By Karen Rubin, News-Photos-Features.com
Amid a lack of federal direction and nationwide standards, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont today announced a regional approach to combating the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) throughout the tri-state area, in announcing closures of restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters and gatherings over 50 people, as well as public schools.
But the governors all called upon the federal government – the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA – to assist with building emergency hospitals and providing medical equipment and protective gear for health workers.
In what may be the first regional coalition in the country to slow the spread of the infection, these uniform standards will limit crowd capacity for social and recreational gatherings to 50 people, effective 8 PM tonight. This follows updated guidance that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued yesterday recommending the cancellation or postponement of in-person events consisting of 50 people or more.
The three governors also announced restaurants and bars will close for on premise service and move to take-out and delivery services only. These establishments will be provided a waiver for carry-out alcohol. These measures will take effect at 8 PM tonight.
Finally, the three governors said they will temporarily close movie theaters, gyms and casinos, effective at 8 PM tonight.
This uniform approach to social distancing is meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.
“Our primary goal right now is to slow the spread of this virus so that the wave of new infections doesn’t crash our healthcare system, and everyone agrees social distancing is the best way to do that,” New York Governor Cuomo said. “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. I have called on the federal government to implement nationwide protocols but in their absence we are taking this on ourselves.”
New Jersey Governor Murphy said, “With all we are seeing in our state – and across our nation and around the world – the time for us to take our strongest, and most direct, actions to date to slow the spread of coronavirus is now. I’ve said many times over the past several days that, in our state, we are going to get through this as one New Jersey family. But if we’re all in this together, we must work with our neighboring states to act together. The work against coronavirus isn’t just up to some of us, it’s up to all of us.”
Connecticut Governor Lamont said, “The only way to effectively fight the spread of COVID-19 is by working together as states. We have shared interests, and a patchwork of closures and restrictions is not the best way forward. I know that because of this collaboration, we will save lives.”
But the governors called upon the federal government to quickly assist to address what is anticipated as a critical shortage of hospital capacity, medical equipment and protective gear for health workers.
“The best way to [add hospital capacity] is the Army Corp of Engineers – they build airports, bridges,” said Governor Cuomo. “They have the personnel, equipment and do it well. They have the medical equipment and experience setting up hospitals. The state doesn’t have existing workforce. We could contract out –and expedite contracting, which is very expensive – but we still don’t have the medical equipment. It is very, very hard for a state to get this equipment. Everybody wants ventilators, oxygen tanks. The federal government has a stockpile of emergency medical equipment. [But], if the federal government doesn’t step up and doesn’t step up quickly, states will be forced to do what they can on own, and New York will do exactly that” – use its own construction authority and Dormitory Authority to build.
New Jersey Governor Murphy said that to expand his state’s hospital capacity, “we are looking at host of contingency plans in similar light. We have had constructive conversations with FEMA, but more about testing. We will take all the help we can get. Our big needs from the federal government alongside testing is personal protective equipment. In long term, we will need help with economic recovery – states can’t do that on own. But our immediate need on personal protective equipment.
“We need hospital beds and within a couple of weeks,” Connecticut Governor Lamont said. “We are woefully short, especially if a surge comes, even if we flatten the curve in the most optimistic way, we are badly outgunned. We saw what happened in China, where built new hospitals, added capacity in short order.”
The governors said they were not going to shut down public transportation, but to “right size the equipment to ridership,” Governor Murphy said. “There are huge focuses on hygiene, cleanliness, making sure all the equipment is as clean and germ free as possible.”
Meanwhile, the governors are looking to increase telecommunications capacity, to enable people to telecommute, to maintain education online and medical assistance, as well as stay in touch with family.
“We’re working with telecom service providers ,upping capacity, taking away caps, to learn at home, telehealth at home, so people get out of cars and stay closer at home,” Said Governor Lamont. “Ridership on rail is way down.”
“New York also,” Cuomo added. “We want people to stay home, so we need capacity for telecommuting.”
