Gov. Andrew Cuomo continued to warn New Yorkers on Wednesday to remain cautious as a variant of the coronavirus first found in the United Kingdom has continued to spread in the state. But at the same time, the state is moving forward with an easing of COVID-19 orange and yellow zone restrictions after a holiday season spike has appeared to subside.
"We make decisions on the facts we have today," Cuomo said at a news conference. "You're talking about livelihoods and the economy and billions of dollars."
But physicist Yaneer Bar-Yam, who has studied complex systems and has advised on previous outbreaks, says reopening now is a mistake. At issue is the variant of the coronavirus first found in the UK that is considered more contagious. There are now 42 confirmed cases of the variant in New York.
"The only way to gain control of the virus in general is to shutdown," he said. "This just makes the margins even smaller. So you can't have any leeway in anything you do."
Bar-Yam has proposed a green zone strategy, shutting down statewide and then reopening in areas where the infection has been stamped out.
"Once we have those restrictions, we can open up those zones to communities that don't have transmission to normal," he said.
The complications are many: The move would rely on travel restrictions from state to state and even on the municipal level that are unlikely to be imposed. And then there's the pandemic fatigue among the population and the weariness of another shutdown hammer.
"This really plays into the leadership of Governor Cuomo because he was outstanding at communicating the need for shared responsibility in the context of an outbreak," Bar-Yam said.
And as restrictions are being eased, a coalition of labor unions is calling for essential workers to be given strengthened protections while on the job.
"Many of the farmworkers are exposed," said Maritza Silva-Farrell of the group NY Align. "There are many cases in which they don't have PPE, they don't have the necessary equipment to do their jobs."
Silva-Farrell is calling for the passage of the Heroes Act, which is meant to bolster safe working conditions during the pandemic.
"Those guidelines leave workers vulnerable to COVID-19 infections and businesses vulnerable to shutdown caused by COVID-19 outbreaks," she said.