Voices of New York: New Yorkers Respond to Governor Cuomo's PAUSE Extension

05/16/2020

Good things come to those who wait, and Governor Andrew Cuomo held true to that statement when he issued an Executive Order on Thursday extending the New York on PAUSE order to May 28. So far, only five regions of the state are eligible to reopen as of Friday, May 15.

According to the Executive Order, PAUSE, which was placed by the governor back in March and enforced the closure and restrictions of nonessential businesses and gatherings, is "hereby extended to 11:59 p.m. on May 28, 2020, unless later amended or extended by a future Executive Order."

The Executive Order also states that Section 240.35 of the Penal Law, which states that a person is guilty of loitering when they are "masked or in any manner disguised by unusual or unnatural attire or facial alteration" is temporarily suspended or modified until June 13, 2020. 

Section 594 of the Labor Law, which entails the repercussions for individuals who have made "false statements or representation" in order to obtain benefits is also temporarily suspended or modified until June 13. 

The governor held a briefing Friday morning confirming the decision to extend the PAUSE order to May 28, stating that "if a region hits its benchmark at any time regardless of the PAUSE order, then that region can reopen." 

During the briefing, while Governor Cuomo expressed his satisfaction with New York's progress, he called the number of deaths so far for this month "painful."

"Number of deaths are down but still painful, 132," he said. "We are right about where we were when we started this. [The] number of lives lost, we go right back to March 27th, and that's when we really first started this miserable journey."

As of Saturday, May 16, the governor reported 157 coronavirus-related deaths over the past 24 hours.

However, the governor commended New Yorkers for helping to flatten the curve, stating that the decrease in the state's cases was "remarkable," and that residents had "stepped up to the plate." 

"If you look at New York, our curve is down, [so] congratulations New Yorkers," Governor Cuomo began.  "And actually the curve in the rest of the nation is up, so while cases are increasing across the country, the number of cases in New York is actually going down, and that's remarkable in some ways because we had more cases than anyone else."

"Not because there's anything particular in the air in New York," he continued, "but because we had people coming from Europe bringing the virus at a time when no one knew the virus had moved from China to Europe, and we had 3 million Europeans come January, February, March before we did the ban on European travel...So the problem had nothing to do with us, but we were then tasked with resolving it. And New Yorkers stepped up to the plate and have done a great job."

While the governor confirmed that New York State has seen a significant decline in COVID-19 cases, only five regions fit the criteria to begin Phase One of reopening:

  • Finger Lakes
  • Central New York
  • Mohawk Valley
  • Southern Tier
  • North Country

According to the Regional Monitoring Dashboard, each of those regions has met all seven of the criteria necessary to reopen, including a 14-day decline in hospitalizations and a 14-day decline in hospital deaths. The Hudson Valley, Long Island, Capital Region, and Western New York currently meet five of the metrics while New York City meets four.

"There's no politics to this judgment," Governor Cuomo addressed. "There's no arbitrary nature to this judgment. It's all on the numbers."

Phase One of the governor's plans to reopen New York State includes the following industries:

  • Commercial and Residential Construction 
  • Agriculture
  • Forestry 
  • Fishing and Hunting
  • Retail (limited to curbside or in-store pickup or dropoff) 
  • Manufacturing and Wholesale Trade

Life's A Beach

While Governor Cuomo laid out the foundations for the reopening of each industry, he also revealed that beaches in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Delaware would open for Memorial Day weekend, starting on May 22.

While this may seem like a daring move by the otherwise wary governor, the decision, known as the Multi-state Agreement, was made with the other state leaders with the understanding that if one state opens its beaches, many will flock to that area, resulting in New Yorkers soaking up more than just the sun.

"With Memorial Day weekend fast approaching and warmer weather on the way, we want to make sure New Yorkers and residents of our neighboring states are able to safely enjoy outdoor recreational activities," Governor Cuomo said in a press release Friday. 

