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Opinion | How Covid Changed America in 2020 – The New York Times

Opinion | How Covid Changed America in 2020 – The New York Times

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Guest Essay

Mr. Klinenberg is the author of the forthcoming book “2020: One City, Seven People, and the Year Everything Changed.”
Covid numbers recently climbed again. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention once again reported monthly death tolls in the thousands. Mask mandates are back in New York City’s public medical facilities and nursing homes. The presidential race has kicked into gear, and just as in 2020, the stakes seem existential. It all makes me feel I’m revisiting a past I never actually left.
I’m not the only one wrestling with that feeling. In other ways, 2020 seems like another lifetime. The pandemic ended; we went on with our lives. Yet by considerable margins, people still say they feel alienated, vulnerable, unsafe. It’s only now becoming clear how little we understood what the United States experienced during that unforgettable year and how deeply it shaped us.
I’ve come to think of our current condition as a kind of long Covid, a social disease that intensified a range of chronic problems and instilled the belief that the institutions we’d been taught to rely on are unworthy of our trust. The result is a durable crisis in American civic life. Just look at the election cycle we are about to fall into: It seems the world turned upside down several times, and yet here we are facing the prospect of another contest between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, as though the country hasn’t moved forward an inch. Everything changed, and yet almost nothing changed.
In 2020, I learned about Daniel Presti, an affable and energetic 33-year-old who was trying to build a new business called Mac’s Public House, just a few miles from his childhood home in Staten Island.
Thanks, he said, to the inexplicably slow pace of the New York State Liquor Authority, it took nearly a year to open, but he and his business partner, Keith McAlarney, used the time to make the bar the nicest it could be. The idea was to make Mac’s a local commons. No political talk. No news on TV. “Keith and I are the furthest from political you can find,” Mr. Presti later told me. “We’re not getting into it.”
In March, when Covid-19 hit New York City, the same state government that took ages to issue a liquor license needed just days to demand that the newly opened Mac’s cease operations. Mr. Presti understood the threat and accepted the decision. What he didn’t expect was that the pub would have to remain closed or restricted, on and off, for more than a year. Or that, because his business was new, the government would offer so little financial support.
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