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The Editorial Board

Cuomo's extended pause, mask mandate are needed steps

A smart friend of ours shared the following analogy: “The curve is flattening, we can start lifting restrictions now / The parachute has slowed our rate of descent, we can take it off now.”

That explains as well as anything why Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday extended the statewide “pause” on normal activities in New York State until May 15. And on Friday evening, the governor’s order requiring masks to be worn in public kicked in at 8 p.m.

Both decisions will produce some grumbling, but both are necessary. The pandemic has produced plenty of economic pain, but the cost of letting up on restrictions too soon would be far greater. If businesses throw open their doors prematurely, allowing employees to return to work and customers to reappear, Covid-19 will assert itself again. That would strain hospitals and medical resources, cost businesses more money to institute another shutdown, and defeat the purpose of trying to reopen.

The Siena College Research Institute on Thursday released the results of a survey of business leaders in upstate New York. Fifty-seven percent of upstate CEOs said New York’s primary focus should be taming the public health crisis, compared to 35% who said the state should relax restrictions and try to get back in business by early May. And a majority of CEOs, 61%, said in the survey that New York’s social distancing efforts and restrictions on businesses have been “about right.”

Part of a CEO’s job is to take a long view of the challenges they face. Business leaders recognize the value of staying the course now rather than rushing to reopen. The shutdown buys time to develop better testing and mitigation efforts for Covid-19. It seems that every day new efforts are announced for a vaccine or antibody test. Even if a proven vaccine is a year away, testing and tracing protocols will mature and provide a path back for a gradual resumption of business activity.

As the governor has observed, the economy will reopen – to use a NASCAR analogy – under a yellow caution flag. Employees will undergo health screenings, or have their temperatures taken, on the doorstep of their workplace. Some distancing protocols will last only a few months, while others take permanent hold. We haven’t seen the last of paying for things in cash, but the use of plastic or other touchless forms of exchange will become more prevalent.

Wearing a mask to cover the face is now commonplace in the Czech Republic and Hong Kong, two countries that have apparently been effective in containing coronavirus. It’s a sight we all need to get used to, at least for the foreseeable future. Though there has been debate about the efficacy of masks in preventing the spread of the virus, the Centers for Disease Control recommends face coverings. Wearing a bandanna is less effective than a surgical mask, but it’s better than nothing.

The state mask mandate does not impose a crushing burden. It states that New Yorkers must wear masks or cloth coverings over their mouths and noses if they go out in public and can’t maintain social distancing of at least six feet from others. If you take a walk outdoors and keep your distance, a mask is recommended, but not required.

“You’re not going to jail for not wearing a mask,” Cuomo said, adding that New York residents have a tendency to police each other’s behavior, a habit that was noticed long before coronavirus.

The state and local governments may impose civil penalties on anyone refusing to comply.

There no doubt will be displays of civil disobedience by Covid skeptics who don’t want to cover their faces, home school their children or otherwise be inconvenienced by this global pandemic to which more than 150,000 deaths have been attributed worldwide.
Covid-19 is a “pay me now or pay me later” kind of menace. We can’t afford as a society to push the cost any higher than it already needs to climb.

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