The Summer of Our Discontent

A puzzling PSA about a nuke attack highlights the danger posed by our emotional exhaustion from coping with everything else

| 13 Jul 2022 | 05:20

If COVID-19, job losses, inflation, more COVID-19, gun violence, soaring rents, shrinking 401k’s, jobs going begging, more COVID-19, war in Ukraine, global food shortage, more variants of COVID-19, Monkeypox and, of course, hearings on the storming of the Capitol haven’t provoked enough anxiety, then New York City offered something more for you to worry about.

Here is the 21st Century’s version of duck and cover.

“So there’s been a nuclear attack,” the announcer explains, “Don’t ask me how or why, just know that the big one has hit.”


It isn’t really clear why New York City ‘s office of Emergency Management decided this summer of New York discontent was the right moment for this particular public service video, seeking as it does to elbow into our fight or flight synapses alongside appeals to get boosted, say something if we see something and get off our duffs and come back to the office (while wearing a mask in crowded indoor spaces).

“As the threat landscape continues to evolve, it is important that New Yorkers know we are preparing for any imminent threats,” the commissioner of Emergency Management, Zach Iscol, explained, sort of, since he hastened to add that the likelihood of this specific threat is extremely low on that landscape.

The PSA did serve one valuable function, highlighting the clear and present danger posed by our heightened levels of anxiety and emotional exhaustion from coping with everything else on the crowded threat landscape.

Depression and Distraction

Whether you prefer data or anecdotes, there is little doubt that our levels of anxiety, depression and distraction have spiked in the pandemic.

Prescriptions for antianxiety, antidepression and ADHD medications are all up. Leah Bellow-Handleman, a nurse in the urgent care center at Memorial Sloan Kettering told the Times she went back on Prozac during the pandemic.

“I’m definitely medicated because of COVID, but I’m also medicated because I’m a woman who was a nurse who had babies in the middle of COVID, and a traumatic birth,” Bellow-Handelman said.

Life is traumatic enough without the trauma of COVID. Kids and young adults seem to be having a particularly challenging time with all the isolation and disruption, and the obvious stress their parents are exhibiting.

Summer has gone from a time of relaxation to worry. Lifeguards are in short supply, crimping pool hours, and on Tuesday a boat of revelers from New Jersey capsized off the Intrepid in the Hudson, killing two.

Everything feels just a little unscrewed. “Everything is a problem,” said a Manhattan businessman. “People don’t get along.”

Even Shakespeare’s most famous opening lines – Richard III’s “winter of our discontent” – were demoted from opening lines in the new production that opened this week in Central Park to mixed reviews. Nothing is as it was.

How our compromised community mental health effects our ability to cope with the seemingly endless (that being the emotional point) challenge of COVID-19 is an important topic.

Sixth Wave

The advice about coping with nuclear war coincided with New York’s sixth wave of Covid-19, this one driven by the BA.4 and BA.5 variants of Omicron, which could be the subject of a NatGeo documentary on nature’s endless creativity and ability to stay one step ahead of us mere humans. As clever as we are.

Public health experts are quite concerned about these variants. Their widespread transmission endangers the elderly and immune-compromised, increases the risk of long COVID, as well as the danger of yet more evolution of the virus into, well, who knows what.

But the health experts have more or less thrown up their hands that a tired public will stick with proven countermeasures.

“I think we all know that the public is not interested in masking,” Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of infectious diseases at Northwell Health, said to the Times. “They’re not terribly interested in boosters. They’re not terribly interested in vaccinating their children. That’s very disappointing to somebody in public health, and I think its somewhat foolish, but nevertheless, it’s a fact of life. And so you just deal.”

“A New War”

Mayor Adams is dealing with our exhaustion with the forever pandemic by trying to focus us forward on “a new war” that calls for “new weapons.” This was his explanation for abandoning the color- coded threat warnings that he never really followed. He did this just as the city’s COVID transmission reentered the high threat category again.

“The color-coded system was fighting an old war,” said Adams. “So we’re not going to hold on to something that’s an old weapon, merely because we have it. No, we’re going to create new weapons to fight this new war.”

The exact distinction between the old war and the new one wasn’t crystal clear. “We have to learn to live with COVID,” Adams explained, which is less a different war than an acknowledgment that the old battle plan to create herd immunity through vaccination had not worked. “We’re not out of the woods. It’s still here, and it’s still impacting our lives.”

Public officials emphasize it is still valuable to limit the spread.

“Despite what you may be seeing,” mourned Mark Levine, the Manhattan Borough president, “masks are STILL required in Subways and Buses; JFK and LaGuardia airports; Uber, Lyft & yellow taxis; MetroNorth & LIRR, Path.”

Mask use on the subways, once widespread, appears to have fallen to about 50 percent.

Vulnerable People

Increasingly the focus of both city and federal efforts is to identify vulnerable people and protect them, either through booster vaccination or, if they get infected, with antiviral and antibody treatments.

Adams announced an increase in distribution of at home test kits, essential for isolating the infected and getting them the treatments quickly to avert serious illness.

The rate of COVID tests returning positive results hit 15% this week, the highest in months. Even more concerning, the hospitalization rate, particularly among the unvaccinated, has started climbing. Officials say however that so far city hospitals are able to handle the increases.

The continued urgency of mobilizing against Covid-19 made the warning about nuclear attack all the more incongruous. The PSA gave basic guidance to move inside, away from windows and to the basement or center of buildings.

If you are caught outside, and survive, you are advised to bag all your clothes and wash off radioactive dust. Stay put until advised by officials that the coast is clear.

The ad seemed to anticipate the danger that worrying about nuclear attack in an already anxious time might merely induce further despair. “All right,” The ads announcer told New Yorkers, “You’ve got this.”

You mean like we’ve got everything else?

“We have to learn to live with COVID. We’re not out of the woods. It’s still here, and it’s still impacting our lives.” Mayor Eric Adams