There are already pockets of disease on Long Island, and fever spikes in the Catskills, and empty stores in Jersey shore towns that have long put up with our summering bullshit. To paraphrase the New York Post, Nantucket thinks NYC can suck it.
And though I am dreaming, hallucinating almost, of what it would be like to have a yard for the dog and the kids while we wait out the pandemic, rural communities just aren’t built for anybody’s dream quarantine. Proactive governments recognized this early on. A friend of mine in Norway, the restaurateur Nud Dudhia, had been staying with his family in their super-hygge mountain cabin. But in mid-March Norway’s government ordered everyone back to their primary residence, so that any potential health-care burden would land where the population actually lived.
In the U.S., unbelievably, whether to leave is still up to you, as is where to go. If you fled for the hills the moment you read about Dr. Li Wenliang’s death in February, then kudos. I’m jealous of your paranoia, and perhaps you didn’t endanger anyone. But if you left this week, or are planning on leaving, you are nakedly prioritizing your comfort and peace of mind over the physical health of others. Don’t start in on Donald Trump, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, or any of those faraway self-dealers unless you start by doing what you can do to be part of the solution. Stay home.
I borrowed some of this moral clarity from an aunt in Madrid. She had watched with horror and fascination as politicians in Italy (about as far ahead of Spain along the coronavirus curve as Spain is of the United States) leaked news about a planned quarantine so that, instead of being contained, the virus scattered around the country on the wings of hundreds of thousands of individual decisions. That was on my aunt’s mind as the cordon started closing in on her city. She and her partner thought about fleeing to the village of Adahuesca, but, as she put it, “there was a chance that we’d just kill all the old people there.” They stayed put.
The restrictions in Madrid make New York’s stay-at-home guidelines look like an invitation to bacchanalia (seriously, why are our playgrounds still open?). In Madrid today, you can’t walk a dog with more than one person. Police have the discretion under Penal Code 556 of fining you if you are smoking or otherwise loitering on the street. Spaniards are lovely people and frequently also insolent scofflaws, so some started taking a couple of cans and a carrot or two from their own pantry and walking them around the city, to pretend they had been out shopping. Now police demand that you show a grocery-store receipt.
If you are nervous about staying in New York, and shopping solo, and surviving, this video that everyone is sharing from the Weill Cornell ICU doc David Price should reassure you that you can do this. Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Smile at your neighbors.