New York, along with six neighboring states, will form a working group to determine how to best reopen the economy.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, along with the governors of New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Delaware, announced Monday that the states will create a 21-person group consisting of the top public health and economic development official from each state, as well as each governor’s chief of staff.
The group doesn’t have specific deadlines but will need to act in a “matter of weeks,” Cuomo said. The governor said that while he’d prefer the states act in unison, each will have its own strategy for reopening businesses — the idea being that at the very least, the states’ leaders are aware of each others’ actions.
“The state boundaries mean little to this virus,” Cuomo said.
But the division between federal, state and local authority in responding to the virus has caused confusion over the last few days. For example, when Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that city schools will remain closed this year, Cuomo asserted that the authority to close or reopen schools lies solely with the state. Earlier on Monday, President Donald Trump tweeted that it was his decision — not that of governors — to reopen states.
“If it’s your authority to open, why wasn’t it your authority to close?” Cuomo said when asked about the president’s statement. “Governors need clarity. That’s what they need.”
Politically, re-opening economies is something the governors look forward to celebrating, after the painful decisions to close businesses. In a press conference with the six governors, Pennsylvania’s Tom Wolf seemed to speak for them all when he said, “Since we had the responsibility for closing the states down, I think we primarily have the responsibility for opening the states up.”
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said coordination among the states was crucial, pointing out that his state’s fate is intimately tied to New York’s.
“Our pandemic is all along that I-95, Metro-North corridor,” Lamont said. “It’s the commuter corridor for us, but it’s also the Covid corridor.”
Noting the resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore, he said it is crucial that the Northeast states “don’t pull the trigger too early … That would be so demoralizing.”
The states remain focused on the health emergency, the governors noted. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy noted that his state still hasn’t reached its projected peak in coronavirus infections. “The house is still on fire,” he said. “We still need to put the fire out.”
On March 18, Cuomo signed an executive order that restricted the number of employees of most businesses who could report to work. Only 50 percent of employees were permitted to show up to the office. The next day that threshold was reduced to 25 percent. On March 20, he announced that all non-essential employees must work from home.
Initially, all construction was considered essential, but at the end of last month, the governor shut down all work except infrastructure projects, healthcare facilities and affordable housing. Last week, the state officially recognized real estate as an essential business but asserted that most transactions must be done remotely.
On Saturday, Cuomo announced that New York has reached the apex of Covid-19 cases, though the number of deaths from the disease continues to rise.
UPDATED, Monday, April 13,2020, at 5:37 p.m.: After publication, Massachusetts announced that it would also join the working group.
Write to Kathryn Brenzel at [email protected]