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NY and several other states form task force for reopening society

Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his counterparts in several other states announced on Monday a task force to figure out how to reopen society after the widespread coronavirus closures.

They did not name any specific dates for reopening schools or businesses or ending social distance rules but said it will begin in a matter of weeks.

The task force involves New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Rhode Island. Cuomo said the top public health and economic officials of each state, along with each governor's chief of staff, will begin meeting Tuesday in a working group to decide the best way to restart the economy.

Cuomo could not offer a specific timetable but said 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 Gov. Phil Murphy said the decision to reopen 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 that any of us need right now."

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

President Donald Trump said Monday that he has the authority to reopen 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 said the president has the right to change the "management model" within the limits of the federal constitution. But he pointed 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 said 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 that even if parts of the economy reopen, they might have to close again if the actions create more infections, or if there is a second wave of the virus. The governor said no one will be really comfortable again until there's a vaccine, and that could take 12 to 18 months.

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.