I saw the look on the Uber driver’s face as he dutifully started putting on his mask. “You don’t have to do that for me, buddy,” I let him know. “Thank God,” he smiled, and we were off. Sitting on the parking lot we New Yorkers ironically call the Brooklyn Queens Expressway I thought back to a hungover morning in the winter of 2020, when an email popped up amid my coffee and cigarette. It was from Lyft: there was a picture of me in it, maskless, and a stern warning not to do it...
I saw the look on the Uber driver’s face as he dutifully started putting on his mask. “You don’t have to do that for me, buddy,” I let him know. “Thank God,” he smiled, and we were off. Sitting on the parking lot we New Yorkers ironically call the Brooklyn Queens Expressway I thought back to a hungover morning in the winter of 2020, when an email popped up amid my coffee and cigarette. It was from Lyft: there was a picture of me in it, maskless, and a stern warning not to do it again.
What a difference two years makes. Today in Gotham, for all intents and purposes, Covid is over.
To any sane person, this sounds like good news, but not to the New York Times: the Gray Lady is worried. In a fun little slice-of-life article, the paper of record shuffles interviews with New Yorkers who are over it with hand-wringing public health officials who bemoan our lack of vigilance. A year ago, a cavalcade of Covid Karens would be screaming through their paper masks at the 15 percent positivity rate current in the city. Today? Not so much.
Sure, some New Yorkers aren’t thrilled that their fellow five-borough denizens are scuffing off their Covid worries. A recent sign in the subway made the rounds on Twitter showing a masked cartoon character giving the finger to non-mask wearers and scolding their “selfish behavior.” It was not in fact an official sign — just another example of the city having too many people with arts degrees — but more importantly, it smacked of desperation. The Covidians know they are losing.
You see it everywhere: the masks are gone, the social distancing signs have abated. The last time I had to don a face cloth was to witness a friend’s wedding at Borough Hall, and it offered an odd sense of déjà vu. For most of us here, masks are now things you find in the jacket pocket of a suit you haven’t worn in a while. Relentless hand-sanitizing is once again the bizarre provenance of germaphobes.
New Yorkers have caught a lot of hell for being too compliant with lockdown rules over the past two years, and maybe some of it is fair — but no state or city in the glorious union fought back against Democratic shutdown policies and won. Places like Georgia and Florida that wisely opened did so because they had Republican leadership, to their credit, but not as a result of public outrage. If we do bear some blame for bowing to the Cuomos and de Blasios, then it’s because what most New Yorkers want is a good slice of pizza and to be left alone. We absolutely do go along to get along.
There are still technically all kinds of Covid restrictions on the books in the Big Apple: vaccine mandates, mask mandates, etc. But you see, when New Yorkers think a law is stupid, we just stop following it and the city stops enforcing it.
Take, for example, double-parking on street cleaning days: all over the city, hundreds of thousands of cars park illegally for a few hours so the street sweeper can get by. It’s entirely illegal: every car is subject to a ticket, but none are ever written, because where are the cars supposed to go? That’s where we are with Covid.
To be sure, there are still issues and problems in New York City regarding the virus. Our flopping disappointment of a mayor, Eric Adams, pledged on the campaign trail that he would not mandate vaccines in schools; now he’s considering it. He ought to stop considering it because we voted for common sense, not for more pandering to public health experts ready to lock us in our homes if anyone in the city sneezes.
The biggest danger now is that New Yorkers will forget just what our despotic leaders did to us for two years. We are good at forgetting: in New York, everything is the future. But we must not forget, especially with Governor Kathy Hochul, otherwise known as Emperor Andrew Cuomo’s little helper, up for election in the fall. Her Republican challenger Lee Zeldin should hammer away at Democrats’ Covid mismanagement like Aaron Judge launching bombs in the Home Run Derby.
But taken all in all, the new laissez-faire attitude towards Covid is as welcome as fall in New York. Not just because of the loosening of restrictions, but because the scorching hot takes and recriminations of the pandemic response have quieted, leaving people to do as they please and mind their own business. Knowing how to mind your own business is very important in New York City — and it is nice to have it back.