As the country struggles to vanquish coronavirus, Americans are witnessing a bizarre phenomenon in which some authorities tolerate and even praise highly politicized mass gatherings while at the same time suppress small activities — like taking children to a playground — that are important to quality of life.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that when it comes to public gatherings, the “highest risk” for coronavirus transmission occurs during “large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area.”
In New York on Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a new directive that slightly — very slightly — reduced restrictions on gatherings. “Gatherings of up to 25 people will be allowed in Phase Three of reopening, up from the limit of 10,” the governor’s office announced.
But on Sunday, the day before Cuomo’s announcement, thousands of people packed into a plaza by the Brooklyn Museum for something called “Brooklyn Liberation ... an action for black trans lives.” Social distancing was not observed. And while many were wearing masks, the state’s policy does not have a mask exception to its guidelines against mass gatherings.
According to the latest statistics, Brooklyn has 59,832 cases of coronavirus, more than 39 states. It has had 6,936 deaths, more than 47 states.
There was no police effort to disperse the crowd.
Here’s what seemed particularly crazy. Not long after the massive “Brooklyn Liberation” event, not too far away in Williamsburg, city workers welded shut a playground to keep children from playing.
“City playgrounds have been closed by state order since April 1,” The New York Post reported, “when Gov. Cuomo took the option out of the hands of Mayor Bill de Blasio as the pandemic ran rampant through New York. At the time, the governor’s office said they took the step to prevent the gathering crowds where the virus, which has killed over 100,000 people in the U.S. over the past few months, could spread.”
Residents saw it another way. “How long can we keep our kids in prison?” asked one mother, according to the Post.
It’s understandable that people in New York City would be stir-crazy and anxious to resume normal life. Of course they are. But public officials are still trying to discourage that desire to open up. When a local news site published a photo of crowds drinking and socializing Friday night on St. Mark’s Place in Manhattan’s East Village, Cuomo censoriously tweeted, “Don’t make me come down there ...”
Perhaps if they had been carrying protest signs.
Meanwhile, there were unmistakable signs that the city’s much-touted contact tracing program has already become politicized. Experts hail contact tracing as a key weapon against further spread of coronavirus. But the New York news organization The City reported that “The hundreds of contact tracing workers hired by the city under de Blasio’s new ‘test and trace’ campaign have been instructed not to ask anyone who’s tested positive for COVID-19 whether they recently attended a demonstration.”
“No person will be asked if they attended a protest,” a spokesman for de Blasio told The City. So if one has been at a playground where a person who tested positive for the virus has been, the city wants to know about it. But if one has been at “Brooklyn Liberation,” and there was someone among the thousands who tested positive, city officials do not want to hear it.
Is it any wonder that many have no faith at all in the wisdom, fairness and effectiveness of the authorities’ efforts to control coronavirus?
There has been so much coronavirus-related criticism of gatherings around the country — on Florida beaches, on California beaches, at the Lake of the Ozarks — while there has been relatively less concern over other mass gatherings, like protests for social causes. What sense does that make?
Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.