The steps that state authorities have taken to curtail the spread of COVID-19 turned even more drastic Monday morning.
In a joint news conference with his colleagues from Connecticut and New Jersey, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced several measures restricting mass gatherings. Beginning Monday night, bars and restaurants were limited to delivery and take-out services; they were offered waivers for take-out alcohol.
In addition, he limited recreational and social activities to 50 people. Casinos, gyms and movie theaters were temporarily closed as well.
Mr. Cuomo said that he, Connecticut Gov. Edward M. Lamont and New Jersey Gov. Philip D. Murphy agreed to these uniform regulations to thwart residents from traveling to a neighboring state to patronize these types of businesses. He said the rules will remain in place until further notice.
“Our primary goal right now is to slow the spread of this virus so that the wave of new infections doesn’t crash our health care system, and everyone agrees social distancing is the best way to do that,” Mr. Cuomo said in a news release issued Monday. “This is not a war that can be won alone, which is why New York is partnering with our neighboring states to implement a uniform standard that not only keeps our people safe but also prevents ‘state shopping’ where residents of one state travel to another and vice versa.”
Granted, the governor has a lot on his plate right now. We appreciate his determination to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus and spare the health care industry as much grief as possible. We also recognize that Mr. Cuomo is listening to experts on infectious diseases and commend him for doing so.
But businesses affected by his mandate have some unanswered questions. Many of the bars, gyms, movie theaters and restaurants will be forced to close for good if they continue losing money for a period of time. Is the state prepared to invest the substantial amount of revenue needed to keep these merchants operating?
And what about their employees? How will they make ends meet?
Mr. Cuomo recently signed an executive order waiving the seven-day waiting period for unemployment insurance for anyone whose job was disrupted by the pandemic. This is good news as these individuals will have quicker access to this financial resource.
But unemployment insurance only offers a portion of someone’s weekly wages. What will people who have been laid off do to make up the rest of what they need to pay all their bills?
Picking up work elsewhere will soon become much more difficult. A wider circle of businesses will be hit before too long, and they’ll likely have to lay off their workers as well. And once many of these people lose their jobs, they’ll also lose their health insurance — how will that benefit the crisis?
It’s easy to say that the businesses subject to these restrictions aren’t as essential as others, so the economy shouldn’t suffer too much. But this ignores the reality that businesses in a community support each other. They hire residents as employees, who use their wages to patronize surrounding companies.
It’s worth noting that Mr. Cuomo didn’t order shopping malls or retail stores to close — not yet, anyway. Why direct some businesses to scale back their operations but not others?
That’s because authorities accept some risks in balancing how these policies should be drafted. We could close all firms across the country to greatly reduce the likelihood of spreading the virus. If keeping people out of some places will help the situation, why not go all the way?
The reason is we simply cannot put the United States on hold “until further notice.” We depend on the economy and must keep it moving forward. Halting all commercial activity would itself put numerous lives at risk, and this would counter the good we’re trying to accomplish in quashing this health crisis.