Clusters of the COVID-19 virus in parts of New York are causing concern. While the outbreaks remain isolated for now, Governor Andrew Cuomo has not ruled out shutting down parts of the economy again, if other measures don’t work. Business leaders say many employers will not survive another lengthy closure, and are asking for a plan that does not include a major economic shuttering.
New York, once the epicenter of the disease, has seen the rate of COVID-19 remain low for months. But in recent days, clusters in portions of Brooklyn, Queens and the lower Hudson Valley, some tied to Orthodox Jewish communities are a cause for concern. There are other outbreaks upstate. In the Southern Tier 74 cases are linked to a church service in Horseheads, and there was an outbreak at a nursing home. In the Buffalo area, the positivity rate for weeks has been slightly higher than the 1% average for the rest of the state. 55 new cases were reported in Erie County on Tuesday.
Cuomo on Monday threatened that he might have to issue lock down orders once again, if things don’t change quickly. But he has pulled back from that warning since, saying he wants local governments to first enforce compliance with mask wearing and other safety measures.
“These are escalating actions,” said Cuomo, who said closing down the economy would be “step four,” and would “cause significant economic damage.” He says steps one through three haven’t yet been given a chance to work.
Business leaders in the state agree. Heather Briccetti is President of the Business Council of New York State.
“We certainly don’t want to see another major shut down,” Briccetti said. “I don’t think that will happen.”
Briccetti says we’ve learned a lot since the dark days of March and April about how to keep people safe from spread of the disease, and she says she believes New York can flatten the curve once again, if the virus starts to multiply.
“We successfully did it,” she said. “And I believe that we can do it again.”
She says businesses would like to have more liability protections against potential lawsuits, if they remain open and the virus spreads out of control.
Greg Biryla, with the New York division of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, says his members, many of them small businesses, have been taking the safety protocols seriously. And he says, so far, no major transmissions have been linked to any encounters between customers and staff at retail stores.
“Traditional, typical consumer- business interactions aren’t posing significant transmission risks,” Biryla said. “That is very positive news, and it leads to me to believe that businesses can continue to remain open, and follow safety protocols and guidance should there be some kind of uptick in transmission and infections.”
He says if there were a second shutdown, the number of businesses that would have to close for good would be almost “unfathomable”. In a survey of NFIB members, 40% said they might not be in business 7 to 12 months from now, under the current conditions.
Biryla says he does not want to repeat some decisions made during the spring shutdown, where big box stores remained opened while smaller retailers who sold some of the same products, had to close.