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New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announces the

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announces the lifting of all COVID-19 restrictions for New York on June 15, 2021. Credit: Corey Sipkin

It's over.

That's what Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said last week. The COVID-19 state of emergency he declared in March 2020 was over.

Certainly, New York's numbers are wonderful. Minuscule positive test results, waning new hospitalizations, ever-so-steadily upwardly-creeping numbers of vaccinations, all of it leading Cuomo to his conclusion that it's over.

Except that it's not. And he knows it. And each one of us knows it, if we're being honest.

"Over" has no wiggle room, and much wiggle room is needed when it comes to this confounding coronavirus.

With the new delta variant spreading around the world and in the U.S., apparently more communicable and more dangerous than previous variants, and with enough unvaccinated people providing enough bodies to host enough infections to keep the virus alive, leading to possibly even more dangerous mutations that could evade current vaccines, it's certainly not over.

That doesn't mean we need to continue to follow taut restrictions. But it does mean that we need to learn from what has happened thus far and be prepared to take or retake actions needed to once again ward off this virus and — equally important — prepare for the viruses that are sure to come.

Our track record on that is not so good.

That's not a reference to the politically related turmoil that led some people — in and out of leadership positions — to ignore or reject proven ways of fighting COVID-19. That obstinance surely let the virus flourish more than it should have.

No, this is a reference to what we already knew before COVID-19 commenced its assault.

Consider this scenario:

The World Health Organization announces that a worldwide outbreak of flu has begun. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the pandemic will hit the United States in a few weeks. One-third of Americans will fall ill, up to 2 million will die, and as many as 10 million will be hospitalized. A second wave will crash a few months after that.

Drugs to treat this flu will be in short supply, a vaccine is months away. Face masks, social distancing, self-isolation and self-quarantine will be needed to slow the spread. Schools and day care centers will be closed for as long as a local outbreak lasts.

People will lose some or all of their wages, some will not be able to go to work, some stores will close, some services will be cut. Public gatherings will be halted.

Yes, the numbers are a little off but altogether it's an amazingly accurate summary of the current pandemic — considering it was presented more than 14 years ago, on Long Island.

The occasion was a pandemic flu conference held by the Nassau County Department of Health at Hofstra University on Jan. 27, 2007. The program from the day was supplied by an attendee, Richard Siegelman of Plainview.

It warned of an initial mask shortage, the possibility that some people could refuse to perform voluntary measures to curtail the spread, and the certainty that vaccines initially would be for only a small number of people.

The scenario, presented to community members who were offered a $50 stipend to attend, concluded with a question asking attendees what government planners should think about to help at-risk populations during a pandemic.

And here's the thing: Nassau was not alone in recognizing the potential dangers. The federal government was well aware as were immunologists, infectious disease experts, and innumerable health experts and agencies around the world.

There was plenty of time to prepare based on what we knew, and more than ample warning. And still, nearly 4 million people and counting have died.

All of which is food for thought when we declare it's over.

Columnist Michael Dobie's opinions are his own.

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