State officials should not be surprised by complaints about the arbitrary nature of the color-coded zones imposed in order to flatten the pandemic curve.
The state launched its microcluster initiative so it could act in regions with high infection rates. Orange or red designations call for curtailing gatherings, banning indoor dining or, in the case of the "red zone," shutting down nonessential businesses and activities and limiting schools to remote-only instruction. Yellow is cautionary. There are currently no red zones in the state, though much of Erie County has been designated orange.
But the system is failing. Even though Erie County has the lowest average Covid-19 positive rate among the five counties in Western New York, it is the only one subject to “orange zone” restrictions. That invites litigation. Indeed, it already has.
Compare that to the Mohawk Valley. It has New York’s highest average test rate, but none of its counties is operating under an orange zone. Moreover, a portion of Chemung County has remained orange since October, yet its Southern Tier region has the state’s lowest coronavirus rate.
This hodgepodge approach is frustrating local officials, business owners and residents. Cuomo and state officials need to pay attention. Failing to make changes since mid-December – and during yet another surge in the virus – has invited court cases that are creating even more inequities. The patchwork of court decisions threatens to unwisely throw New York open in the middle of a pandemic. Infections could rise. Hospitals could become overcrowded. More people could die.
There are areas of New York State still deserving of orange status. Where the virus has been lowered, though, the state should respond or face unwanted court action. In other areas, infection rates have climbed so much that activity should be even more restricted, as unpopular as that may be.
All of this is more complicated than closing everything or leaving everything open. But if we stay on top of the challenges, we should have the best balance between controlling the pandemic and minimizing the economic damage.
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