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Business leaders warn a second COVID-19 shutdown could lead to permanent closures

Kyle S. Mackie

Clusters of the coronavirus in parts of New York are causing concern, and while the outbreaks remain isolated for now, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not ruled out shutting down parts of the economy again if other measures don’t work.

Business leaders, however, say many employers will not survive another lengthy closure, and they're asking for a plan that does not include a major economic shuttering.  

New York, once the epicenter of the disease, has seen the infection rate remain low for months. But in recent days, clusters in portions of Brooklyn, Queens and the lower Hudson Valley -- some tied to Orthodox Jewish communities -- are a cause for concern.

There are other outbreaks upstate. In the Southern Tier, 74 cases are linked to a church serviceAndrew Cuomo in Horseheads, and there was an outbreak at a nursing home. In the Buffalo area, the positivity rate for weeks has been slightly higher than the 1% average for the rest of the state and 55 new cases were reported in Erie County on Tuesday. 

Cuomo on Monday threatened that he might have to issue lockdown orders again if things don’t change quickly. But he has pulled back from that warning since, saying he wants local governments to first enforce compliance with mask-wearing and other safety measures. 

“These are escalating actions,” said Cuomo, who added closing down the economy would be “step four” and would “cause significant economic damage.” He said steps one through three haven’t yet been given a chance to work.

Business leaders in the state agree. 

“We certainly don’t want to see another major shutdown,” said Heather Briccetti, president of the Business Council of New York State. “I don’t think that will happen.”  

Briccetti said we’ve learned a lot since the dark days of March and April about how to keep people safe from the spread of the disease. She said she believes New York can flatten the curve once again if the virus starts to multiply.  

“We successfully did it,” Briccetti said. “And I believe that we can do it again.”

She also said businesses would like to have more liability protections against potential lawsuits if they remain open and the virus spreads out of control.  

Greg Biryla with the New York division of the National Federation of Independent Businesses said his members, many of them small-business owners, have been taking the safety protocols seriously. And he said so far, no major transmissions have been linked to any encounters between customers and staff at retail stores.

“Traditional, typical consumer-business interactions are not posing significant transmission risks,” Biryla said. “That is very positive news, and it leads to me to believe that businesses can continue to remain open, and follow safety protocols and guidance should there be some kind of uptick in transmission and infections.” 

He said if there were a second shutdown, the number of businesses that would have to close for good would be almost “unfathomable.” In a survey of NFIB members, 40% said they might not be in business seven to 12 months from now, under the current conditions. 

Biryla also said that he does not want to repeat some decisions made during the spring shutdown, where big-box stores remained open while smaller retailers, who sold some of the same products, had to close.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.
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