Weekend weather offers a glimpse of the ‘new normal’

Williamsburg Bridge in spring
Williamsburg Bridge in spring
Ingus Kruklitis/Shutterstock
New Yorkers aren't letting the coronavirus keep them from enjoying the spring weather.

Weekend weather offers a glimpse of the ‘new normal’

New Yorkers’ response to sunny weather could indicate how they will adhere to social distancing measures as time passes.
May 3, 2020

New Yorkers are defining the “new normal” as we speak – one picnic, fishing trip and stoop hangout at a time. 

Face coverings have become a common sight in public. Neighbors chat yards apart. A day sunbathing at a city park has become normal again – so long as you and your roommates stay more than six feet away from others. 

While the NYPD issued dozens of summonses Saturday, the city and state are leaning on New Yorkers to largely police themselves. “The ideal is to stay indoors,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sunday when asked about enforcement of social distancing. “However, you can’t stay indoors forever and the weather is nice and getting outside, getting some exercise, getting fresh air is good.”

You could say that the city as a whole is in the middle of a vast experiment in figuring out how to balance police enforcement with public awareness of the ongoing dangers of a pandemic that continues to kill more than 200 New Yorkers each day.

The statewide stay-at-home order officially remains in effect until mid-May, but New Yorkers are already defining the new normal that will accompany the gradual reopening of the economy – even as the risk of a second wave of infections looms.

While many people across the five boroughs have largely adhered to social distancing restrictions by donning face coverings and keeping some space away from their neighbors, many demonstrated that they were done with upholding the strictest rules of social distancing after spending the past six weeks cooped up at home. 

At parks, esplanades and sidewalks across the city, New Yorkers were making their own choices this weekend about what social distancing requirements meant in practice. Face coverings were conspicuously absent at a crowded park in the West Village on Saturday. A soccer game in Bensonhurst Park in Brooklyn had full teams on both sides. 

“There’s always going to be some people who don’t get the message or are thinking about themselves and not other people,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Sunday. “But the vast majority of New Yorkers have really risen to the challenge powerfully.”

While polling suggests public support for social restrictions is overwhelming, enforcement has aroused public backlash in ways both big and small. “It’s Orwellian to be watched like this,” one Staten Island park-goer told the New York Post of NYPD enforcement efforts. “It’s friggin’ nuts.”

Some scientific research suggests that the coronavirus does not spread as easily outside, though no definitive conclusions have been reached. There are reasons to believe that a day in the park does not jeopardize public health as long as the vast majority of people wear face masks, maintain their distance and keep their hands clean. 

“The question I’m sure you will ask yourself is, ‘What can I do to make sure we don’t have that boomerang?’” de Blasio said Sunday of the danger of a resurgence of the pandemic. “The answer is that we need to stick with what’s working, we need to understand that the restrictions in place are working, and that they only get relaxed, carefully and slowly.”

Zach Williams
is a staff reporter at City & State.
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