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Businesses plead with state officials to avoid wider economic shutdowns

National Federation of Independent Businesses

As the coronavirus infection rate climbed higher in New York State, new microcluster zones were announced this week in New York and some existing ones were intensified. A business group is asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo to stick to that approach of limited closures, saying they won’t survive a complete economic shutdown.

Greg Biryla with the New York chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses said another shutdown like the one imposed in the spring would cause many struggling businesses to close for good. He hopes the state can continue targeting specific locations where the virus is rising, and then imposing restrictions in that area to contain it.

“Without a doubt, it’s better than a complete economic shutdown. That is our biggest fear,” Biryla said. “We think it would be a catastrophe.”

He said there’s no immediate aid coming from the federal government and the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, business loans approved by Congress in the spring have run out.

Some state lawmakers also support the microcluster approach. Assemblymember Patricia Fahy, a Democrat from Albany, has been championing small businesses in her city. Fahy and two of her colleagues are also writing to Cuomo to ask that widespread shutdowns not be considered.

“Let’s not do these massive shutdowns of gyms or shopping malls or restaurants,” Fahy said. “That will just crush the economy even more.”

Fahy said most businesses are acting responsibly to try to limit the spread of the disease.

Biryla said the vast majority of his members are “religiously” practicing safety measures, like obeying a state law to require masks for customers and staff, enforcing social distancing and providing hand sanitizer.

He said chain retail stores like Walmart and Target were open throughout the pandemic and many smaller businesses have been open since the summer. So far, no widespread outbreaks have been traced to them.

“I think this increase we’re seeing right now is from a number of factors,” Biryla said. “But I don’t think the general operation of local businesses is one of those factors.”

Cuomo said he’s not planning any widespread shutdowns and he said the microcluster approach is working. He said restrictions in some earlier hot spot zones, including ones in New York City and the Southern Tier, have been lessened and some have been removed from the designation altogether. 

“The good news is, microclusters work,” Cuomo said on Wednesday. “Following the rules work.”

Already, though, there are signs that wider shutdowns might be coming. Health officials are warning that the upcoming holiday season could greatly increase the spread of the virus.

Also, the areas designated as microclusters are steadily growing bigger. A Western New York hot zone was expanded on Wednesday and Cuomo warned that all of New York City may be designated an orange zone in the coming days because of rising virus rates. The city’s public schools are already closed except for remote learning.

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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