Shut it down! More pressure on NYC to close shops & schools amid coronavirus

Photo by Milo Hess

With fears that the United States is on the cusp of a massive spike in coronavirus cases, institutions across New York City are shutting down — and there’s increased pressure on Mayor Bill de Blasio to close the public school system.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer issued a statement Sunday indicating that social distancing must be enforced throughout the five boroughs to reduce the spread of COVID-19 infection among all, including those who may have it and not be symptomatic.

“The way to get out of a crisis is to act logically and strategically. Logic says we need universal testing but that’s sadly not happening. Strategy says we need more aggressive social distancing,” he said. “That is why today, out of an abundance of caution, I am calling for a city shutdown. Only essential services should remain open — not bars, restaurants, or movie theaters.”

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson repeated that sentiment in his own statement Sunday afternoon.

“We are in a state of emergency and we must move quickly to mitigate the impact of coronavirus/COVID-19 on our city,” Johnson said. “All non-essential services must be closed, including bars and restaurants. We should keep essentials like grocery stores, bodegas, pharmacies, and banks open. And restaurants that can make deliveries should be able to stay open to provide delivery service for New Yorkers.”

Various financial measures would need to be implemented to make the shutdown work in New York — including assistance for businesses to pay their bills and compensating workers for lost wages, according to Johnson.

This kind of shutdown would be similar to those imposed in Italy and France over the last few weeks after both European nations suffered a massive spike in coronavirus cases that overwhelmed hospitals all over the country.

Coronavirus is primarily transmitted from person to person, in close quarters, whether or not they exhibit symptoms of the illness. Because of that, governments across the world have closed public venues, prohibited large gatherings and urged businesses to encourage telecommuting among their workforce, in the name of social distancing.

Stringer and Johnson also called for the closure of all New York City schools. The Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn have already announced week-long closures, as have other private schools across the city that have shut campuses in favor of online learning for the next several weeks.

But Mayor Bill de Blasio continues to balk at closing the public school system, arguing that it would force many workers essential to the fight against coronavirus — nurses, doctors, police officers, firefighters, etc. — to stay home with their children.

During a Sunday appearance on WBLS radio, de Blasio said that “there are millions of parents who depend on our public schools [and] a huge number of them don’t have an alternative.”

“So, if we are not able to sustain our schools, a lot of parents who have no choice but to stay home, they’re not going to have a paycheck. If they are people we need like first responders or health care workers, that’s going to now affect everything else in the city and our ability to protect people,” de Blasio said. “The kids, not only do they need an education, they need a safe place to go they need a place with meals. They need adult supervision.”

De Blasio also intimated that keeping students home from school might actually encourage them to hang out more during the day, disobeying social distancing recommendations — and potentially increasing the spread of coronavirus.

“But I want to caution how imperfect that situation would be to have so many kids home and, obviously, for older kids, teenagers, I’ve been very blunt about this,” he suggested. “They’re not going to stay in their apartment for weeks or months. You know, they’re going to go out and not have adult supervision. That worries me greatly.”

Not everyone shares those concerns.

In a joint letter to de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, the boards of five public school parents associations — Stuyvesant High School, The Bronx High School of Science, Brooklyn Technical High School, Booker T. Washington Middle School and Christa McAuliffe Intermediate School — urged that public schools be closed.

“While we share many of the concerns that have supported the decision to keep schools open to date, we do not believe that continuing that decision is consistent with the drastic measures taken and accepted by our global, national and local communities as necessary to confront this pandemic,” the boards wrote in their letter. “New York City can and must find another way to support the families that will be affected by school closures. Students and families should not need to decide between going to school and staying healthy.”

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