Earlier this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo released a four-phase plan by which businesses in New York State would reopen as the coronavirus threat passed:
- Phase 1: Manufacturing, construction, curbside pickup for retail;
- Phase 2: Retail, professional services, real estate;
- Phase 3: Hotels and restaurants;
- Phase 4: Schools, arts, recreation, and entertainment.
The state has been divided into ten regions for the purpose, with reopening in each region, and advancement through the phases, consistent on meeting a set of metrics. Most of the metrics relate to hospital usage, which makes sense, although some of the thresholds seem arbitrary. The threshold is a minimum 30% available hospital beds and intensive care beds, which most of the state passes, but if the threshold were 20%, the entire state would pass.
The one metric that worries me is the need for contact tracers. The virus was spreading for a month and a half before it was determined to be an emergency: contact tracing now seems pointless and silly.
Nevertheless, under the plan, there need to be a minimum of 30 contact tracers for every 100,000 residents: New York City will need over 2500. Organizing and training a force of that size will be at least a three-month project. Are we to remain on lockdown until then?
More worrisome is the authority to be vested in these contact tracers. Will they have the authority to compel people to be tested? To separate people from their families for isolation (as is happening in California)? To compel answers to, ‘Are you now or have you ever been…’ or ‘Tell us about your friends and associates…’?
The only thing that such an effort would appear to accomplish is practice for a new Stasi whose authority, in the name of public health, would extend beyond biological viruses to embrace improper thoughts and improper speech. That may be unconstitutional, but what the hey: it’s an emergency.
When I first read about the plan, I expected that we might be reopening in a few weeks. I thought my work life would get back to normal in 4-6 weeks, and my wife and I would be able to enjoy dinner out in maybe 6-8 weeks. Live baseball this summer, alas, would be a lost cause. But if New York City will not come off ‘pause’ until we have 2500 contract tracers on staff, fully trained and ready to go, it will be a much longer wait.
I sure hope Uncle Andy reconsiders. And it’s disgusting, but right now, that’s all I can do.
* * *
Since the 1960s, when young men ran off to escape the military draft, the notion of running off to Canada to elude whatever turmoil the US was suffering has been with us. It’s crossed my mind a couple of times, never very seriously, the last time in 2004 when President Bush was re-elected.
Now, in the name of public health, our liberties are basically gone. Yes, there’s still freedom of speech, but only over the Internet, open to government monitoring. Yes, there’s still freedom of religion–you can believe whatever you want—but all the churches are closed.
Alas, escaping to Canada won’t help. They’re just as bad as we are.