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Let the reopening begin – responsibly

Western New York is cleared for takeoff. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, speaking in Buffalo on Monday, announced that the five counties here will begin the first phase of reopening Tuesday.

Whether we can keep the flight aloft largely depends on people’s willingness to take things slowly, to continue social distancing and mask wearing, so that coronavirus doesn’t reassert itself with a new wave of cases.

The start of reopening is good news. As the weather gets warmer, tempers are growing shorter as individuals chafe under the restrictions caused by the shutdown. People not inclined to be political soulmates of Cuomo have been taking out their frustrations on the governor and his assumption of emergency powers to address the Covid-19 crisis. (For examples, see the nearest Facebook feed.)

A Western New York law firm, Hogan Willig, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court challenging the legality of the governor’s authority. The suit raises valid questions about a long-term shutdown’s effect on people’s ability to make a living, as well as legitimate concerns over the state’s chief executive assuming too much power. We won’t attempt to play judge or jury on the case, but there are some facts that support Cuomo’s actions in placing the public health above the needs of private enterprise.

More than 40 states and territories have declared states of emergencies during the coronavirus crisis, with Democratic and Republican governors both assuming emergency powers.

Also, New York’s State Legislature on March 3 passed a bill giving the governor greater powers “to issue by executive order any directive necessary to respond to a state disaster emergency.”

The emergency powers were granted through April 30, 2021, but the Legislature has the power to rescind them or overturn an executive order from the governor. The Democratic-controlled Assembly and Senate may be more Cuomo-friendly than its critics would like, but the governor’s assumption of new powers was not done without legislative branch approval.

Stay-at-home orders and curbs on businesses will result in a long-term drag on the economy from which New York and the United States may take years to recover. There have also been dramatic decreases in tax revenues collected by state and local governments. Any conspiracy theorist who thinks that New York’s chief executive, a Democrat, would intentionally inflict this kind of pain on our economy – while bleeding state coffers – hasn’t been paying attention to how money makes government’s wheels go ’round.

The economic shutdown in New York and most other states has been compared to a medically induced coma, a useful metaphor for an unpleasant procedure that is necessary to avoid a tragic outcome. A patient waking from a coma does not rush immediately from his hospital bed to his place of business. Doctors will tell him to take things slowly, so as not to jeopardize his recovery.

That’s the challenge for Western New York, as we enter the first phase of reopening. As Cuomo said Monday, it will be up to Western New Yorkers whether we reach the other phases, and how soon. Employers, employees and customers must remain vigilant in following health guidelines to keep the virus from spreading.

The reopening of bars in Wisconsin last week provides a cautionary tale. After the state’s Supreme Court blocked an extension of Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order, a trade association told the state’s taverns they could open immediately. News reports and photos showed patrons crowding into Wisconsin bars, many without wearing masks. If scenes like that are repeated here, Covid-19 hospitalizations would begin to climb again, dealing a setback to the cause of reopening.

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