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Editorial

New York can learn a lot from South Korea

Posted

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is set to open beaches statewide, including Jones Beach, on Friday. It is a moment we have all eagerly awaited, a symbolic gesture signaling we are starting to win the protracted battle against the coronavirus.

We must not allow ourselves to become overconfident and complacent, however. As Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency room physician and medical researcher at Brown University, noted on CNN last weekend, “This virus is so wily.”

Just when you think you have beaten it, you haven’t. Case in point: South Korea.

The country reported its first Covid-19 case on nearly the same day as the United States, in January. Unlike the U.S., however, the South Korean government conducted massive testing early, and began contact tracing to isolate the ill, while asking people to voluntarily practice social distancing and keeping large segments of the economy open. On May 5, South Korea reported only three new coronavirus cases, while the U.S. was reporting thousands per day, and South Korea had recorded just 250 Covid-19 deaths, compared to tens of thousands here, according to numerous published reports.

With negligible levels of new infections and a relatively low death count, South Korea started to relax its social-distancing measures early this month. On May 2, South Korean officials reported, a 29-year-old man who had partied at five nightclubs on a single night in Seoul had tested positive for coronavirus, and infected roughly 80 others — and those were the 80 the government managed to track down. He partied among as many as 7,200 people that night, and the government was racing to find them all to ensure that the infected self-isolate. At press time, authorities had identified 2,500. The man was what public health officials call a “super spreader.”

A similar nightmare scenario could happen here if we are careless, and let’s state it plainly: Many Americans simply have not been as careful as the South Koreans.

If New Yorkers are not vigilant as state officials ease stay-at-home orders, allowing us to again return to the beaches — and eventually stores, restaurants and schools — we could very well take a big step back, as was the case in South Korea.

This past weekend, large groups of teenagers were seen cycling on the Wantagh Parkway bike trail on the way to Jones Beach, in violation of state social-distancing requirements. Many were in close contact but weren’t wearing masks, also a violation.

Adults must model social distancing for young people. At the same time, parents and guardians must hold frank discussions with their kids, particularly teenagers who might venture out on their own, to explain the rules.

Teenagers are social creatures. Indefinite self-isolation at home is among their worst nightmares. Now, at least, they will have the chance to head to the beach.

Spending late spring and summer days on Long Island’s white-sand beaches is a rite of passage for many teens, particularly high school seniors who want to kick back for a few weeks or months after finishing school. They deserve to be able to do so, but they must do so responsibly. We all must.

That means staying six feet apart from others, wearing a mask in public, washing your hands frequently for at least 30 seconds and not touching your face.

If we follow these simple rules, we stand a much better chance of reopening New York safely, with minimal risk of a second infection wave. Otherwise, we could be South Korea.

After the super spreader infected dozens in Seoul, Mayor Park Won-soon ordered all bars and clubs closed indefinitely. “Carelessness can lead to an explosion of infections,” he said.

Remember those words this Memorial Day weekend if you are heading to the beach — or anywhere else.

Editorial update

    In our March 26-April 1 editorial, we called on Congress and President Trump to eliminate the $10,000 cap on the federal income tax deduction for state and local taxes, which is costing many Long Islanders thousands of dollars a year. Doing away with the cap would provide much-needed economic stimulus.

Last Friday, the House of Representatives included the measure in its $3 trillion fiscal stimulus plan. That, in part, owed to strong lobbying by Governor Cuomo and the Long Island congressional delegation.

We implore the Senate to negotiate in good faith on the House stimulus bill — and nix the SALT cap.