NEW YORK — Some New Yorkers gathered in Albany Wednesday to stage an “Operation Gridlock” protest, calling for an end to the “PAUSE” plan that closed non-essential businesses statewide to slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, however, said he would not put public health at risk to reopen the economy sooner than it is safe to do so.
“Because when I see 484 New Yorkers die, I feel like it’s people in my family and nothing comes before the public health risk of somebody else’s life,” he said.
The state reported an additional 484 fatalities on Wednesday, bringing the death toll to more than 15,000 people. Currently, the PAUSE plan is in effect through May 15, but it could be extended.
The governor has said the PAUSE plan is working, as the state continues to report consecutive daily decreases in key health indicators such as hospitalizations and intubations. Fatalities are considered by health experts to be a lagging indicator.
Those who support reopening businesses argue they should be allowed to provide for their families instead of relying on unemployment insurance, which has seen drastic delays in deployment amid an overwhelming number of applications.
Data also suggests that while downstate New York is still in the midst of a crisis, upstate counties only account for a small percentage of cases but those residents are subjected to the same restrictions as the hardest-hit areas like New York City.
The governor, however, has repeatedly suggested that by lifting restrictions in one area people from all over the state would flock to that area to take advantage of it, causing a new wave of infections.
When asked whether the cure is worse than the illness, Cuomo responded that while economic hardship and emotional stress are “very bad,” they do not equal death.
“How can the cure be worse than the illness when the illness is potential death?” Cuomo said. “I understand the economic hardship, but the question is what do you do about it … And do you put public health at risk and do you drive up the number of deaths for it?”
The governor said the state is “moving heaven and Earth” to get unemployment insurance out to those who need it. He also suggested that anyone who wants to go back to work should find a job as an essential worker.
“You want to go to work? Go take a job as an essential worker,” Cuomo said.
Other states have relaxed restrictions after vocal protests by those demanding to return to work. But Health officials have warned against lockdown measures being lifted too quickly for fear of creating a second wave of infections.