Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers are expected to return to work when the city launches the first step of its reopening plan in the coming weeks, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.
Following months under lockdown—with measures that banned all nonessential businesses and closed schools—now between 200,000 and 400,000 employees are set to get back to the workplace across the five boroughs during Phase 1, which the mayor has previously stated he expects to be anytime in the first two weeks of June.
“We’ve asked you now over the last two months to shelter in place, to practice social distancing, to wear face coverings. It’s a lot, and it hasn’t been easy,” de Blasio said during his daily news conference. “You’ve done it to a remarkable degree, and because you’ve done it so well, we’re now actually in a position to start talking about opening things up step by step, phase by phase.”
Construction, manufacturing, wholesale and restricted retail have been given the greenlight to reopen during Phase 1 under the state’s guidelines, according to de Blasio.
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Essential retail such as pharmacies and grocery stores have remained open and operating during the city’s lockdown, and the first phase of reopening will expand which retailers can operate.
“Now we’re talking about a whole range of other retail: clothing stores, office supply stores, furniture stores, you name it, but restricted to curbside pickup or in-store pickup,” the mayor said. “That means not wandering the aisles shopping or lingering or comparing things, but you know, placing an order and coming and getting it. So, it’s a quick transaction with limited contact between people.”
Each business will be expected to follow industry-specific guidelines, as well as “nuts and bolts rules,” he said.
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Social distancing should be enforced, with the goal of keeping people six feet apart as much as possible; workforces will return at a 50% capacity, “so you have room for people to spread out,” de Blasio said; and to the maximum extent possible, only one person at a time should be allowed in areas with limited spaces, such as elevators and around cash registers.
“These are sort of common-sense rules,” the mayor said. “It’s all about limiting contact, limiting the potential spread of the disease.”
Workplaces should also be providing employees with personal protective equipment, and daily health-care screening in some form must be introduced, whether it be a temperature check or a questionnaire.
“Stating the obvious, any employee that isn’t feeling well should stay home,” de Blasio said. “But the important thing is to set up some rigorous screening at each and every employer to test each employee coming in, in one form or another, check to see how they’re doing.”
For businesses in need of assistance, the city will be offering support in the form of industry guides and a business restart hotline, both of which should be available by next week, according to the mayor.
A team of small-business advocates and compliance advisers will be able to provide in-person support, and advisory groups will assess “what’s working, what’s not, what needs to be adjusted,” he said.
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To ensure compliance, random inspections will be conducted with a “supportive attitude,” de Blasio said. “This is not ‘gotcha,’ this is not something where we want to find a problem, we’re not intending to give fines in the first instance.” Though he warned that the city reserves the right to use fines or more aggressive actions if necessary.
New York City will be the last region in the state to begin the process of reopening, an unsurprising development considering the disproportionate number of coronavirus infections within the city.
A total of 198,255 New York City residents have tested positive for coronavirus and 16,673 have died. As of Thursday afternoon, a further 4,742 fatalities are presumed to be a result of the virus, according to the city’s health department.
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The first steps won’t be taken until New York City meets seven state-mandated metrics.
Four have been reached, as of Thursday evening, with the city having yet to make available 30% of its ICU beds, 30% of its total hospital beds and not having enough contact tracers—though the latter is considered “expected,” according to the state’s tracker.
The city had recently hit five of the metrics, but the share of free ICU beds has dipped back below the threshold needed.
Other New York coronavirus developments from Thursday:
Masks:Gov. Andrew Cuomo has issued an executive order giving New York private businesses the power to turn away customers not wearing masks or face coverings. Masks are “amazingly effective,” the governor said. “We’ve made them mandatory in public settings, public transportation, et cetera. When we’re talking about reopening stores and places of business, we’re giving the store owners the right to say if you’re not wearing a mask, you can’t come in.”
Cases:Across New York state, 366,733 people have tested positive for coronavirus and 23,722 have died, according to the health department. The number of deaths on Tuesday alone was 74 and total new cases fell to 163, “which is the lowest that it has been,” according to Cuomo.
Star Power:Chris Rock and Rosie Perez appeared at the governor’s news conference Thursday to implore New Yorkers to keep social distancing and wearing masks in the fight against coronavirus.