Although this article will be published in April, it was written on Sunday, March 16th, two days after the school announced it was closing for at least two weeks on Friday, and the day before online schooling began. Thus, many of these opinions may seem a bit flawed (or scarily accurate) in hindsight.
So here is what we know: Yesterday, Mayor Hache announced 5 confirmed cases of COVID-19 at Valley Hospital, with two of them Ridgewood residents. There have been a total of 98 cases with two deaths statewide, more than 2,900 cases and 59 deaths nationwide, and over 156,000 infected and 5,800 deaths globally. Just four days ago, WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. 20 US states have closed all schools, and Trump has declared a national emergency. Last Thursday, the Dow Jones suffered its worst loss since 1987, and has been volatile for the past few weeks. Just today, the Federal Reserve announced it would cut its target interest rate to zero. We have all heard countless warnings to wash our hands and practice social distancing, yet downtown Ridgewood is still buzzing with life. It seems like all experts agree—this problem is going to get worse before it gets better. The question is: How much worse?
Some fear that as the number suffering from the virus increases exponentially, the healthcare system will be overwhelmed, adding another layer to worry about. Policies to slow the spread like working-from-home; shutting down schools, restaurants, and crowded spaces; and expanding testing accessibility could all work to this end. It is unclear if this is all happening fast enough, but only time will tell. In order to capture this moment in history, I have asked two of my fellow juniors, Rebeca Samano and Aaron Friedman, to write about their experiences and concerns in these uncertain times.
Recently, a state of emergency was declared in Ridgewood and all residents were warned to stay inside. Yet, in my experience the mass paranoia is incentivizing people to leave their houses and stock up on home goods. Many individuals are also seeing this as an opportunity to travel and try new social outings. While I can understand the appeal, I think if these actions continue they will massively hurt public health. I would also prefer to go out with friends, but I think it would be less than ideal for the state. As dull as it might seem, social distancing is probably the best option for not only New Jersey, but other areas that have been affected by COVID-19. If the majority of the population refrains from going to social events, the situation could improve and potentially plateau. People could then return to their regular lives without fear of contagion. For now, I think the school shutdown will continue through spring break.
Moreover, although I think social distancing is the most effective route to tackling this problem from a citizen standpoint, I’m not very concerned with getting the virus. Most people our age recover within a couple days and are able to move on with their lives. That being said, I am worried about the impact this could have on older populations. Another aspect for concern is racial tensions. I’ve seen a lot of aversion towards Chinese-Americans in the media lately, and I do not think it is being addressed enough. Individuals are being discriminated against and beaten for the virus, which is in no means acceptable. COVID-19 should not become an excuse to be racist. Going back to a more local issue, not everyone in Ridgewood is as financially privileged as one might think. Some individuals cannot afford the expensive tests for the virus, and on top of that, there are limited tests to go around. All in all a lot of further damage can be prevented, yet it will be extremely difficult to do without social distancing.
As a Ridgewood resident, there is no better place to watch the response to the coronavirus pandemic than driving through downtown Ridgewood. On the first day after schools were closed and the governor sounded the alarm about practicing social distancing, Saturday, March 15, 2020, the downtown area was packed with students. Specifically, in my experience, I saw huge groups of middle school students congregating on a street corner and a packed Ridgewood Tea Shop that had lines swelling out the door. At first, this seemed pretty normal (maybe slightly concerning), but as I reflected upon this experience days later, it was borderline dangerous.
As someone who is exceedingly interested and involved in politics (and a U.S. history student), I also found it interesting to watch the federal, state, county, and local government response to this crisis. Just through reading the news about President Trump and seeing different public statements from Ridgewood Mayor Ramon Hache, Governor Phil Murphy, County Executive Jim Tedesco and Superintendent Daniel Fishbein, I have been able to witness firsthand how all levels of government have reacted to this pandemic.
While I initially expected a rapid federal response to the crisis, the federal government was slow to react. Instead, surprisingly, County Executive Tedesco was the first to act, when on Thursday, March 12, he ordered all 75 Bergen County school districts to shut their doors beginning Monday. The following day, Governor Murphy made a similar order across the state of New Jersey. To the best of my knowledge, this has to be Tedesco’s most consequential executive action of his tenure (maybe even the County Executive’s most powerful decision ever).
At the most local level, I was very happy with Superintendent Fishbein and Mayor Hache. Hache has been very transparent and responsible. He has been updating the community daily on Facebook. Fishbein has been equally responsive to daily developments and has provided some very pertinent and important information via email. He has advocated social distancing and been very clear with his advice to parents, writing: “Parents, please step in and say no. Getting together must not happen.”
Another aspect of this crisis is the ongoing presidential campaign. As it stands right now, Joe Biden is the clear favorite to secure the Democratic nomination. Both Biden and his lone competitor, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, have suspended all campaign events as part of social distancing efforts. President Trump has also stopped campaign rallies (after originally calling coronavirus a hoax). March 15th’s Democratic Primary Debate was also very different than usual with a location change from Arizona to D.C. and the removal of a live audience. And as to be expected, the tone of the debate was very coronavirus-centric with a heavy emphasis on healthcare.
Both students bring up some fair concerns. It seems that school closing perhaps may not have been as effective as we hoped. However, any precautions that can be taken to slow the spread are worth it. Looking back on the beginnings of this virus in the U.S., I think we will regret not taking this threat more seriously. It is not a joke. It is not a meme. It is something that has killed thousands abroad and will likely do the same in the U.S. If I had to guess, I’d say that this two week hiatus will be far longer than that, and the U.S. government and everyday people will come to regret being unprepared. I truly hope that this is false, but I guess only you, the reader, will really know.
Alexandra Jerdee, Rebeca Samano, Aaron Friedman
opinion columnist, staff writer, staff writer
Graphic: Jiah Lee