In the age of the coronavirus, there often are no easy answers. Everything is a trade-off, especially when it comes to the most pressing questions facing policy makers and the public right now: How much can we reopen society without causing an overwhelming spike in cases and therefore deaths, and how much can we keep it closed despite the massive societal, psychological, financial and other costs?
The big question for Memorial Day weekend was whether to open beaches. Gov. Cuomo decided to do so, with strict limitations starting with keeping them at 50 percent capacity. His rules apply to state beaches, and he is allowing county and municipal governments to open the ones they run if they adhere to the same protocols. Many just outside Queens, such as Nassau County and the City of Long Beach, opted to do so. But Mayor de Blasio did not, insisting that New York City beaches must remain closed, except for very limited purposes, and vowing to fence them off if needed.
We believe Cuomo made the right call and de Blasio the wrong one. If Long Beach, Jones Beach, Robert Moses, Sunken Meadow and countless other shoreline parks on Long Island, not to mention the Jersey Shore, can open up, why can’t Rockaway Beach and Coney Island?
Because, de Blasio said, they would get crowded, and as he told Maria Bartiromo of Fox News, “We’re not going to allow it ... we’re not opening on Memorial Day as we normally do. For folks in the local community who walk on the beach, walk on the boardwalk, they could still do that. But no swimming, no lifeguards, no congregating.” No fun, he may as well have said in that haughty manner of his. As is often the case, it appears his stubbornness is driving him.
All the mayor had to do was ensure the governor’s rules were followed, among them reduced capacity enforced at the entrances, no concession stands, no games such as football and volleyball, social distancing and the wearing of masks by both visitors and employees when keeping far enough apart is not possible. But no, he found it easier to just say no.
One excuse is that the subway to Rockaway would get too crowded. But that could be managed by running more trains and buses. Those could be secured through Gov. Cuomo, who oversees the MTA and, with the exception of the nursing home tragedy, has managed the virus crisis well. It’s too bad de Blasio has such a bad relationship with the governor.
Now we have a situation where Nassau County and Long Beach officials are vowing to keep city residents off their beaches. You can’t blame them; they have limited space. Queens residents will just have to go to Jones Beach, or one of the beaches even farther away if they’re willing and able.
COVID-19 is an absolute horror and has taken far too many lives. It continues to do so and will continue to do so until there’s a vaccine, if there ever is one. And we have taken incredibly drastic measures to slow its spread, to keep it from overwhelming our health system. But in so doing, we also have done incredible damage to our society, the effects of which will be impacting us for years to come. It was one thing to stay indoors for the dreary March and April that we had, but people cannot do that forever. We save lives not just by slowing the contagion but by letting people socialize, to help keep them from breaking down and developing other illnesses. We need a society we can recognize when all this is over. The least we all deserve now is a day at the beach.
It’s the 11th hour, but it’s not too late just yet. De Blasio could still change his mind. He could call Cuomo and coordinate things, could redeploy the police, could send his social distancing counselors where they need to go. He could still relax the tight grip he seems to like having over what people can and cannot do and not be such a killjoy for once.