Coronavirus & New York City: How to Treat Residents Who Fled

    North view of the Manhattan skyline from the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building in midtown Manhattan in New York City, June 24, 2020. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

    Luke Winkie is out for vengeance. A New Yorker who has remained in New York City over the entirety of the past year, he writes in the New York Times concerning those city residents who fled during the pandemic and are now gradually returning that “we cannot let these transplants off so easy.” Their “indiscretion” of not remaining loyal to the city during its coronavirus woes “shall not stand.”

    Tongue at least somewhat in cheek, he makes a few proposals about these returning residents. First, unless they had good reason to leave, City Hall should levy a “resettlement tax” upon them the moment they get back. The money collected would be used at the discretion of those who remained in the city. Second, the residents of nicer areas who left should be forced to do what he calls a “Borough Swap” with those in worse areas and in more cramped apartments who never departed (such as Winkie).

    His proposals, which he admits may reflect his being “petty” and the “resentment” he harbors for having stayed in a tiny apartment over the past year while others left the city, seem more punitive than productive. This is likely at least partly a product of the placement of his tongue in his cheek. But one can still sense real bitterness in his wishing to extend the second of his policies “until sufficient contrition is expressed . . . so long as [leavers] promise to never vacate the city in its time of need ever again.” However unserious Winkie may be, surely he is reminding many of the New Yorkers who fled of some of the reasons why they did so. And perhaps he is also supplying new reasons for them to make their departures permanent, as indeed many have.

    Though his bitterness seems more directed at the wealthy, which I am not, I did in fact flee New York City in early March, only returning in July to move out of a city I never liked much to begin with. And coronavirus and the city’s response to it largely deprived the place of whatever residential charms it may have once held for me. I left not out of bitterness, but more out of a simple lack of attachment, and a lack of the kind of loyalty that New Yorkers have increasingly made a prerequisite for living there. Still, though, there’s probably room for some similarly spirited counterproposals to Winkie’s, for those of us who either left the city or never lived in it.

    Don’t the New Yorkers who fled deserve a reward from those who selfishly did not, for having reduced the city’s population and made the disease harder to spread? New York has had one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world; in New York City, things have been even worse. Maybe things would have been nigh-apocalyptic had the city population not thinned. In fact, maybe the leavers deserve a kind of party for their contribution to the city’s health, if not remuneration from those who stayed.

    On the other hand, we learned later in the pandemic that New York City itself seeded coronavirus to the rest of the country. Maybe the rest of the country should hit up the famously wealthy urban center for some coronavirus reparations? It seems only fair.

    Of course, the smart thing to have done would have been not to confine everyone to his apartment in New York City, but to confine New York City to itself. Yes, that’s right: a citywide quarantine, the placing of a Simpsons Movie–esque dome over the city right around this time last year (preferably after I fled coronavirus-free, thank you very much). That would have had a much greater effect in mitigating the spread of coronavirus than anything Governor Andrew Cuomo did.

    Best of all, however, would have been a mandatory quarantine of Andrew Cuomo from everyone else. It might have saved thousands of lives, and protected women from his predations.

    If you disagree with me, you disagree with Science.

    Jack Butler is submissions editor at National Review Online.

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