Editorial: No time to relax with COVID-19

The Island Now

Monday’s headlines did a good job of capturing where we are with COVID-19: U.S. vaccinations begin as death toll tops 300,000.

Which is to say we are at the beginning of the end of the pandemic at a time when it is at its deadliest and our following of the safety protocols is most needed.

First the good news with a very local feel. A critical care nurse who lives in Port Washington received the country’s first COVID-19 vaccine at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park.

“I’ve seen too much death, too much pain, too much suffering … fear in the eyes of my employees every day,” said Sandra Lindsay, explaining her decision to be among the first to take the newly approved coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNtech.

“I trust the science,” added Lindsay, an immigrant from Jamaica. “I had no hesitation.”

The development of the vaccine by Pfizer and those developed by other pharmaceutical companies around the world a year after COVID-19 began its march across the globe is a remarkable scientific achievement.

We now face an enormous logistical challenge of getting 75 to 85 percent of the population vaccinated to create the so-called herd immunity that would allow us to return to some kind of “normal” at a time when half the population is skeptical about taking the vaccine.

The incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden will hopefully succeed in overcoming the distrust created by his predecessor and his constant stream of disinformation about the coronavirus.

Doctors and other scientists predict vaccinations for the general public may not begin until March or April and the needed critical mass may not be reached until late summer or early fall.

Until then, we must not become complacent. In fact, we need to be even more vigilant as we now head into the bleakest moment of the pandemic in the United States.

The country is now averaging more than 2,400 deaths a day. More than twice as many deaths are being announced each day compared with just a month ago, and the number of infections has passed 16 million nationwide since the start of the pandemic.

New York state surpassed 100 daily deaths from COVID-19 Monday, including 14 in Suffolk County — the most of any county in the state.

The 128 deaths, reported by officials Tuesday, marked the first time in months the state has registered more than 100 deaths in a single day. During the summer, the daily total was in the single digits.

“Everything we have done from the start of this pandemic has been based on the facts, and the facts are that COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all on the rise all across the country,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a statement Tuesday. “We are on an unsustainable trajectory and if we don’t act now, hospitals could become overwhelmed come January.”

Long Island surpassed 2,000 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the test results from Monday, with 1,171 in Suffolk and 908 in Nassau for a total of 2,079.

Some 3,500 more New Yorkers will die from COVID-19 in the next few months while another 11,000 will end up hospitalized, Cuomo said.

Cuomo has warned that the state could be headed for another spring-style shutdown of all nonessential services if New York’s coronavirus metrics do not improve over the next few weeks.

New Yorkers are all too aware of what a spring-style shutdown means: economic devastation. Shuttered stores and restaurants, many for good, lost jobs and lost income.

Unlike the COVID-19 outbreaks during the spring peak of the pandemic, 74 percent of current infections are traced back to small domestic social gatherings – so-called “living room spread.”

One answer is that we sacrifice our travel plans and family gatherings for this year to help ensure that all our friends and family will be with us next year.

We should also all accept Biden’s call for wearing masks for 100 days.

But even these plans may fall short.

If they do and a shutdown is needed, government must compensate businesses and employees for money lost by demands to shut down.

This is not a matter of stimulus relief as the legislation is called. It is really disaster relief. COVID-19 is a slow-moving natural disaster that has continued to exact a toll on Americans for months.

And those affected should be treated as disaster victims.

Congress appears ready to make a deal on a new coronavirus relief package that would at least roughly follow a $908 billion plan developed by the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan House group in which Congressman Tom Suozzi serves as vice chair.

it seems inconceivable that Congress would not offer additional relief to businesses, the unemployed, health care systems distributing the vaccine, and state and local governments by the end of this week.

But we would have said the same thing last week, the week before that and the week before that for the last six months when the House approved a $3 trillion package.

We were critical of Suozzi during the campaign for pressing at the time a plan that fell far short of what the House Democratic leadership was seeking.

Now we, along with most Democrats, have come around to the idea of getting something at this point when it is so desperately needed by so many. And then going back to the bargaining table after Biden takes office and addressing what was missed the first time around.

A bipartisan group of senators introduced a $908 billion bill, split into two pieces, that is only intended to cover the first quarter of 2021.

One would be a $748 billion piece of coronavirus relief that would include items like schools and hospitals. The other $160 billion would be money for local and state governments sought by Democrats and an unnecessary liability shield for corporations from COVID-related lawsuits sought by Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin explained the need.

“We’ve got people without nutrition, we have people without shelter, we have people without paychecks, they’re unemployed, we have hospitals that are being overburdened, we have health care workers, we have schools that need to be attended to – this covers all that,” Manchin said.

If Congress does not come up with the money needed, then New York will have to find a way to deal with the financial and human carnage.

In the meantime, we must all do our part to minimize the spread of the virus.

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The Island Now

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