(The Center Square) – New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an order Friday that he called “the ultimate step” in trying to get a handle on the coronavirus outbreak in the state – ordering a complete shutdown, effective Sunday, of nonessential businesses and directing New York residents to stay in their homes.
The decision, announced at his daily briefing on the COVID-19 crisis, escalates a directive Thursday that commanded businesses to let at least 75 percent of their employees work from home.
The governor described efforts over the past week to increase “social distancing” in the state as akin to slowly closing a valve of human contact.
“We’re going to take it to the ultimate step, which is we’re going to close the valve,” he said. "Because the rate of increase in the number of cases portends a total overwhelming of our hospital system.”
Cuomo said that only “essential businesses” would be allowed to keep functioning with workers outside their homes, such as grocery stores, water utilities and internet companies.
In other dramatic announcements, the governor directed that all “non-critical elective surgeries” be canceled and that the state’s tax deadline be moved to July 15 to match the delay announced for federal taxes.
The governor also spoke in detail about efforts to increase the number of available hospital beds and medical resources. Earlier in the week, Cuomo had said that in about a month and a half, the number of beds required in New York were projected to be double those actually available.
Each hospital in the state has been instructed to look at ways to increase capacity, and regulations relating to the number of beds that can be fitted into rooms have been temporarily waived.
“If you use every available space, how many beds can you get in the hospital?” Cuomo said.
The governor also said an incentive program was to be created to convince companies that make other products to convert their operations to make personal protective equipment for the medical community. Shortages of face masks and other key elements have been a significant concern. And any nonessential health care company that is shutting down but possesses ventilators has been ordered to make those available to the state.
The cost to individuals who may be put out of work was also on Cuomo's mind.
"I'm going to stop any evictions of any residential or commercial tenants for 90 days," he said. "There will be … a moratorium on evictions, resident or commercial, for 90 days. I understand that may effect businesses negatively, and I've spoken to a number of them. I don't know who you think you're going to rent an apartment to now anyway if you kick someone out. By my mandate, you couldn't even have your real estate agent out showing the apartment."
As of Friday afternoon, New York has 7,102 diagnosed cases of coronavirus, with 4,408 of those in New York City, by far the most of any state.
"These provisions will be enforced," Cuomo said. "These are not helpful hints. ... There will be a civil fine and mandatory closure for any business that is not in compliance."