The three states, acting in concert, are shutting down bars and restaurants except for take out and delivery. The exceptions will be supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations and other essential retailers.
New Jersey is strongly discouraging nonessential travel between 8 pm & 5 am on any given day beginning tonight.
Other states may join New York, New Jersey and Connecticut in a wider regional coalition for coordinated action – including Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Asked about the downsides to closing public schools – including loss of food service for needy children, and child care for workers, Cuomo said, “We will do it in a way that accentuates the upside and negates the downside. The downside is people lose childcare, first responders may not be able to go to work, especially healthcare workers if there isn’t child care, so the crash will be on the healthcare system. So we said that schools can close but must provide child care for essential workers, first responders, healthcare workers. Schools close but we will not stop the food for breakfast, lunch, dinner. Educational opportunities lost but we are planning to continue to teach through telecommuting or summer school if this has abated to that point by summer.
“There are few easy calls on this one,” Governor Murphy said. “There is enormous pressure on the economy, small businesses going forward. In schools, the three issues referenced- food security (we have a couple of hundred thousand kids who depend on schools for a hot meal), child care, remote learning (250,000 New Jersey kids don’t have access to device). So we are preprinting monthly syllibi. None of these decisions are easy, without offsets. But we believe strongly this is right path to pursue.
As for tribal casinos in New York and Connecticut, which as sovereign nations, the states cannot order to close but Governor Cuomo said “This is a ‘do the right thing’ situation.”
Earlier, Governor Cuomo had issued a ruling to close schools in New York City, Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk, and instructed New York City to develop a plan within 24 hours to ensure children who rely on school breakfast and lunch programs will continue to receive that support, and parents – especially critical healthcare workers and first responders – will be provided access to child care as needed.
“Our goal is to slow the spread of the virus to a rate that the healthcare system can manage, and one of the ways to do that is to reduce density,” Governor Cuomo said.”Closing the schools is a good idea but you have to anticipate and correct any unintended consequences – we have to ensure children who rely on free school meals continue to get them and that there’s adequate child care, especially for healthcare workers and first responders who are parents of young children. We will close these schools but it needs to be done with these contingencies in mind so that children are not harmed and our hospitals aren’t understaffed – otherwise we cut off our nose to spite our face.”
The Governor also called on 1199 SEIU President George Gresham, New York State Nurses Association President Judy Sheridan Gonzalez, Greater New York Hospitals Association President Ken Raske and United Federation of Teachers President Mike Mulgrew to work together to ensure children who rely on school breakfast and lunch programs will continue to receive that support, and parents will be provided access to child care as needed, including temporary daycare centers. These centers would prioritize care for children of healthcare workers and first responders to ensure these school closures do not strain the hospital and emergency response systems.
Earlier today, the Governor tasked SUNY Empire State College President Jim Malatras with working with counties to develop contingency plans in preparation for school closings, including how to provide meals to food insecure children and ensuring families have adequate access to childcare.
County executives from Westchester, Suffolk and Nassau joined a conference call with Governor Cuomo to discuss the school closures.:
Westchester County Executive George Latimer said, “Our county has been coordinating with the State to ensure an effective means of slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Cancelling group events and meetings, limiting access for non-essential social contacts and anticipating additional testing and healthcare needs are all part of our response in concert with the Governor and his administration. Closing schools – with adequate childcare and nutrition provisions – is the next step we will undertake this week. We deeply appreciate the leadership shown by Governor Cuomo.”
“Over the last several days we have worked with our state and local partners on the potential closure of schools as the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 continued to increase around the state,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said. “As part of our larger social distancing efforts, we came to the conclusion that closing schools is the right thing to do at this time. I would like to thank Governor Cuomo for his leadership as we deal with this crisis as well as our school districts for their partnership and swift action to protect Suffolk families.”
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said, “I thank Governor Cuomo for fully supporting our decision to close all public and private schools and for his unwavering commitment to ensure every child in Nassau County is fully taken care of while this crisis continues to unfold. We all agree that nothing is more important than the safety and well-being of our children.”