The safety regulations of going to the beach include:

  • Mandating no more than 50 % capacity by ensuring controlled exits/entrances, limiting parking
  • Prohibiting group contact activities including sports (volleyball, football)
  • Keeping areas of social gatherings closed (designated picnic areas, playgrounds, pavilions, arcades, and amusement rides)
  • Enforcing social distancing measures for both employees and visitors
  • Requiring masks to be worn by all employees and visitors when social distancing is not possible
  • Closing concessions
  • Ensuring staff levels are adequate to achieve these measures and enforce crowd control

At the end of the briefing, Governor Cuomo emphasized the importance of reopening New York State wisely, while urging citizens and officials to continue taking responsibility for the health and safety of themselves and others.

"This reopening is the most data-driven, fact-specific, science-driven reopening that has been done. Period. It's all about the numbers and the facts. Now you start to reopen, do it intelligently and do it with discipline and not with emotion," he said. 

"But to be up to all of us, it means it has to be up to each of us at the same time, " the governor continued. "That is very important here, that each of us understands our responsibility. And that's how this has worked from day one."

Voices of New York

Governor Cuomo's new Executive Order has garnered many mixed reactions from New York State residents themselves. Immediately, many flew to Twitter to express their thoughts on the new extension. 

One user expressed his dissatisfaction with the governor's decision, calling it a "nightmare."

Another user accused the governor of flattening more than just the curve.

And one other attempted to predict the future.

Amid the outcry of angry New Yorkers were those who agreed with the new extension . And while Twitter user Mike Colon believed Governor Cuomo failed to aid essential workers, Mikaela Lonigro took pride in being one. 

As a safety coordinator for a construction company, Lonigro wakes up excruciatingly early at 3:45 in the morning to make her commute from Westchester County to New York City, the heart of the virus.

Lonigro's job is crucial to the wellbeing of those who work closely with her company, including other workers and the company's clients.

"My job duties include walking our job sites and ensuring that all workers maintain safe practices and follow both [Department of Buildings] and [Occupational Safety and Health Act] regulations," Lonigro said. "I work closely with project teams, subcontractors, and clients to make sure everyone feels safe at work."

Being responsible for the safety of a bevy of individuals can be stressful enough, but the new regulations in place since the start of the virus has imposed a new level of stress for the safety coordinator.

"Going to work every day has definitely changed due to COVID-19," she began. "New mandated protocols are to be followed and work is a lot more stressful making sure everyone works safely while maintaining distance from one another."

While Lonigro resides in Westchester County, which is not included in the five regions that reopened Friday, the safety coordinator agreed with Governor Cuomo's Executive Order, despite the hardships the extension may bring her.

"The extension affects me both personally and professionally because I cannot work closely with all persons when I need to due to a rotational schedule we have in place to lower everyone's exposure to the virus," Lonigro said. "Us safety professionals don't have that rotation option right now because we are the face right now, protecting not only ourselves, our company, and our workers, but also our trades and clients to get the job done safely. [We need] to make sure everyone makes it home to their families each and every day."

"But," she continued, "I believe the quarantine extension is the best thing for everyone. The world is not safe right now."

In the end, although Lonigro is putting her life on the line to protect the lives of others, the Westchester-native would not have it any other way.

"My job is safety and health-related," Lonigro said. "I have to be strong and have the courage to work through anything to protect others."

Mikaela Lonigro is one of the essential workers risking her life to save others. Photo courtesy of Lonigro.
Mikaela Lonigro is one of the essential workers risking her life to save others. Photo courtesy of Lonigro.

While Lonigro faces the virus head-on in New York City's infected streets, Ariana Pietaro contributes to society at a distance.

Pietaro is a teacher assistant who works with kids who have autism. 

"We have Zoom calls twice a week to discuss students' progress and how they're adjusting to being at home," she explained.

