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[COVID-19 Pandemic\Mandatory Lockdown]
Williams: "That lockdown status, which I urge our city and state executives to adopt immediately as essential guidance and directives, should be re-evaluated on a biweekly basis to determine its effectiveness and duration."
Photo: YouTube

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams has proposed guidelines for a mandatory lockdown in New York City to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the five boroughs.

These lockdown measures would include enhancing movement restrictions, enacting an emergency public information campaign, closing outdoor recreational spaces, expediting decarceration efforts, housing homeless New Yorkers, limiting prepared food service to delivery, restricting in-home care to medical necessity, and strengthening a moratorium on non-essential construction. The Public Advocate's calls for mandating a lockdown come as New York City cases and deaths continue to rise and New York becomes an epicenter of the virus.

"Throughout the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City, restrictive measures intended to slow or prevent the spread of the virus have, simply, not worked. In the time these delays have taken, and in part because of them, New York City has become the new epicenter of the outbreak. We can slow the spread of this virus and save lives, but only if we act now, and act together, as New Yorkers," said Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams of the plan. "New Yorkers need to be aware of the acute, immediate danger that this disease poses, the potential human cost if we do not act urgently and decisively, and the level of measures that must be put in place to limit it. It's not enough to PAUSE anymore - we need a mandated lockdown. That lockdown status, which I urge our city and state executives to adopt immediately as essential guidance and directives, should be re-evaluated on a biweekly basis to determine its effectiveness and duration."

The Office of the Public Advocate proposes the following recommendations:

Public Lockdown Measures

This is an acute emergency, and the city must immediately improve its communication with all New Yorkers, via several outlets. The city should activate its emergency broadcast alert systems with television/radio/print PSA's and text message reminders to: 1) shelter in place, 2) remain six feet apart from anyone when engaging in essential travel. Essential city vehicles, through loudspeakers, will enhance both the communication of emergency status and the ability of the city to keep New Yorkers within their homes. Enforcement should not focus on arrests or summonses. It should also utilize unarmed Community Affairs officers, in coordination with clergy and community-based organizations, with these same reminders.

Reduce Public Congestion

The city should issue formal guidance that even during essential travel for groceries, pharmacies, etc., New Yorkers should remain within their neighborhoods, reducing the use of public transportation. Public transportation schedules must be on weekend schedules, which will decrease congestion. Additionally, the city should temporarily close select streets, and allow pedestrian traffic, which will also reduce congestion. Essential businesses (such as grocery stores, pharmacies) should restrict in-store visitation to specific time slots per day for all individuals, and post signs reminding patrons of the 6-foot rule (signage should be mandatory). These steps minimize congestion and increase compliance with the 6-foot social distancing rule.

Immediately End Home Insecurity for New Yorkers

The city must direct social workers to help immediately move homeless New Yorkers from the streets-- now -- including the 4,000 New Yorkers who are sleeping on them tonight. A combination of vacant private apartments, hotel rooms and vacant supportive housing units should be made available, at city expense, for several months, while permanent local options are pursued. Healthcare and healthy food options should also be provided to homeless New Yorkers. The city must also identify housing permanency options for other transient New Yorkers, including homeless youth, adults, and families, while simultaneously expanding sufficient isolation and infirmary spaces within shelters.

Expedite Decarceration Measures

Incarcerated people on Rikers Island are contracting COVID-19 at a rate seven times that of the rest of the city. The city must consider and prioritize the release of certain members of discrete populations, including seniors, women, those with underlying health conditions, those incarcerated for technical parole violations, and those serving city sentences of less than a year. The city must also suspend most so-called non-violent, low level offense arrests, which could increase exposure rates.

Immediate Moratorium on Non-Essential Construction

All non-essential construction must immediately be halted, and we must examine and close any and all loopholes that may arise from the Governor's proposal announced today. Examples of essential construction are the building/completion of medical facilities to help meet the need for beds. In the midst of this global crisis, at its epicenter, the city's primary responsibility is to slow the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. I've long said that the construction industry has an eroding culture of safety, and by allowing non-essential work to continue, we are putting workers, their families, and the public at acute and immediate risk.

Recreational Space Closure

It is past time to close not only the playgrounds, but the parks. As the Mayor noted, playgrounds are not sanitized, and as has been widely seen, parks have allowed the continued congregation of large groups. Closing city parks and playgrounds, while a sacrifice for many New Yorkers, will reduce congestion and disincentivize group gatherings.

Limit Prepared Food Service to Delivery

The Mayor and Governor were right to close bars and restaurants, but while takeout and delivery are both options, congestion and interpersonal contact at restaurants continues to be an issue, while also providing incentives for New Yorkers to leave their homes. Prepared food service should be limited to contactless delivery that employs social distancing and minimizes potential spread of COVID-19.

Restrict In-Home Care Services to Medical Necessity

Requiring in-home workers to continue to travel to and work within the residents of others exposes them to unnecessary danger. It is critical to limit in-home care services to medically necessary in-home care providers only as we confront this health crisis.

In response to the Public Advocate's proposal, Dr. Celine Gounder, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine & Infectious Diseases, NYU School of Medicine & Bellevue Hospital and CNN Medical Analyst said, "We are currently in the exponential growth phase of the COVID-19 epidemic in NYC. We must take social distancing restrictions seriously for the sake of public health and the health of our economy. The sooner and more aggressively we institute a lockdown, the sooner we can stop transmission and the more deaths we can prevent. The slower we are in instituting a lockdown, the longer we'll have to implement social distancing measures, the more people will die, and the greater the damage to our economy."

Dr. Natasha Anushri Anandaraja, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Medical Education, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Director of COVID Courage added, "The health of our city, the protection of those most vulnerable among us, and the safety of workers on the front-lines of this crisis depend on every resident taking personal responsibility during this time - being intentional and disciplined about where they are and who they are with. Clearer communication and additional measures such as those outlined here will support NYC residents to know exactly how to act in order to protect themselves and each other. It is time for us to take this seriously, and to understand that lives are actually at stake. We are at a time when more stringent public health measures are absolutely necessary, and I believe we are capable of implementing these peacefully, for the best interest of our families and communities. This is the moment, and we only have one chance to get it right."

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