The COVID-19 Pandemic: New York City's vaccination requirements and the folly of "freedom versus fear"Oct 18, 2021
I write these comments from New York City where we have escaped for an urban respite with friends. Here are some observations so far on pandemic behavior. Let’s start with the ride to the Denver International Airport on the A Line, masks required; a proscription ignored by the young couple sitting to our right who are clearly on their way to the airport. The conductor reminds them to put on their masks, but the woman does not have one, a problem solved by my wife who provides one. Mask wearing is hardly the norm if those who are heading to the airport don’t have one. And wearing them correctly remains challenging for many, like the family of four on the inter-terminal train at the airport, all with masks below their noses. Perhaps there is something hereditary or at least familial?
COVID-19 control measures are visible in New York City. Masks are required—indoors and in taxis—and used. At least one dose of vaccine is required, for everyone 12 years of age and older, for entry into indoor dining, fitness and entertainment venues. Vaccination can be documented with the CDC card, the NYC Vaccination Record, or several apps. And we saw that proof of vaccination is examined—at museums, restaurants, and clubs. For entry to an off-Broadway play, both vaccination card and personal ID were checked—to make certain that we had not borrowed a vaccination record. Could this be the future for the country? Why not require vaccination for inter-state travel whether on airplanes, trains, or buses?
Some news reports highlight the obstacles to evidence-based strategies to control the COVID-19 pandemic. The New York City approach may never become national. Here are a few of the obstacles: litigation to require the administration of ivermectin, an anti-parasitic medication, to patients for whom it is requested by family members; police unions suing to block vaccination mandates even when far more police officers have died from COVID-19 than from violence; and more governors blocking more public health measures. I once again acknowledge Florida’s Governor DeSantis for his acting out against public health measures; this time by fining Leon County $3.5 million for its vaccine mandate: “It is unacceptable that Leon County violated Florida law, infringed on current and former employees’ medical privacy, and fired loyal public servants because of their personal health decisions,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. And then there is the New York Nets NBA star, Kyrie Irving, who has chosen not to be vaccinated and has been banned from playing by his team. Per Irving, "You only get one of these (bodies). If you choose to get the vaccine, I support you. If you choose to be unvaccinated, I support you." New York’s Mayor de Blasio has even weighed in. Irving has expressed doubt as to whether the Earth is round; Governor DeSantis’ views on the matter are not public.
Putting aside the particulars of the COVID-19 pandemic, public health has proved to be a popular target for politicians at all levels, local to national. The “freedom vs. fear” slogan grabs a substantial minority of the population, particularly Republicans. Today’s New York Times has a very disturbing lead story on the consequences of the sustained attack on public health. The story’s message is not new, but its description of the scope of the consequences sounds a loud alarm. Experienced public health professionals are leaving, and laws are threatening use of core public health measures, e.g., public health orders. I am concerned about the longer-term consequences and the spread of these attacks to other fundamental public health measures that protect all of us. The earth is not flat and vaccines work. Speak out—there is much at stake.
Jonathan Samet, MD, MS
Dean, Colorado School of Public Health
P.S. Today's hospital count—1,021—is at the highest level for the current surge.