Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
Medical bureaucrats wrapped themselves in the cloak of science. They said the battle was against paranoia, misinformation & stigma. Thousands have now perished.
3,000 people have died of the coronavirus in New York City. During their final, fear-filled days, loved ones weren’t allowed into hospitals due to infection protocols. Overworked medical personnel had little opportunity to hold their hands. When their time came to pass out of this world, many were alone.
The remains of these individuals have now been consigned to a fleet of refrigerated trucks, because the ‘death care’ system (funeral homes, crematoriums, cemeteries) is overwhelmed. Their funerals have been hasty, lonely affairs – once again due to infection concerns and social distancing requirements. Their grieving families have been unable to gather, to hug and comfort each other.
A news story dated one week ago (March 30) reports that “Queens remains the hardest-hit borough by a sizable margin.” So let us turn back the clock to seven weeks ago, to February 13th. Let us revisit Roosevelt Avenue and Main Street in Queens – considered the third busiest intersection in New York City. Let us attend an event at the Royal Queen restaurant organized by the Chamber of Commerce and the Flushing Chinese Business Association.
It’s lunch time, and dim sum is being served. Mayor Bill de Blasio is there. So is the Deputy Mayor for Health & Human Services, Raul Perea-Henze – a physician with a masters degree in public health from Yale. Also in attendance is Oxiris Barbot, another physician who serves as the city’s Health Commissioner. Combined, the salaries of the latter two amount to half a million dollars per year.
Barbot will later distribute a 32-minute video of the event via her Twitter feed. It is a remarkable historical document in which grownups dismiss coronavirus concerns as “unfounded paranoia” (27:30 minutes). Seven weeks ago, expressing solidarity with Chinatown’s small businesses was the top priority. The only enemies worthy of attention were stigma and racism.
The physician deputy mayor told journalists, along with everyone else, that the purpose of the event was to
reassure all of you, and the city of New York, that the city is prepared [02:29]…We want to reassure everyone that New Yorkers should go about their everyday business as usual [03:27]…If you’ve been to China in the last 14 days and you’re feeling ill or you have any symptoms of fever please go to your doctor and make sure that you get care. [03:49, bold here and below added]
Tom Grech, an official with the Queens Chamber of Commerce declared:
We want to make sure that people know that Flushing [in north central Queens] is open for business, and that it’s safe. At the end of the day nothing is more important than the business of commerce and the commerce of Queen’s county. [05:25]
City Councillor Corey Johnson insisted:
I want to specifically say that we have the greatest public health department in the world [10:24]…There are restaurants and business that are suffering in Flushing and in Chinatown…because people have some unfounded fears about the coronavirus. And we want to say very, very clearly that those fears are not based on fact or based on science. [12:24]…The risk of infection is extraordinarily low right now. [13:24]
City Councillor Peter Koo was similarly reassuring:
Don’t worry about it. It’s not here…We have great doctors at the department of health, our great commissioner has told us many, many times, we are ready…So don’t worry. Be happy. That’s the main thing. Come to Flushing. Spend your money. Circulate your money. [20:02]
New York has a Commissioner for Immigrant Affairs. Her name is Bitta Mostofi, and her message on that occasion was as follows:
we have this incredible public health system in our city [22:38]…we also know that there is no cause for alarm…we want people to enjoy their lives and go about their daily business and to know that it is safe to do so…making sure that no one amongst us is feeling stigma or discrimination [23:56]…[we have to] combat any fear or misinformation or paranoia…
Repeatedly, NYC’s leaders insisted their remarks were “based on science.” On facts.
These people thought their job was to dispel “the myths that are out there.” They said they were fighting misinformation.
Mere weeks later, events have proved them spectacularly wrong. Dead bodies are piling up. Queens has been hit hard.
Thousands of ordinary people have lost their lives. Those influential, highly-paid, medically trained experts wildly underestimated this virus. Humility was the last thing on their minds.