New York goes on pause because of coronavirus: Understanding the concept behind that

At 8 p.m. on Sunday night, by order of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, the whole state will go on “PAUSE” in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 and preserve and protect our already-overwhelmed healthcare system. Broadly, the order, which could remain in effect until at least April 19th, forces all “non-essential” workers to stay at home, and creates new rules of social conduct that New Yorkers must adhere to. We’re all about to begin our new lives under PAUSE (“Policies Assure Uniform Safety for Everyone”), so let’s talk about what it means.

Grocery stores are going to be open, right?

Yes, grocery stores, bodegas, farmer’s markets, pharmacies, hardware stores, and restaurants and bars that serve delivery and take-out only are considered essential and will be open. Just remember to keep six feet of distance between you and your fellow shoppers, and check to see if your local store has special hours for seniors or other vulnerable New Yorkers to get what they need.

And liquor and wine stores?

Yep, also essential. Check to see if yours has switched to delivery or pick-up only (no in-store perusing in a pandemic).

Will packages still get delivered? Are delivery cyclists considered essential?

Yes and yes, “warehouse/distribution and fulfillment” is essential (though working conditions are grimmer than ever), and so are the delivery cyclists who bring you food and groceries. Please tip them generously! The US Postal Service is still running, though you should check their website for updates (reminder: you can’t mail flammable things like hand sanitizer or alcohol wipes).

Can I still do my laundry?

Laundromats are essential, and you should be safe to wash your clothing (here are some extra precautions you can take).

Will public transit keep running?

Yes, the subways are running on their regular schedules (and are particularly empty right now) and the MTA just announced that local buses will board from the back of the bus, meaning that they will not collect fares. Shared Access-A-Ride trips have been suspended, along with other shared app-based rides. Check the MTA’s coronavirus page for more updates.

I’m doing it. I’m getting a bike. Or maybe I’ll just tune up this old one I found in my building’s basement. Are bike shops open? Is Citi Bike running?

Bike shops are considered essential under PAUSE, Streetsblog confirms, though it’s a good idea to call ahead to make sure yours hasn’t tweaked its hours. The shops we spoke to earlier this week are super busy with New Yorkers who normally wait until May to get back in the saddle.

Or if you prefer, Citi Bike is always open and running and at your service.

(And yes, you know that auto repair shops are also considered essential.)

My friend is sick and needs someone to take care of their dog. Can we board it? What about dog walkers?

Emergency vets as well as doggy day care centers/pet boarders are open and considered essential (Woofs n’ Whiskers in Brooklyn and Paws in Chelsea both confirmed to us they are staying open) and walking apps like Rover are still available. (More on pet safety in the time of coronavirus here.)

We have bedbugs! Can our landlord still hire an exterminator? And can we move into a hotel room until we get rid of them?

Hotels are considered essential, but the exterminators we spoke with are still trying to figure out whether they are essential or not. We’ve asked the governor’s office for clarification.

That said, exterminators seemingly fall under this bit of guidance from the state:

Essential services necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation and essential operations of residences or other essential businesses including

  • law enforcement
  • fire prevention and response
  • building code enforcement
  • security
  • emergency management and response
  • building cleaners or janitors
  • general maintenance whether employed by the entity directly or a vendor
  • automotive repair
  • disinfection

Can I go to the gym? Or get a (professional) haircut?

Nope, gyms and spas are closed, along with theaters, and event spaces. And as of Sunday night, so are all barbershops, hair salons, tattoo or piercing parlors, nail salons, hair removal services, and related personal care services.

What if my stupid, godawful, overpriced internet goes out like it always does, stupidly? (What am I even paying for? Geez.)

Internet service providers like, ahem, Spectrum/Charter (which is offering free broadband internet to households with children that don’t already have it), or Cablevision, or Verizon, are considered essential, as are public utilities. Cuomo said on Friday that he was directing internet providers to lift caps on data.

What about construction sites?

The only two allowances for construction, per the state guidance, are:

  • skilled trades such as electricians, plumbers
  • other related construction firms and professionals for essential infrastructure or for emergency repair and safety purposes

Hospitals are obviously essential, but what if my gnarly tooth starts blowing up?

Nearly the whole spectrum of health care services are “essential,” including emergency dental care, according to the state’s guidelines. Essential health services include:

  • research and laboratory services
  • hospitals
  • walk-in-care health facilities
  • emergency veterinary and livestock services
  • elder care
  • medical wholesale and distribution
  • home health care workers or aides for the elderly
  • doctor and emergency dental
  • nursing homes, or residential health care facilities or congregate care facilities
  • medical supplies and equipment manufacturers and providers

As we have previously reported, the city and state guidance says that if you are exhibiting flu-like symptoms, stay at home! Rest, drink fluids, and ride it out as best you can. If you are exhibiting flu-like symptoms and are in dire need of emergency care, go to the hospital and seek medical attention.

What are all these essential workers going to do with their kids if they have to go to work?

Private child care centers are technically still allowed to be open, though NYC’s Health Department has recommended that they close.

On March 23rd, the city will open 100 day care centers in schools across the city. The sites will be open to children from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., with priority given to healthcare workers, transit workers, and first responders, though other essential jobs will be considered, according to the Department of Education, which is staffing the centers. (Check for DOE updates here.)

