The COVID-19 pandemic took us all by surprise. Since roughly March 15, the entire state has been shut down beside businesses and employees deemed essential. We have lost thousands of New Yorkers to the virus, and I send my condolences to those who have been affected and their families.
One thing, though, has been strikingly clear: the vast majority of the outbreak has been in New York City or concentrated in urban areas, with many rural areas in upstate lagging far behind in numbers. Recently, the governor announced that all of New York would remain closed until May 15, an announcement that again took us all by surprise. While I believe that social distancing and quarantining measures are necessary, it is my concern that a blanket outlook on the issue might not be the proper approach. As I have stated earlier, although New York has been one of the hardest hit states with the virus, the majority of the cases have been in New York City. It is my concern that the governor has failed to realize that the rest of the state has not been hit nearly as hard as downstate and could potentially be treated differently as we take the necessary steps back to normal life.
As the days and weeks pass by, I have heard from countless small businesses that are struggling to make it through this crisis. Many are unsure that their doors will ever open again. As we begin to reach the peak and move past it, it is my belief that we should explore the idea of having upstate begin taking the steps to reopening at a more accelerated rate than that of New York City. Before the shelter-in-place order was called, many restaurants were already taking the necessary steps to prevent the transmission of the virus. Diligently cleaning tables and removing some so the proximity of customers was not as close. If they continue to take these steps, while limiting capacity in buildings and slowly opening different businesses and sectors of the economy, I think that we might be able to begin talks to open upstate and rural communities before that of New York City.
While I do not believe the danger has completely passed, and residents should still stay home and avoid large crowds, I think that we need to begin talks about our plans for reopening upstate New York. Our small businesses were already struggling - if we continue the PAUSE initiative in some of our communities, it could be catastrophic. Of course, health and safety should remain our top priorities, but I believe with a continuation of social distancing measures and attention to proper hygiene, we can start to evaluate a regionally-oriented opening approach.
After collaborating with other members of the Assembly Minority, we are calling on the governor and legislative leaders of New York to develop a plan to do just that, reopen New York on a regional basis. Our proposal, known as “New York State Regional Restart” puts forth our series of recommendations and would create a task force of economic development and healthcare professionals to develop a reopening plan by April 29.
One thing that has become noticeably clear from all of this, that we as New Yorkers are strong, resilient individuals. You have done your part and continue to do so. Despite the uncertainty, it has been truly inspiring to see New Yorkers do everything in their power to protect their fellow citizens and venerable populations. I am very proud of each and every one of you, and proud to be a New Yorker. I have seen so many stories of individuals and businesses in our communities stepping up to help each other during these troubling times. We have once again shown that New Yorkers are some of the strongest in our nation. Please continue to wash your hands, continue to support local businesses and continue to help your neighbors in need. We will get through this. We will endure. Stay positive, stay healthy, stay safe.