The city started to cautiously reopen on Monday, as we tiptoed into Phase 1 with curbside retail, and a few hundred thousand returning to work across industries like construction and manufacturing. At least, that was the plan. But by mid-week, it became apparent that restaurants and bars were jumping straight into Phase 2, with sidewalk dining and plenty of quarantine-fatigued New Yorkers to serve.
By Wednesday, Williamsburg — where one young man told us, “The People. Are. THIRSTY!” — looked like this:
And by Friday night, the East Village fully transformed into Bourbon Street, with hundreds crowding the area, drinks in hand, and not a mask or bathroom in sight:
Hell’s Kitchen and the West Village saw full-on Phase 2 operations on Friday, and in parts were giving off strong Spring Break vibes. Photographer Scott Lynch asked revelers in those neighborhoods: “Are you worried about getting Covid, being out here with all these people, most without masks?”
Maria, who has lived in Hell’s Kitchen for 30 years, put on her epidemiologist hat and declared, “As long as we’re outside and everyone keeps their distance, it’s fine.”
According to real health experts, however, that is not necessarily true. Epidemiologist Stephen Morse, of Columbia University, recently told Gothamist, “Until we know more, I think it’s best to err on the side of caution” when considering open-air socializing. He added: “We can’t say with certainty about any individual, who just might be one of the unlucky ones.”
Will Boris from New Jersey be one of the unlucky ones? When we asked if he was concerned, he declared: “I’m not worried! I’m drunk!”
Meanwhile, Jamie from Astoria is just over this whole pandemic thing, and said, “For three months I followed every rule, did everything they said, but now I’m just like, I’m done.” Unfortunately, being tired of staying at home doesn’t make a pandemic go away.
To all the contact tracers out there, in the same general vicinity as Jamie we met Arein, from the Bronx, who said: “I work in a hospital and all day they’re bringing in patients with it so why should I be worried sitting outside having a drink?”
Did you read that study about how the virus can hang in the air for 3 hours? Or the article about the young woman in her 20s who had no serious underlying health issues, got COVID-19, had her lungs ravaged, and recently underwent a double-lung transplant? Or what about this thread from a bartender who recently went back to work, and described it as “creating this illusion of normalcy for you in order to pay my bills…”
So, the bar I work at opened back up last night, and I gotta say, y’all:
Just fucking don’t go to restaurants right now. Just don’t do it.
— ⭐ Griffin Candey ⭐ (@griffincandey) June 12, 2020
The desire to get out there after all of this time is human nature. But in addition to cabin fever, many New Yorkers also want to support the city’s bars and restaurants, which have taken a huge hit throughout the pandemic, along with everyone who was employed in the service industry.
The owners of those establishments are also anxious to reopen, which is why Phase 2 includes a plan to expand outdoor seating through the use of parking spaces and open streets. (Dining indoors will return in Phase 3, though with limited capacity.) But Phase 2 isn’t supposed to kick off until the end of June, at the earliest, and unwilling to wait, some businesses are now just winging it.
A restaurant owner on Hudson Street who asked to remain anonymous told us there has not been much in the way of real enforcement, noting that the cops have come by giving mixed messages on a daily basis — sometimes they aren’t allowed to display liquor bottles, sometimes chairs and tables are okay, sometimes neither is allowed, and so on.
Health experts are not yet sure how the recent reopenings and protests across the nation will affect case numbers, and likely won’t for another week or two. (Though some states that reopened too soon are seeing an “alarming rise” in cases already.)
“We were on the brink of doing something incredible,” Yascha Mounk wrote in The Atlantic this week. “And much of the credit for that would have gone to the many ordinary citizens who lived up to their moral responsibility in an extraordinary moment.”
Now, Mounk says, society is failing, and the virus could win because we became complacent.
Additional reporting by Scott Lynch.