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.
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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