For nearly 16 months, Long Islanders remained in a state of suspended animation, unsure of their next moves while staring down a killer virus, anxiously awaiting the latest set of coronavirus pandemic protocols from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Then, on June 23, it happened: Cuomo lifted the state of emergency declaration. We were suddenly free — for the most part — to resume living our lives as we had before Covid-19 ravaged New York.
Other than having to mask up on public transportation and in hospitals, nursing homes and, for now, schools, people could return to their normal lives, mask-less.
More than 2 million New Yorkers contracted the potentially deadly disease from March 2020 to the present. Some 54,000 state residents — and more than 600,000 Americans — had died of it as of last Friday. Each life lost was precious. Collectively, the devastation was immeasurable, a once-in-100-years tragedy that we will talk about for decades to come, passing stories from one generation to the next until the memory of this horrifying time fades from our collective consciousness.
Such was the case with the flu pandemic of 1918-19, which killed 675,000 Americans. By the middle of the 20th century, the memory of those terrible two years had been erased from many Americans’ minds, enshrined, for the most part, only in news articles and books. Such is the case with any great tragedy. We cannot continue reliving it in our minds indefinitely.
We must not, however, allow this society-altering year and a half to be forgotten easily. The victims must be remembered. At the same time, we must guard against another such pandemic for as long as we humanly can. The price that we paid for forgetting the pandemic of 1918-19 was steep indeed.
Had the federal government taken the threat of this virus more seriously from the beginning, tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of lives could have been saved. This lesson we cannot forget.
In the near term, we must also not forget that, though we are no longer in a state of emergency, we are still vulnerable to this disease. More than 70 percent of New Yorkers had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine as of last week, but variants lurked around the globe. We are still not entirely sure how effective the vaccines will be against the variants, though they appear to work well.
If you have not been vaccinated, we’ll keep saying it: Please, please get your shot. The day after Cuomo lifted the state of emergency, eight New Yorkers died of the coronavirus. According to medical experts, most who are dying now are unvaccinated.