Opinion: Crisis, yes… apocalypse, no

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Over the past twenty years, we have had more than our share of calamitous events, each one with worries and dire fears. But it is said neither our greatest hopes nor our worst fears are ever realized. And so it will be with the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2001, the New York City World Trade Center and the Pentagon building were hit with terrorist missiles in the form of passenger airplanes. The World Trade Center towers were utterly destroyed with a loss of life of over 3,000 persons including hundreds of first responders. For those of us in New York City, it seemed like the end of the world. The Stock Market crashed and closed for several days. All of New York City was on lockdown. Nobody knew if there would be more attacks in the days to come. It was terrifying.

But our city showed courage and resilience. We somehow got through those dark days where destruction and fear seemed to permeate everyday life. We persevered. We rebuilt and we restored downtown Manhattan. We came through it arguably even stronger than before.

And who can forget the implosion of our national economy in 2008? Venerable financial institutions went bankrupt. The Stock Market plummeted losing over half of its value. Millions of people lost their jobs. Whole sections of commerce and manufacturing including the automobile industry teetered on the edge of insolvency. America was inches from plunging into a Great Depression that likes of which had not been seen since the 1930s. But even as we faced the abyss of financial ruin a new President instituted measures that staved off financial collapse and slowly began the process of recovery.

And then came Super Storm Sandy in October of 2012. A storm worse than any hurricane ever to hit the Northeast. Large parts of our city including Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village were underwater, virtually drowned. Power was lost for a week, all during an unseasonable cold snap.

Our buildings were blacked out with no heat. The streets in some places were under four feet of water with parked cars totaled. The basements of buildings were severely damaged from the water that rushed into those low lying areas. Subway stations and tunnels were inundated,

Retail stores and supermarkets were closed. It felt like something from science fiction. After the floodwaters receded and power was restored, it was still nearly a year before many buildings were fully repaired from the damage. The cost around the state ran into the billions of dollars. But we survived.

Now comes the novel coronavirus. It is the greatest health crisis to hit the entire American population in a century. The disruption to everyday life is pervasive. Nothing like this has ever happened before.

The biggest problem with this virus, contrasted with the seasonal flu, is that it is much more infectious and virulent. Worst of all there is no vaccine or effective therapy treatment at the moment. Eventually, there will be. But until then, what will the toll on Americans be? The 1918 Spanish flu outbreak killed 675,000 Americans when the population was a third of what it is today. Staggering.

Some health scientists have suggested that tens of millions of Americans could be infected. To contain the spread there has been an unprecedented series of closures where crowds congregate. That includes restaurants, bars, theaters, gyms, sporting events, and places of worship. Education facilities have closed from universities to public schools. We have never seen anything like this, and it’s very scary. We are advised to observe “social distancing” and to practice extra good personal hygiene in order to contain the viral spread. That advice must be taken seriously.

It’s impossible to know the end result of this pandemic, but it will end. And like previous horrendous events that at the time seemed like the apocalypse, we will also survive this, and God willing, emerge even smarter and stronger.

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