We’re two weeks away from Gov. Cuomo’s plan to begin reopening parts of the state to whatever our new normal will be on May 15. But it’s not enough to just go region by region. It might be nice to tell the tiny Village of Speculator in the back woods of the Adirondack foothills that it’s OK for folks to mosey along Lake Pleasant again, but that doesn’t do a darn thing for the people suffering here in Queens.
No, we need to begin lifting Cuomo’s PAUSE — Policies Assure Uniform Safety for Everyone — right away here too. We can do it at an acceptable level of risk if we do it smartly. Supermarkets let you shop, with a mask, at 50 percent occupancy or less, with protective screens at the register — can’t Home Goods, Ulta Beauty, Burlington Coat Factory and TJ Maxx do that? Of course they can.
They can also set aside special hours for seniors, those most at risk of dying if they contract the coronavirus, just as supermarkets have. And restaurants can do the same; it would just be a matter of taking the traditional Early Bird Special to another level. Set aside a block of time when only seniors can dine in, after a thorough cleaning of the place, keep them apart from each other, and then open up later for everyone else. You can bet most restaurateurs would rather do that than see their businesses shuttered, their dreams crushed, their workers on unemployment.
Deaths and hospitalizations from COVID-19 are steadily declining. We flattened the curve, which was the point of social distancing and stay-at-home orders. The hospital system and its heroic frontline workers, though stretched to the breaking point, never broke. Now it’s time to begin the process of relief, including here in New York City.
The need is dire. At least 26 million people have lost their jobs in a matter of weeks. Nothing remotely like that has happened since the Great Depression. Unemployment systems are overwhelmed. A Univision reporter last week posted video of a line of people seeking sustenance from a Catholic Charities food pantry in Corona that he said stretched for 20 blocks. The meat section in one Forest Hills supermarket looks like something out of Soviet Russia: 80 percent empty. Lysol is selling at $12 for 12.5 ounces.
We rightly put safety first, but did unfathomable damage to our economy and society in the process. We must begin repairing it now. Carefully. Logically. One step at a time. But now. The cure cannot be worse than the disease.