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Government Obligation

Tue, 11/24/2020 - 17:33


This has been a sobering month so far for anyone who hoped that New York had seen the last of the coronavirus. Since Nov. 1, the number of new Covid-19 cases has sped upward, beginning, on average, below 200 a day, to more than 500 a day this week. The number of hospitalizations has risen sharply, and more people are dying. What these numbers are telling us is that the virus is everywhere now, even here on eastern Long Island, and that drastic lockdowns are ahead.

Why the numbers matter is this: Though the virus can be managed in a hospital setting, emergency services are creeping toward capacity. At the height of the spring’s pandemic surge, New Yorkers were being sent home to die in some places so that room could be made for patients with a better chance of survival. No family wants that for a loved one. No medical professional does this unless faced with no other choice. Thanksgiving will be a test, both of the public’s willingness to heed the advice on keeping gatherings to immediate family, and afterward, if there is an even sharper spike of new cases.

On the South Fork, unlike in the spring, new diagnoses seem to be popping up everywhere, often in pairs and small groups: two in Montauk, two in Wainscott, three in Southampton Village. Over all, the case numbers remain higher in some places than others. These include Springs, Hampton Bays, and Flanders, all of which have large populations of residents in shared living arrangements. Faced with this, however, public officials have been slow to act; no one, as far as we can tell, has addressed the problem of isolating infected people in group houses. It is as if they are ignoring the low-income labor force, many of whom are members of various immigrant communities and have generally been among the least likely to speak out in defense of their own interests.

There is a disturbing message here that appears to make public health and the economy equal. We reject this ghoulish math. The loss of even one life to the virus is unacceptable. Those least able to cope with the disease, whether from lack of insurance or how they live, should be government’s highest priority. Businesses can be rebuilt, people cannot.

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