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Social distancing at the holiest time of year

The Millerton News Editorial

The global coronavirus pandemic has forced every man, woman and child around the world to live under a new normal. It hasn’t been easy — especially at a time when people usually join together. 

First striking China, then Europe — hitting Italy and Spain especially hard — COVID-19 then made its way to the U.S., among other locales around the world. In the U.S., it struck the state of New York fast and furiously, quickly making Manhattan the epicenter of the health crisis in North America. So far, that hasn’t changed, although New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said at his Saturday, April 11, press conference that “the number of hospitalizations appears to have hit an apex.”

The governor said as of Saturday that there were 18,654 hospitalizations in the state, with 180,458 confirmed cases and 8,627 deaths. The  daily death totals have been consistently high. There were 783 COVID-19 deaths on Friday, and 777 on Thursday. As of Sunday, 758 more New Yorkers died, and by Monday, April 13, the state’s death toll had exceeded 10,000.

But the rate of hospitalizations, along with other data, said Cuomo, show that New York is flattening the curve, thanks in large measure to the social distancing protocols and self-quarantining that its residents have been obeying. 

And those actions have been and continue to be key as New Yorkers observe religious holidays throughout the month. The Christian holidays of Good Friday and Easter Sunday were just days ago. And the Jewish holiday of Passover started on sundown on Wednesday, April 8, and runs to sundown on Thursday, April 16. The month-long Muslim holiday of Ramadan starts the evening of Thursday, April 23, and ends at sundown, Saturday, May 23. It’s a time of year when people usually gather, pray and celebrate — together. This year, doing so could be deadly.

Cuomo warned residents of the dire repercussions that ignoring social distancing could have in an email sent before Easter.

“We remind New Yorkers that Easter celebrations should be enjoyed only with immediate family to reduce the spread of COVID-19. I know this is a very challenging time, but we must continue to social distance to protect one another and to save lives.”

And on Easter Sunday, when Pope Francis held Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica — before nearly entirely empty pews — he spoke of “the contagion of hope” right now, when the pandemic is “testing our whole human family.” 

Like the Vatican, which celebrated the holiday in solitude but streamed the service live around the globe, churches, synagogues and mosques in our area have had to get creative to reach their congregations during the pandemic — as non-essential businesses were shut down by the governor in mid-March. 

He had to do so to keep New Yorkers safe and to prevent this deadly respiratory illness from spreading. But how are we supposed to observe and celebrate some of the holiest days in the calendar year when we can’t go to our churches, temples or mosques? 

Thankfully, we’re living in the Age of Technology and video conferencing, when we can meet virtually — on Zoom, on FaceTime, on GoToMeeting, on Slack or on ReadyTalk. Then, of course, people can also follow each other on Facebook and online; they can text and watch YouTube videos of each other. The technology is vast and has been a game-changer during this health crisis. It’s allowed us to remain connected during the spring holidays even while isolated at home. 

But not everyone has access to the technology, especially senior citizens, leaving them feeling possibly more alone and despondent than ever before. If you know people who aren’t online or with access to the virtual world at this time, think about reaching out, ringing them on the phone and saying hello. Let them know that you’re thinking of them, concerned for their welfare, concerned they may be feeling lonely or sad. Compassion and empathy are needed now more than ever.

When the governor shared his Passover wishes via email with New Yorkers last week, he acknowledged how hard it has been, while offering a glimmer of hope.

“I know that celebrating this year will be different, but there is a lesson of hope we can all take from Passover. This holiday is about recognizing the past and learning from it. It’s about remembering the lessons of history and teaching a new generation those lessons. We will learn lessons from these challenging times and I believe we will come through it stronger than we were before.”

If we all continue to do our part — and act responsibly for ourselves and those around us — we believe the governor may be right.

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