New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo Tuesday said he’s not contemplating rolling back any reopening in the state – yet – despite a handful of new COVID-19 clusters in hot spots including Brooklyn, but he noted that could change if local authorities don’t enforce compliance measures.
The thought was sobering as indoor dining finally is set to resume Wednesday in New York City and financially staggering movie theaters are shuttered across the state, waiting for word. Live events remain dark.
Cuomo, at a press briefing, also announced he’s creating a New York City Stabilization and Recovery Program to focus on schools, crime, sanitation and homelessness, to address safety and quality of life issues for New Yorkers and maybe nudge residents the city lost to consider returning sooner rather than later.
The state, among the first and worst hit by coronavirus, now has among the lowest infection rates in the nation but recently has seen COVID clusters in pockets of several counties that generally overlap with large Orthodox Jewish communities. “That is a fact, so I will be meeting with them directly to talk about it,” Cuomo said. “It’s a public health concern for their communities and for others. These public health rules apply to every religion.”
Any setback is a tremor for New York City, where nearly half of the jobs in leisure and hospitality have been lost, unemployment is surging and some 1,000 restaurants might have closed, according to recent reports. Tourism has dwindled away without live events and cultural institutions from Broadway to the Metropolitan Opera — which last week said it will be closed until next September. New York State also is requiring travelers arriving from most other states to quarantine.
Offices can open, but attendance is sparse. Many people who can are working from home, and many of them have left the city to do it. Of the exodus, Cuomo wondered, “Is that short term or is that long term? When do they come back, or have they just readjusted their lifestyle?” It will be hard to really tell until a vaccine is widely available, he said. On Tuesday, he set a goal for New York to be the first state to vaccinate its entire population. He named the members of a new independent Clinical Advisory Task Force to review every COVID-19 vaccine authorized by the federal government and will advise New York State on the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness in fighting the virus.
“Once the FDA says it’s safe, we’ll have a New York group of doctors and some of the best doctors around the world review what FDA did so I’ll be able to say to New Yorkers it is safe,” the governor said. “There are polls that say half the American people wouldn’t take the vaccine right now because they don’t believe it’s safe. I want to be able to say to New Yorkers, ‘It is safe, take it.'”
Cuomo didn’t reveal many details of his new NYC Task Force but ticked off what he considers pressing issues. “The crime problem in New York City is real,” he said. “Denial is not an option.”
He noted complaints of garbage piling up in the Big Apple. “Literally. I don’t know what’s going on in New York City,” Cuomo said. “If they can’t do it, I have offered to send in the National Guard to help pick up garbage. It’s a public health pandemic. Cleanliness matters.”
And he urged the city to address homelessness by reopening shelters closed during the height of the pandemic. “Get homeless people of the street. Keep them safe. Get them a test, treatment,” he said. “This is eminently doable. Homelessness is now a public health concern.”
Last week, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his own recovery plan for the city that focused on investment in public health research, social justice and job creation. The governor rarely mentions the mayor by name, but just about every NYC-related comment in his frequent briefings is an implied criticism. He goes after the city often for not enforcing COVID safety guidelines, though de Blasio was favored opening indoor dining later and with more specific parameters around infection rates.
New York City’s school reopening was rocky and has shifted a number of times. Elementary schools opened with in-person classes today. It’s the nation’s largest school district.
Meanwhile, the city is facing a $50 billion budget shortfall that, without federal relief, will result in higher taxes, cuts and borrowing – “none of them positive for the economy,” Cuomo said.