After spending days trying to balance the economic needs of the state with its health, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday he was issuing an executive order completely closing New York. Not just New York City, where more than a third of the state's coronavirus cases have been found, but all 19.5 million people statewide.
"We're going to take the ultimate step, " Cuomo said, in his Friday morning news conference. "We are going to close the (population density) valve."
"When I talk about the most drastic action we can take, this is the most drastic action we can take."
That means anyone not deemed to be essential to keeping society running at its basic foundation is order to stay home, and remain indoors. Anyone venturing out can do so only to get supplies in limited trips, or for periods of outdoor solitary recreation. It also means that non-essential businesses must now shut down by 100 percent.
"It's a policy that ensures uniform safety for everyone," Cuomo said. "Why? Because what I do will affect you, and what you do will affect me."
State officials have studied the response to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 by other countries, looking for what Cuomo said were policies that worked and didn't work. Keeping everyone home, except those who are needed to keep everything else moving, was the best option.
"Essential services have to continue to function," Cuomo said. "Grocery stores need food, pharmacies need drugs, your internet has to continue to work, water has to turn on when you turn the faucet."
So far, 80 percent of the coronavirus cases found in New York involved recovery — many without any hospitalization. Yet, it's those who might struggle with the virus — senior citizens, those with compromised immune systems, and people with some underlying medical conditions — that Cuomo is most worried about.
"Remember, many people will get this disease," the governor said. "People will get it. People will recover. That's what's going to happen, for the vast majority. That is what is happening in this state, for the vast majority.
"We need real diligence with vulnerable populations, and there has been a lot of confusion and a lot of different theories and mixed information."
Cuomo cited his mother Matilda, widow of former governor Mario Cuomo, and how she lives alone, with members of her extended family wanting to be with her, or even to bring her home. What's the best thing the Cuomo family can do for her? No one knows for sure, her son says.
But the last thing anyone should be doing is sending multiple people over, or bringing her into a home where there may be a big family of people coming in and out. The less her chances of exposure are to the virus, the better, Cuomo added.
If someone is vulnerable and is around others, they should wear a medical mask, the governor said.
"This is urgent and absolutely necessary," Cuomo said. "I call it 'Matilda's Law.' My mother's name is Matilda. Everybody's mother, father, sister, friend in a vulnerable population, this is about protecting them. What you do highly affects their health and well-being."
For non-vulnerable populations, Cuomo established the rules that there are no non-essential gatherings. When in public, social distancing must be maintained of six feet. Outdoor recreation should be limited to running or hiking — anything that can be done alone.
Sick people shouldn't leave their homes unless they receive medical care.
And most importantly, younger people need to practice social distancing, and avoid contact with vulnerable populations. While they may be the most likely to recover from an infection, they could spread the virus to others who may not be so lucky.
"This is not if you really want to be a great citizen. These are legal provisions, and they will be enforced," Cuomo said. "There will be a civil fine and mandatory closure for any business that is not in compliance. Again, your actions can affect my health. That is where we are."
So far, New York has about seven times more confirmed cases of coronavirus than any other state. Part of that, however, could be because New York has been the most aggressive about testing.
"The number of cases is relative to the number of tests," Cuomo said. New York asked Washington for the ability to administer its own tests, which President Trump granted.
Since then the state has tested 32,000 people, including 10,000 on Thursday.
"When you ramp up the number of tests, you're going to get more positive cases," Cuomo said. "But that's not what we're worried about. We could do more tests, you would find more positives. And finding positives is a good thing, because we can isolate and we can track back."
Finally, Cuomo wanted to point out that while such response might be unprecedented in most people's life times, it's not unprecedented in history. All anyone has to do is look back to the flu epidemic of 1918, and what government did them.
"St. Louis took one course of action, and Philadelphia took another course of action," Cuomo said.
The governor refers to efforts by St. Louis officials in 1918 to close buildings and enforce social distancing, while Philadelphia threw a parade for its World War I soldiers, drawing tens of thousands of people. Within days, Philadelphia's hospitals were overloaded with those who were sick and dying, while St. Louis experienced infection rates that were a fraction of that.
"And it made a dramatic difference in the number of people that died," Cuomo said. "What the government did that moment made a dramatic difference. Not nationally, but locally."
The shutdown is expected to take effect beginning Sunday evening.
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