On Friday, parts of New York state began reopening. Yet aside from establishing a series of city task forces, Mayor Bill de Blasio has yet to lay out a clear plan, coordinated with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for the phased opening of nonessential businesses in the city’s five boroughs.
With the pandemic appearing to have peaked, the city needs a blueprint for safely and strategically reopening. Doing so requires clear steps to protect New Yorkers and build trust — measures to mitigate infection risk and proceed in a gradual and staged manner to protect vulnerable populations.
Protecting the elderly and sick must take priority, because so many of the hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 have been in these populations. For this reason, the phased reopening should start with younger workers and low-risk businesses.
In Phase 1, workers under 45 and without severe health risks should be free to return to work. Employers shouldn’t be able to force workers back, and work should be done either remotely or in separate shifts as much as possible. Social distancing should be practiced and masks worn, if possible. Restaurants, bars and theaters — along with schools and places of worship — should remain closed during this initial phase.
Clear metrics — such as sustained declines in hospitalization rates — should guide and trigger each new phase of reopening. If the data show this first phase of reopening to be keeping New Yorkers safe, then we should move to the next stage, allowing workers under the age of 65 without preexisting health conditions to return to work. Dining, drinking and shopping establishments can then also reopen, provided they take concrete steps to reduce crowding and enforce good hygiene.
Only in Phase 3 would all workers be allowed back to any business that’s permitted to operate. Gyms and entertainment venues should remain closed, as they are risky businesses in a pandemic. The timing of their reopening depends entirely on how effectively we can mitigate the virus’ transmission. Social distancing, masking and contact tracing all work.
Business and government should go further by encouraging a range of mitigation efforts: Temperature checks in workplaces, airports, train stations and any other packed public spaces. For those who do get sick and are at risk of infecting others at home, New Yorkers should also have access to city-provided isolation sites, such as in hotels, to prevent the spread of disease further to other household members.
Testing is crucial to reopening efforts because of the widespread number of asymptomatic cases. Businesses should be able to reopen only if they can give regular tests to their employees — and follow up on contact tracing for those who test positive. This will require a joint effort among businesses, testing companies and public-health officials to ramp up production and availability. Enlisting business leaders to help coordinate these measures is crucial.
Special focus is required to enhance mitigation in the hardest-hit areas. The pandemic has disproportionately affected vulnerable populations. The hardest-hit areas include segregated and dense minority neighborhoods. Aside from bringing testing capacity to workplaces, we must also bring testing capacity and support for social distancing to the communities that have borne the greatest burden.
New York City was not built for quarantines. Neither were New Yorkers meant to die in the thousands from a virus we’re still struggling to identify, contain and eradicate. This crisis will likely leave scars that last for years, but they will deepen the longer we wait for a way out.
Layering several mitigation efforts is critical to both preventing a resurgence of the disease when the city opens and building confidence in the city’s management of the disease. New Yorkers need to know that their mayor has a clear, step-by-step reopening plan backed by concrete measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Without a clear strategy, how can we plan for a reopening or trust that we’ll be safe when we go back to work? What New Yorkers deserve is a forceful but measured process to lift restraints while keeping us safe.
This piece originally appeared at the New York Post
Arpit Gupta is an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute and an assistant professor of finance at the NYU Stern School of Business. Jonathan Ellen is a pediatrician, epidemiologist and former CEO of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. They are coauthors of the Manhattan Institute issue brief “A Strategy for Reopening New York City’s Economy.”
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