(AP) From the Jersey Shore to Downtown Easton, the effort to contain the growth of COVID-19 suffered a setback last weekend, as thousands of people cast their coronavirus worries to the wind. Three and a half months of self-isolation will do that to a person -- especially young people still on the celebratory side of middle age, accustomed to eating, drinking and carousing with friends and family. Enjoying life, in other words.
The people who have come down hard on “unprotected’’ partying -- including Easton Mayor Sal Panto Jr. and Govs. Phil Murphy and Tom Wolf -- get that. This outpouring of once-customary behavior -- drinking within spitting range, without masks, thumbing noses at social distancing guidelines -- isn’t part of the recent green-lighting of society and business conduct in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. It is, in fact, a renewal of the existential pandemic threat that got us into this mess in the first place.
Last weekend one section of Easton’s Downtown, centered around the bars and restaurants in Lehn’s Court, turned into an open-air festival. Several hundred people were seen partying in crowded conditions, some illegally carrying alcoholic drinks outside of designated dining-drinking areas. Easton and other towns have cordoned off outdoor spaces on sidewalks and in streets to help restaurants and bars maximize the number of people they can serve within social-distance guidelines. “We didn’t want it to be an open, Mardi Gras-type atmosphere,’’ Panto said.”It’s unfortunate. It’s only a few people who ruin it all for the masses. We don’t want the spread of COVID and we certainly don’t want violence.’’
On top of all that, Easton police dealt with a homicide near Centre Square early Sunday morning, in which a 22-year-old Palmer Township man was killed. It was the city’s second homicide in a just over a week, after a four-year span without one. Gun violence is always lurking in the Lehigh Valley’s cities, and the suburbs as well. News of “shots fired’’ instills fear among neighbors. It can threaten local economies that depend on shopping, tourism and dining. And yet ... strange times.
In the overall scheme of things, in terms of the threat of illness and death and economic collapse, we have more to fear from mindless beer drinkers than thugs with guns. Venturing into crowds maskless, breathing on each other, letting good times roll and alcohol rule, is wittingly playing into the hands of contagion. (And in the reported cases of young people throwing COVID drinking parties to see who’ll be the first to become infected, it’s unforgivably reckless.) It’s clear now that “green’’ doesn’t mean clean -- not without a lot of business and behavioral changes. We fully support Panto and other leaders, who -- having seen that we can get a grip on COVID-19 growth and numbers -- aren’t willing to slide back into danger on the clinking glasses of revelers. Please: It is time to have fun again. Have it sensibly, or stay home.