Watertown — As I write this column Saturday afternoon, we’ve somehow managed to avoid having martial law declared by the autocrat in Albany.
But that may change at any moment. On Friday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issued yet another edict regarding the mobility of New York residents. He has “ordered” all non-essential workers to stay home in response to the growing number of COVID-19 cases.
His mandates have grown more extreme day by day. On March 13, he stated that public gatherings couldn’t exceed 500 people and that businesses had to restrict occupancy to 50 percent of its seating capacity.
Then on Monday, Cuomo said that bars and restaurants could only offer delivery and take-out services. Casinos, gyms and movie theaters also would be temporarily closed. And public gatherings were now limited to no more than 50 people.
Wednesday, Cuomo ruled that non-essential businesses could have no more than 50 percent for their workforce show up on their premises; everyone else had to stay home. And amusement parks, bowling alleys and shopping malls were added to the naughty list.
He upped the ante on Thursday by decreeing that 75 percent of the workforce for non-essential businesses needed to remain in their residences. In addition, all barbershops, hair salons, tattoo or piercing parlors, and related personal care services were now verboten.
And, of course, Cuomo followed this up Friday by directing 100 percent of the workforce for non-essential businesses to stay home. The state also has taken measures to address paid sick leave and evictions.
The pressure on Cuomo to act must be enormous. Information from LiveScience.com reports that as of Saturday afternoon, more than 10,000 people have been diagnosed with the coronavirus with 56 deaths statewide.
But Cuomo hasn’t said all that much about how he expects businesses to survive after being closed or having their staffs reduced so dramatically. And given the number of companies that can still operate with a full workforce, does he believe the spread of this disease will truly be contained?
Here are some of the businesses considered “essential” under Cuomo’s executive orders:
Animal health services and veterinary clinics, airports, auto repair sites, banks, bars/restaurants (deliver and take-out only), convenient stores, doctor and dentist offices, doormen, elder care facilities, electricians, food banks, funeral homes, gas stations, grocery stores, hardware stores, homeless shelters, hospitals, human services providers, insurance agencies, janitors, nursing homes, pharmaceuticals, pharmacies, plumbers, public transportation, tech support, telecommunications and data centers, trash/recycling services and utilities.
Oh, I don’t want to forget two other very important essential services: farmers markets and the news media. This list does not exhaust everything covered under this category. Naturally, numerous government services (defense, law enforcement, fire, mail, etc.) are included here as well.
Reviewing all the businesses that are allowed to remain open, I can’t come up with too many companies the state classifies as non-essential. Travel agencies? Event planners? Typewriter repair shops?
The state government’s label of “essential businesses” leaves millions of individuals still passing germs between each other. How will this facilitate a slowdown of the disease?
With all the people from all these businesses still out and about, to what extent will the coronavirus be contained? And all kidding aside about which industries are on what list, is Cuomo willingly throwing a huge wrench in the state’s economy for nothing?
One commenter on our website has proposed a “stop everything” approach for about two weeks to curtailing the spread of the virus. This is not to suggest that everyone stop working, the commenter explained, but that all people (with the exception of health care-associated employees) should perform their work from home. Let’s isolate ourselves so that we can thwart the disease’s progress.
Looking over the list of businesses considered essential by the state shows this simply isn’t possible. Health care staff members need to get their offices to report to work, so they’ll need gas for their cars. They won’t be able to fuel up at a service station attendant’s home.
And the health care industry depends on other industries to keep it going. Many of these people must work on-site to provide their critical services.
Then there are all the businesses that provide necessary services to these other industries, and so on. Many of the tasks they need to carry out cannot be done while they’re lounging around in their jammies.
So the idea of a “stop everything” approach is a pipe dream. And while wallowing in fantasies is great if you’re writing novels, it’s not at all appropriate for crafting public policies.
The common denominator for all businesses is that they need a constant stream of revenue to do their work. So even though Cuomo exempted many companies from his edicts, they’ll be severely hampered by the drop in overall economic activity.
We need to face up to several very unfortunate but incontrovertible facts: This virus is out there infecting more people every day. Numerous individuals will become very sick as a result, and far too many will die. Whatever draconian measures that government authorities want to inflict upon us will not make these realities go away.
We do not have reliable data on how many people have actually been exposed, so estimates about the death rate are speculative at best. This is not to suggest that we shouldn’t take the virus seriously.
But impairing the economy will lead to another problem we don’t need. New York is in no shape to fund everyone’s daily needs, so severely damaging the businesses they work for is reckless.
It’s easy for Cuomo to make all these mandates because he has a secure job and won’t have to worry about how he’ll make ends meet for the next several years. There’s no such certainty for many of his constituents.
And if he ruins them financially to possibly spare them from becoming infected, will it be worth it? Once they lose their jobs and health insurance, they could well eventually be at greater risk of incurring other medical problems. So Cuomo may end up imperiling them in the long run with his shortsighted solutions.
Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.