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Northeast Task Force To Re-Open Society Post COVID-19

The New York State capitol in Albany
Dave Lucas

The governors of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Rhode Island have started a task force to figure out how to re-open society after the coronavirus closures. They did not name any specific dates for re-opening schools or businesses or ending social distance rules that are now in place, but say it will begin in a matter of weeks.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says the chief public health and economic officials of each state, along with the chief of staff for each governor will meet beginning Tuesday in a working group to decide the best way to restart the economy.

He could not offer a specific timetable but says they will try to work together as much as possible and will take into account the opinions of experts and the latest scientific data on the virus and how it spreads.

“We want it ASAP, but we want it smart,” Cuomo said. “Not political.”

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy says the decision to re-open portions of society will be a very careful balance between public health and the economy.

“If you jam it too early, you could throw gasoline, even inadvertently, on the fire, and it could reignite,” Murphy said. “And that’s the last thing any of us need right now.”

Cuomo says many of the re-openings will be interrelated. He says in order for businesses to be fully open, school also have to be operating, so workers will have somewhere to place their children during the day. He also says public transportation will need to be ramped up to former levels.

President Donald Trump said Monday that he has the authority to re-open schools and businesses that have been ordered closed in states around the nation. Trump said, in a Tweet, that reports that it’s up to the governors of the states to restart their economies is “fake news.” Later, the President tweeted that he is working closely with the states’ governors, and will make a joint announcement “shortly.”

Cuomo says the President has the right to change the “management model” within the limits of the federal constitution. But he points out that Trump initially resisted closures and did not take steps to close the economy in states to protect people when the virus was surging. He says it was the governors who made those decisions.

“It is an interesting construct that it wasn’t the federal responsibility to close the economy, but it is the federal government’s responsibility to open the economy,” Cuomo said. “If it’s your authority to open, why wasn’t it your authority to close, right? That’s an obvious question.”

Cuomo has said even if parts of the economy re-open, they might have to close again if the actions create more infections or if there is a second wave of the virus. The governor says no one will be really comfortable again until there’s a vaccine, which won’t come for 12 to 18 months.

Later on Monday, it was announced that Massachusetts has joined the regional coalition. 

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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