“First of all, I do think obviously the folks who keep the grocery stores open, the pharmacies open, of course they are essential workers,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer on Friday. “We’ve said already, we’re going to have them for sure for the children of first responders, health care workers, transit workers. And we’re trying to figure out how much capacity we can get, how many we can cover…It depends on how many spaces we have, how many kids we can accommodate and trying to really somehow ration that properly.”

It’s not clear how the PAUSE policies apply to nannies, and there was no language in Cuomo’s executive order that specifically mentioned them.

Can my landlord evict me?

No, because Governor Cuomo has suspended all commercial and residential evictions for 90 days. If you’re facing eviction, reach out to the city for help here.

I just lost my job, how am I supposed to pay my rent?

While the governor has issued an order allowing property owners to refinance their mortgages and suspend payments for up to 90 days, no such relief has yet been offered to renters. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said repeatedly that the city will need the federal government to enact some kind of “New Deal” economic initiative to help working families. State Senator Michael Gianaris is calling for three months of rent relief for residential and commercial tenants, and the City Council is currently kicking around a few proposals, but large scale help is not here, yet.

What if I can’t afford food?

All food banks, homeless shelters, and nonprofits and charities are open; go here to find out what is available to you or call 311. City Harvest, which distributes donated food to soup kitchens and low-income New Yorkers in need, has seen a surge in food donations and volunteers, but they are currently seeking non-perishable goods. City Harvest is also coordinating with Citymeals, which brings food to thousands of home-bound elderly New Yorkers. Go to the City Harvest website to find out how to donate or volunteer.

OK what about those “new rules of social conduct” you were talking about in the intro?

Essentially they are what you should have been doing since you first heard about the pandemic: keeping your distance, don’t leave the house if you are symptomatic, don’t visit older loved ones or people with underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the disease. Here they are, courtesy the governor’s office:

  1. Effective at 8PM on Sunday, March 22, all non-essential businesses statewide will be closed;
  2. Non-essential gatherings of individuals of any size for any reason (e.g. parties, celebrations or other social events) are canceled or postponed at this time;
  3. Any concentration of individuals outside their home must be limited to workers providing essential services and social distancing should be practiced;
  4. When in public individuals must practice social distancing of at least six feet from others;
  5. Businesses and entities that provide other essential services must implement rules that help facilitate social distancing of at least six feet;
  6. Individuals should limit outdoor recreational activities to non-contact and avoid activities where they come in close contact with other people;
  7. Individuals should limit use of public transportation to when absolutely necessary and should limit potential exposure by spacing out at least six feet from other riders;
  8. Sick individuals should not leave their home unless to receive medical care and only after a telehealth visit to determine if leaving the home is in the best interest of their health;
  9. Young people should also practice social distancing and avoid contact with vulnerable populations; and
  10. Use precautionary sanitizer practices such as using isopropyl alcohol wipes.

What’s “Matilda’s Law” and what does it mean for New Yorkers age 70 and older?

Named after the governor’s 88-year-old mother, Matilda’s Law is an even stricter set of rules that apply to older, more vulnerable New Yorkers. It is:

  • Remain indoors;
  • Can go outside for solitary exercise;
  • Pre-screen all visitors and aides by taking their temperature and seeing if person is exhibiting other flu-like symptoms;
  • Do not visit households with multiple people;
  • Wear a mask when in the company of others;
  • To the greatest extent possible, everyone in the presence of vulnerable people should wear a mask;
  • Always stay at least six feet away from individuals; and
  • Do not take public transportation unless urgent and absolutely necessary.

Who is going to be enforcing these rules? Are people actually going to get fined for being to close to one another?

The governor said that businesses would receive fines and shutdown orders, but declined to talk about penalties for individuals. On Saturday, Cuomo said he would be paying a visit to New York City himself to ensure compliance.

Mayor de Blasio confirmed to Brian Lehrer that the NYPD would be enforcing social distancing.

“Everyone needs to be serious about what social distancing means,” de Blasio said. “But, of course, we have the best enforcement entity on Earth, the NYPD. It’s totally appropriate for them to again educate, warn, use the ability of someone in uniform to create some clarity and say, nope, that’s too many people in one place, clear it out.”

Are we going to be OK?

I don’t know. But here’s what Cuomo said on Saturday morning:

My last point is practice humanity. We don’t talk about practicing humanity, but now if ever there is a time to practice humanity the time is now. The time is now to show some kindness, to show some compassion to people, show some gentility—even as a New Yorker.

Yes, we can be tough. Yes, this is a dense environment. It can be a difficult environment. It can also be the most supportive, courageous community that you have ever seen.

And this is a time for a little gentility. It is a time for a smile when you are walking past someone. It is a time for a nod. It is a time to say hello. It is a time for patience and don’t let the little things get you annoyed. That’s New York at its best. That was New York after 9/11.

Yes, we have a problem. Yes, we will deal with it. Yes, we will overcome it. But let’s find our better selves in doing it, and let New York lead the way in finding their better selves and demonstrating their better selves. That is the New York destiny and that is the New York legacy. And that is why I am proud to be a New Yorker and to be Governor of this great state.

If ever there is a time to practice humanity — it is now.

The time to show kindness, to show compassion.

New Yorkers are tough — but we are also the most courageous community that you have ever seen.

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