Since being on lockdown, Pietaro, who is from Long Island, expressed the difficulties of social distance learning that not only she has faced, but her students as well. 

"Although I'm not going to work, I'm still at home which makes it a little more difficult to complete tasks due to lack of motivation and more distractions at home," Pietaro confided. "[My students] are not used to being in a different learning environment and some don't fully understand the concept of Zoom or video chat. It's confusing to some and there are more distractions. The hardest thing is the sudden, dramatic change in their routines."

Despite these setbacks, along with a canceled birthday plan, the 23-year-old said she agreed with Governor Cuomo's extension, stating that Long Island had many confirmed cases and that she "does not think it will reopen for several more weeks."

"[The governor] is putting our health and safety first," Pietaro said. "He's very observant of everything going on and wants us to return to normal as soon as possible, so I think he's making the right decision."

When New York State does fully reopen, the teacher assistant had a few ideas in mind for how to spend her newfound freedom.

"When we reopen," she started, "I plan on going back to the gym, getting my nails and eyebrows done, and seeing all my friends and family that I haven't been able to see."

Teacher Assistant Ariana Pietaro helps kids with autism learn through social distance learning. Photo courtesy of Pietaro.
Teacher Assistant Ariana Pietaro helps kids with autism learn through social distance learning. Photo courtesy of Pietaro.

It is one thing to work in New York City, it is another to both work and live there, especially when a majority of your job involves traveling to different regions. This is the reality for Earon Brathwaite, who lives in Harlem and works as a truck driver for a laundry service company.

Brathwaite described working during the pandemic as "nerve-racking," and cited his fear of catching the virus for his anxieties. However, he also found a silver lining.

"Working throughout the pandemic has been very nerve-racking because of the fear of getting sick," Brathwaite said, "but great on the other hand as a professional truck driver because there's less traffic on the road."

While many New York State residents may have been relaxing at home, the Harlem-native said his workload has only increased since the pandemic started. 

"My time during quarantine has not slowed up," Brathwaite explained. "In fact, I think it's picked up ten-fold. Because of the lack of work, I was forced to acquire an extra job. I also have my own duties at home such as caring for my dogs and my parents, with them being senior citizens. Elderly people have been contracting the virus more than any other age group so it keeps me worried."

Being in the heartbeat of New York City, the 27-year-old has already been personally affected by the virus, having lost four family members to the deadly disease. With many lives being impacted around him, Brathwaite revealed he was "relieved" when Governor Cuomo decided to extend the PAUSE order.

"When I saw an article about Andrew Cuomo announcing a later reopening, I felt slightly relieved, someone finally understands the delicacy of this situation," Brathwaite began. "It's something our city needs to address more effectively. As much as we hear about social distancing, not many people in NYC are doing that. Plenty of people still hang out in close proximities, give handshakes, and have casual talks and drinks."

Upon New York City's reopening, the Harlem-native had a few plans up his sleeve, starting with his place of employment.

"The first thing I'm going to do is demand a raise for risking my life," he laughed. "All jokes aside, you've got to appreciate the days you have, so I want to make the most of every moment and be the best I can be. I look forward to walks with my dogs, going on vacation, even talking to people and asking them how life was for them during the pandemic."

"With every great storm comes great sunshine," Brathwaite added. "I just wonder what comes after this and what we make of it as a whole. But otherwise, I'm so motivated to work, save money, and not just have a plan for life, but also life's emergencies."

Earon Brathwaite lives and works in the heart of New York City. Photo courtesy of Brathwaite.
Earon Brathwaite lives and works in the heart of New York City. Photo courtesy of Brathwaite.

As New York State residents anxiously await the reopening of their regions, Governor Cuomo reminded the state Friday that divided we fall, but together we stand.

"Everyone is vulnerable to this virus," he said. "Everyone. And the government can't keep you safe, only you can keep yourself safe. But when you keep yourself safe and I keep myself safe, that's the way we keep all of us safe."