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Fear, reality of COVID motivate downstate

AP photo A New York City police officer wears a face mask while standing guard at Yankee Stadium before a recent baseball game.

NEW YORK — There is no denying the major differences and political rifts between upstate and the Big Apple. It is little vs. big. Conservative values against progressive ideas.

There also is an unspoken reality that bothers this region: if you’re living downstate, you could care less about what your neighbors to the north are doing.

Why waste that time?

In terms of population, New York City is 8 million strong — 40% of the total population of the state. It also is the financial capital of the world. When the economy is humming, Wall Street bonuses are subsidizing numerous municipal governments and numerous school districts across 62 counties.

During the last eight weeks, Manhattan has seen a surge in tourism and normalcy as workers have begun to head back to office buildings after a major shutdown due to COVID-19 that lasted from March 2020 to April. Those terrifying times are something this city wants no part of — ever again.

It’s why face coverings are mandated at many indoor locations. Using the subway or taking a taxi? Wear a mask. Heading to the major museums and art centers? Have a facial covering.

Globally, there has been much pain associated with the virus. Nowhere was that seen on such a large scale as in New York City.

Fear is always a motivating factor. Those living here saw silence and sadness during the worst of the pandemic — and it shows in the most recent vaccination numbers.

In Manhattan alone, more than 74% of residents — 1.2 million — have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. More than 83% who are 18 and over have had the shot. In Queens, 71% of the population — or 1.4 million — have received a first dose.

Upstate numbers? Nowhere near as impressive, especially in the Southern Tier. In Chautauqua County, through Wednesday, 51% of residents — 65,000 — have received one dose. Allegany County, the least vaccinated in the state — notes 39% of residents receiving one dose. That totals 18,000 residents.

Just as eye-opening are the current positivity rates. In Manhattan, the rate is just over 2%. Across upstate, some areas are 4% and higher,

Access to the vaccine is no longer the issue. What the difference in numbers between New York City and the rural Southern Tier shows is that each region lived a very different reality.

When New York shut down, it looked a lot like Chautauqua County. No worries over traffic and no true urban nightlife. Metropolitans also saw deaths totaling more than 53,000 people, with most of those coming at the beginning of the pandemic as hospitals were bursting at the seams.

In rural America, hospitalizations due to the virus have not compromised health-care facilities or workers. Consider Chautauqua County, which never had numbers that surpassed 25 beds.

Facial coverings have been recommended for the indoors by the Centers for Disease Control due to the rising virus numbers from the Delta variant. That is not being mandated locally, but with schools opening in the coming weeks it is likely to become more prevalent.

Last week, the State University of New York at Fredonia reinstituted its policy for masks at indoor locations for all — including visitors to campus. How many others will follow suit?

Despite high vaccination numbers and a mandate for face coverings, not all in New York City are happy to comply. Just this week, a man and older woman tussled over his maskless appearance during a recent subway ride.

According to a New York Post article, the woman told the man to “Respect your elders.” He replied, “I respect freedom.”

Frustrations and tensions brought on by COVID-19 continue to grow as case numbers rise, especially throughout the South. If vaccination numbers — locally and across the nation — remain stagnant, it could be a long fall.

John D’Agostino is the editor of the OBSERVER, The Post-Journal and Times Observer in Warren. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 253.

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