in person so they go to the televised services available even if it is not their church.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, here in New York there are also varying levels of comfort with going back to worship services. Which is probably not a bad thing because if everyone returned all at once people might have to be turned away from church, which is something that people don’t really want to do or want done.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for returning to these posts. My heart returns to New York so often because of having lived there in younger times when Don was working on Broadway and I was at Union Seminary and staying attached by going three times a year for Don to attend his union meetings as the Boston union steward. All the people we know don’t even want to talk about it. They’ve closed in to their apartments, so it is a blessing to have a view.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome. Honestly, I was hoping things would stay calm enough in New York that I didn’t have to return to these posts, but it was not meant to be. Hopefully things will not get as bad here again as they were in the spring.

      Like

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