As the old country bluesman Furry Lewis would have put it, “We’ve been down so long that it looks like up to us.”
Given where our city, state, nation and world are now, 2021 simply has to be a better year than 2020. Right?
Of course it will be. First and most importantly, we are turning the tide in the fight against the coronavirus. The rate of new infections nationwide is ebbing, though another spike due to holiday gatherings could come soon. Even if it does, however, the vaccines are rolling off the pharmaceutical assembly lines. Barring some unforeseen catastrophe, like the virus mutating into a new, deadlier form that resists the vaccines, it should be on its way to defeat in just a few months.
The speed of vaccinations has been disappointing and whatever’s holding them up has to be fixed immediately. So far, 2.67 million doses have been administered in the United States, according to Bloomberg’s tracker. The goal was 20 million by the end of December. Worldwide, more than 5.6 million shots have been given. So improvement is definitely needed, but there’s every reason to believe that will happen. The companies that created the vaccines have delivered nearly 10 million doses in the U.S., so what’s holding them up? We need about 3.5 million a week to get to herd immunity, basically the end of the line for Covid-19, by summer.
Meanwhile the economic catastrophe caused by the virus continues, but valuable help from Washington is coming. People will be getting their $600, and while that won’t even come close to paying a month’s rent for most people, it’s still helpful. The chance it will be turned into $2,000 is very remote but not impossible. Enhanced unemployment benefits also are back, and there should be no gap in New York.
There’s also more hope that fewer people will have to lose their jobs in the first place. The same bill that’s providing the direct payments and bigger unemployment benefits also renewed the Paycheck Protection Program. And as the old ads promise, it’s new and improved, to better serve truly small businesses. The maximum loan has been lowered from $10 million to $2 million. Only firms with 300 or fewer employees are eligible; that’s down from the original 500. Some that do qualify will be able to borrow more than before. A special formula for restaurants and others in the hospitality sector will give those businesses a chance for even more funds. All of this is vital to keep people employed.
Also crucial to Queens is the $15 billion the measure sets aside for artistic and cultural institutions. That’s everything from the Queens Theatre to the QED cafe in Astoria, the Onderdonk House in Ridgewood and the Voelker Orth Museum in Flushing. We’ve already lost venues including The Secret Theatre and The Creek and the Cave. We need to hold onto what we have left.
We face many other problems that need addressing in the new year. Violent crime is up, and we need policies that prioritize putting a stop to it rather than making life easier for the alleged perpetrators. We’ll be electing a new mayor and need the candidates to focus on the nuts and bolts of running the city rather then pie-in-the-sky visions. There’s a severe blood shortage and we urge all who can to give the gift of life, including Covid survivors.
The list of needs goes on. The virus crisis is far from over. But things sure are looking up for 2021, both because we’ve been down so long and because they genuinely are.