Instead, many of those I have spoken to are in places where they feel relatively safe. Many do not realize that they may be in a false security bubble as the number of coronavirus infections spreads through the suburbs and rural areas of Long Island – including Suffolk County, home of the Hamptons – and d ” other regions where the country’s extremely wealthy countries have second homes.
A billionaire hedge fund is on his Texas ranch; another isolates himself from other family members in a Martha’s Vineyard complex; a couple is in a villa on Harbor Island, Bahamas; a private individual has rented a yacht on the Long Island Strait… and so on.
It would be unfair to say that these people live without fear. If they needed proof that Covid-19 does not discriminate by the wallet, they need not look any further than some of the well-publicized confirmed cases like Knicks owner James Dolan, actor Tom Hanks and Prince Charles.
“We are just trying to do our best for ourselves and our families. You can’t blame us, “said a multimillionaire with three country houses.
Everything I’ve talked to has done so on condition of anonymity; all felt better placed to get ahead of Covid-19 if they weren’t stuck in high-density areas like New York. (I must add that those who spoke to me are not necessarily representative of the whole socio-economic group. The main financiers of Wall Street have been spotted in Central Park and certainly billionaires like Bill Gates have given significant funding coronavirus research.)
But if the wealthy are not immune, their wealth makes it easier for them to isolate themselves. Unlike essential workers, housekeepers or nannies who cannot survive without their weekly paycheck, publications like the New York Times have data showing how those who can afford more protective isolation sooner than low-income workers.
The top 1% of American workers can do this even better than the rest of us. Some of the Hamptons even seem to be having fun. Some play golf while others garden and compare notes on hygiene. Someone I know has his family’s food hunted out of New York every day. It’s not the same experience as walking past Central Park hospital tents or closed stores. And that can be profoundly contrary to the experience of an essential worker who has to take public transportation to the hospital or the grocery store for a day’s work.
For some of the wealthy I talk to, a more urgent headache than the symptom of the virus is the possible ramifications of economic closure – but even that may be far less significant than you might think given the tax break some of which benefit from the recovery plan. A clause in the bill allows commercial property developers to compensate for paper losses related to the depreciation of their buildings by taxes on the profits of other investments such as the stock market. A New York Times report says the estimated cost of the 10-year change is $ 170 billion.
A real estate tycoon told me that he had opened champagne by the pool the day the CARES law was passed by Congress.
“Some people will get very wealthy because of this,” says another person I know in the healthcare supply industry.
Harvard-trained epidemiologist Dr. Ashwin Vasan told me that he had heard disturbing stories from wealthy people buying their own respirators. At a time when the governors of the hard-hit states say they are on the verge of running out of their own essential supplies.
Two people I spoke to told me that they had obtained a prophylactic supply of their own malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, which is currently undergoing clinical trials as a possible treatment, but not yet proven safe and effective for this use. Vasan says that regardless of the doctor who supplied the drug, he behaved not only dangerously, but irresponsibly.
“Every hospital in town is doing clinical trials of this drug under controlled conditions, so to speak: I’m going to give it to someone in their house without the ability to really monitor it … I don’t consider it remote responsible, “said Vasan.
Vasan says it’s time for healthcare professionals to pull themselves together. “Now is not the time for the concierge,” he said. And yet, many in the Hamptons have told me that they feel safe precisely because there are private doctors who have homes there and whose private staff will pay for home visits, assuming you have paid their subscription fees of several thousand dollars.
The self-protection mentality of the wealthy is not new, according to historian Dr. Amanda Foreman. “During World War II, despite rationing across the UK, those who could afford it could dine at the Ritz Hotel,” she said.
But the irony of an elitist approach at the time is that it may well backfire, according to Dr. William Haseltine, a biologist and former Harvard professor of medicine, who recently chaired the ninth China-US Health Summit in the pandemic epicenter of Wuhan.
According to Haseltine, people who left town were at greater risk than if they had stayed behind and practiced careful isolation and hygiene, as they moved away from the best hospitals. His opinion was echoed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo at his April 3 press conference, where he spoke of the woodpecker in Nassau and Suffolk counties. “Long Island doesn’t have a health care system as sophisticated as New York … and that worries us a lot,” he said.
Haseltine says it is “a fundamental mistake” to think that you are safer in a wide open space.
“It is comfortable to be in a country house … people feel they have more control,” he said. “You have more space, you think you are not one of the many, you are more special. But it’s all psychological. “
The risk of Covid-19, he says, is equal to the number of people you meet who could be infected. It’s not like the London bubonic plague spread by fleas and rats. With Covid-19, there is no reason to believe that people in the countryside are less infected than people in New York.
Somewhere in all this, there is a very dark moral story.
Foreman says that the social division of Covid-19 could be summed up as “the makers and the takers.” If you are a craftsperson, you are someone who has found a way to contribute to the community in various ways, from the student who has set up a network of volunteers for shopping for the elderly to first responders and workers and caregivers who take risks every day to save others. If you’re a taker, you’re obsessed only with yourself, your survival – and what the pandemic will mean for your bottom line.