Let’s face it; New York City gets hot in the summer. According to state-published statistics, average temperatures regularly hover in the mid-80s during June, July, and August. Having a place to cool off during the summer isn’t a nice-to-have for New Yorkers; it’s a necessity.
Typically, the city addresses this need for cooler temperatures by providing a host of public services. Free public pools are available across the five boroughs, and residents have easy access to the state’s beaches. NYS Parks employees also maintain a host of spray showers, which are typically activated mid-morning on any day predicted to reach 80 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
But, of course, this isn’t the average summer. Concern over the spread of COVID-19 has come to dominate public health conversations in New York. Since the virus’s arrival in March, New York has emerged as a national role model for containing the disease. The city’s case numbers and reported deaths have both seen steady declines, trends which have inspired both optimism — and pragmatism — among New York’s leaders.
“We worked very hard in New York, and the people of New York sacrificed for the past three months,” Governor Andrew Cuomo shared in a recent briefing. “They closed down, they wear masks, they socially distance, we have the virus under control, and we don’t want to see it go up again. It’s that simple, and people understand that. So I think they’re going to honor it because people at the end of the day get it now.”
New Yorkers aren’t safe from COVID-19 yet. White House public health advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, echoed Governor Cuomo’s point in a comment for the Telegraph, noting that while a return to normal life could occur within a year, “people need to tamp down their expectations for typical summer travel and activities.”
Social distancing is still a must, especially for those in high-risk age and health groups. But with so many isolating indoors, without access to public cooling measures, will New York’s summer heat become more problematic than usual?
New York is nevertheless determined to mitigate the risks.
In mid-June, Mayor Bill de Blasio rolled out Get Cool NYC, a program which “addresses the higher risk for indoor heat exposure for New Yorkers this summer, due to staying inside for social distancing, especially for those most at risk of COVID-19 complications.”
The city has so far installed 4,500 air conditioners in public housing and intends to provide 74,000 by the end of the summer. The New York State Public Service Commission has also given the city permission to provide $70 million in financial assistance to vulnerable, low-income New Yorkers so that they can pay higher-than-usual summer utility bills.
“With this all-hands-on-deck effort to ensure people can pay their cooling bills and to provide air conditioning units to those in need, the City is keeping our communities safe at a very delicate time,” New York’s Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner, Louise Carroll, commented on the program.
Proponents for Get Cool estimate that this aid will provide relief for roughly 440,000 families in the city.
Of course, outdoor cooling is still available. According to reporting from Curbed, the NYC Parks Department will be creating outdoor misting sites in addition to their usual spray showers, and also designate some open streets as “cool streets.” These neighborhoods will offer open fire hydrants to overheated pedestrians in areas at high risk of overheating. The city also intends to establish unconventional cooling centers at spacious facilities such as auditoriums and sports venues that can offer temperature relief while still accommodating social distancing.
This summer will be different from past years, yes — but despite those changes, New Yorkers will be able to enjoy familiar, warm-weather amenities in safety.