On Sunday, Mayor Bill de Blasio resisted calls to shut down parks and playgrounds around New York City despite evidence that New Yorkers were filling them over a beautiful spring weekend. At that time, he added a restriction saying people couldn't play team sports, but left the question of the park clustering open, noting that he would revisit the topic of shutting down playgrounds in the coming week.
At a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, de Blasio reiterated that idea, saying that the city would wait until Saturday before deciding whether to shut down playgrounds (he did not say anything about shutting down parks). "If that is not working out, if people are not abiding by the rules, if they're not listening to the warnings, we may get to the point in just days where we have to close the playgrounds for the duration of this crisis," he said. "It's not something I want to do, but it's something I'm ready to do."
He said that the NYPD have been and will continue to be out in parks correcting and educating people on the importance of social distancing. But he sounded optimistic that so far, most people were following the new rules: "I spoke several times to Police Commissioner Dermot Shea—he's been out checking, I've been out checking, he has patrols out all over the city getting constant feedback. What we're seeing in many, many places is that people are truly abiding by these rules. A lot of our parks and playgrounds actually have had very limited activity today."
It's unclear which parks de Blasio has been checking out, but it doesn't appear to be the park that's directly outside of his front door. If he needed any more evidence that people aren't heeding the warnings about keeping six feet away from each other, all he needed to do is walk over to Carl Schurz Park near Gracie Mansion on Tuesday, which was filled with people.
"The promenade was more crowded than any other park I've been to these last few days: Central Park, Washington Square Park, McCarren Park, Domino Park. More crowded than any street I've been to," said photographer Scott Lynch. "Even taking into account couples and families, who naturally are going to bunch together, the six-feet rule was flaunted left and right."
We showed these photos to Stephen Morse, Professor of Epidemiology at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, who told us: "They’re clearly not practicing social distancing. Looks like a normal spring day in Carl Schurz Park." Social distancing means staying at least 6 feet apart, which Morse notes may be "hard to do in New York City, and it seems so antisocial, but our lives may depend on it at some point. Unfortunately, sunshine isn’t enough to kill the virus, especially when it only has to travel a short distance."
Six feet is the recommended distance because, as Morse told us, "we think most infections are spread by the respiratory route, hence the recommendation for social distancing in case someone is sneezing or coughing, to get out of inhalation range of infected droplets."
A healthcare worker who lives near the park, and asked that he remain anonymous, told Gothamist that he saw tons of people strolling around the park today.
"I do not think people truly understand how our hospitals are overwhelmed—people will die," he said. "This isn't to single out anyone, as I'm sure many are trying to stay six feet apart. This is to point out it will be difficult to go on a solitary run or walk the dog and keep the appropriate distance, especially if there are elderly people out."
Upon seeing the photos on Tuesday, Olivia Lapeyrolerie from the Mayor's Office told Gothamist, “We want New Yorkers to get fresh air and exercise while simultaneously practicing social distancing. The NYPD will visit this park tomorrow to remind New Yorkers of the new rules. The City will continue to monitor this situation closely and consider expanded restrictions as necessary."
They'll also need to monitor the iconic basketball courts at West 4th Street, among many other popular recreation sites:
Vox looked at the psychological reasons why a small segment of the nation keep ignoring self-quarantining guidelines, focusing on people insisting on going on spring break trips, hanging out at WeWork spaces, and certain politicians who have downplayed the risks or criticized the rules as an infringement on people’s freedom, not to mention a disaster for the economy.
"No one alive today has experience with a pandemic of this severity, catching even the most experienced researchers off-guard, not to mention the average person sorting through their Facebook feed. Conflicting government messaging has only exacerbated the widespread confusion," Vox writes. "And the prevailing public health advice around coronavirus counters the long-held wisdom that we must 'carry on' in a crisis."
Over the weekend, Cuomo repeatedly emphasized that New Yorkers had been lax about keeping their distance from one another outside, pointing to overcrowding and clustering at NYC parks, playgrounds and courts. Cuomo became increasingly frustrated at the sight of New Yorkers generally behaving as if the city was not in the grips of a deadly pandemic as the weekend went on: "There is a density level in New York City that is wholly inappropriate."
At Tuesday's press conference, de Blasio also announced a new open streets pilot program, with two streets per borough initially part of it. Not a lot of details were made available, but he said he hoped to have the program up-and-running by Thursday. At Wednesday mornings press conference, Cuomo confirmed he approved of this plan for now, noting it would allow for people to "go out for a walk in a less dense area." He added, however, that if there was still crowding he would shut down areas like playgrounds.
The fact remains that not all New Yorkers are taking this seriously, as these photos show. And it's possible that creating more open space will encourage more congregating.
On The Daily this week, Donald G. McNeil, Jr. (the NY Times science and health reporter specializing in plagues) said, "We need people to freeze in place... And we have to do things like tell landlords that they can’t collect their rents, tell banks that they can’t collect their mortgages. The idea is to keep the country alive until the virus slows down. It may be impossible, but if you want to try to use any sort of social distancing tactic, it has to be much more intense than it is now, because we’re not slowing the virus. It’s still spreading wildly. If we don’t implement these measures, we will have a Wuhan in New York, and a Wuhan in Seattle, and a Wuhan in South Florida, and a Wuhan in Wheeling West, Virginia, and a Wuhan in Helena, Montana, and so on.”
When asked, “But is it possible for other cities in the U.S. — smaller cities, maybe even mid-sized cities, not New York, not Seattle, maybe not Los Angeles — to do these things and spare themselves?" McNeil replied, "Yes. And it will take those Bruegelesque visions of New York to convince them that this is what’s headed their way.”
Cuomo also confirmed what McNeil has been saying this week: "We haven’t flattened the curve, and the curve is actually increasing."