On the afternoon of Sunday, Dec. 13, Sandra Lindsay, the head of critical-care nursing at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, stopped by work to check on the conversion of part of the children’s unit into an overflow area for critically ill Covid-19 patients. The second wave of the coronavirus had just hit New York, and the need for beds was surging. Lindsay’s day took an unexpected turn when the hospital’s chief nursing officer, Margaret Murphy, pulled her aside: The Food and Drug Administration had just approved emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. The first doses would be arriving at Long Island Jewish as early as the following morning. Was she interested in being inoculated?
Since the pandemic struck, no city in America had experienced more death or economic devastation than New York. It felt like a tragedy that would never end, and the disparity in the suffering between white New Yorkers and Black and Latino New Yorkers had revealed another, more intractable crisis: the ever-growing inequalities in wealth, well-being and opportunity that had come to define every aspect of life in the city.
Now, finally, it was possible to imagine an end to the suffering and maybe even the beginning of a new era. Across the centuries, New York City had thrown together people from every class, constituency, race and religion; it was, at its best, a place that welcomed everyone, and where anyone could make it, the teeming embodiment of American pluralism. To truly heal from the pandemic, it would need to reaffirm those values.