It’s almost as if an evil spell cast on a wondrous city in a fairy tale has been lifted and New York City is miraculously coming back to life. The dynamism of Times Square, the pulsating rhythms of Broadway, and the sounds of thousands of feet on city pavements are back. New York has officially opened up after the long horrific battle with Coronavirus which claimed so many lives and caused so many New Yorkers to flee to safer environments.
Now the city is fighting its way back to a normal life. COVID hospitalizations are at 799. Of the 70,635 tests reported yesterday, 463, or 0.66 percent, were positive. The 7-day average percent positivity was 0.51 percent. There were 206 patients in ICU yesterday, down two from the previous day.
An email from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo brings happy news: “New York has two goals: managing COVID and our vaccination progress, and reimagining and rebuilding our state. Per the CDC, New York has done more shots in arms per capita than any big state in the country—68.6 percent of adults have at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. Today I announced that once we hit 70 percent, most of the remaining COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted.”
The NY administration realizes that vaccination is the key to successfully vanquishing COVID 19. It’s been a system of carrots and the stick to reach the vaccine-hesitant. There are all sorts of incentives to get vaccinated from free two-day pass to any New York State Park to actually getting vaccinated in new pop-up vaccination sites in 15 New York state parks. Many states including New York are offering lotteries to induce people to get vaccinated. Some counties are offering free beer while others are offering gift cards. Those getting vaccinated have a chance to win tickets to the Knicks vs Hawks playoff game at Madison Square Garden.
And now one lucky person may even become a millionaire when he gets his vaccination! Governor Cuomo today announced that the 'Vax and Scratch' program - which provides free NYS lottery scratch-off tickets to individuals 18 and over who get vaccinated with a grand prize of $5 million - will extend to an additional 10 state mass vaccination sites.
"A robust vaccination program is a vital cornerstone of New York's efforts to rebuild our economy, and the state is implementing creative strategies to convince residents and families to get vaccinated for COVID-19," Cuomo said. "This potential $5 million grand prize for getting vaccinated is the latest salvo in our campaign to convince New Yorkers to take the shot, and we're extending it to give even more people a chance at a winning ticket."
Indeed, New York may be back but many New Yorkers are still hesitant to take off their masks - after having worn a mask for over a year and a half, many are reluctant to abandon its security. President Biden and CDC have confirmed it’s safe for vaccinated people to take off their masks and interact with others who have been vaccinated too. Vaccine has become plentiful with pharmacies vaccinating everyone. After years of racial inequity, the effort is to create a more just America, and many civic organizations are trying to ensure that the benefits of vaccination get to everybody.
New York is finally emerging from the pandemic; Fully vaccinated people no longer have to wear masks though it is still mandatory on public transportation. Indoor arenas are allowed to operate at 30 percent capacity, with fans needing to wear masks and test negative for coronavirus within 72 hours of the event. Outdoor arenas and performing arts venues can operate at 33 percent capacity. As New York opens up, there are fresh updates at nycgo.com/coronavirus.
In New York City, the subway has returned to 24-hour service, though riders must continue to wear masks. Also as of May 19, New York State has adopted the CDC's new masking guidelines. This means that fully vaccinated individuals are no longer required to wear masks in many settings, though businesses are permitted to require that patrons wear masks in their establishments.
One still sees sad, shuttered stores and ‘store for rent’ signs on many streets but there is a definite optimism about the city. Old and new restaurants are opening up and it’s looking a bit like Europe with so many outdoor cafes which may become permanent for many eateries. A buzz has already started with new restaurants joining the mix, with gatherings and celebratory events taking place.
At a recent briefing, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chef Daniel Boulud announced a $30 million marketing campaign for tourism recovery. In 2021, NYC & Company, the official marketing and Tourism Organization for the city of New York, predicts 36.4 million people will visit New York City, recovering more than 50 percent of the record 66.6 million visitors that came in 2019.
“In the United States, there is now an excellent chance that the retreat is permanent,” wrote David Leonhardt in The New York Times. “Victory over Covid has not yet arrived, but it is growing close. After almost a year and a half of sickness, death, grieving and isolation, the progress is cause for genuine joy.”
Normal life seems almost close enough to touch – but it is still a high wire act where everyone needs to be vaccinated nationwide and globally for the economy to flourish and for travel to become a commonplace activity again.
Indian-Americans, along with their fellow New Yorkers, are enjoying a respite after their city had gone through the worst of the Coronavirus pandemic. Families are meeting, actually holding weddings and celebrations. Indian restaurateurs and caterers are also revelling in the return to business. Once again live shows are being held after a year and a half of Zoom festivities.
Arangetrams, almost a rite of passage for Indian girls, had been put on the back-burner. Now the first of the summer season arangetrams was held at the beautiful Rubin Museum to showcase the performance of Durga, daughter of longtime noted New Yorkers Sree and Roopa Sreenivasan. The evening of scintillating dance was live for those who were vaccinated – while those who were unable to attend or were not vaccinated could still catch it on Zoom! This is the reality of our post-COVID world.
Dr Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser for the pandemic, speaking to graduates at the University of North Carolina, said:
“Let me assure you, as a public health person who is devoting every waking hour (and even some of my dreams) to ending this pandemic: That it will end, and we will come out of this stronger than we were before this challenge. I promise you that.”
Indeed, walking down city streets is a joy once again as the bustle of New York is returning – long lines outside a small, newly opened pizza joint, crowds at a newly opened park, happy families sitting mask-less at countless buzzing restaurants. I walk down an Upper East Side street – and find a new Lebanese restaurant has just opened and the indoor and outdoor tables are all full with excited diners – you cannot get a reservation. Maybe tomorrow?
Who knows, New York may bounce back stronger and better than before.
—Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist who blogs at Lassi with Lavina.
Read her columns here.
(Edited by : Pradeep Suresh V)