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OpinionEditorial

Reopening is a balancing act

President Donald Trump listens during a briefing about

President Donald Trump listens during a briefing about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on Thursday. Credit: AP/Alex Brandon

When Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Thursday that New York PAUSE, the dictate keeping schools and non-essential businesses closed and most state residents at home, would be extended until May 15, you could almost hear a bustling and energetic state chafe.

Parents are ready to send the kids off to school, and head to work themselves. Children miss their friends and teachers. We want to watch sports and play them, take in plays and act in them, head to a concert or put one on, sit down to a meal in a favorite restaurant or prepare and serve one to a loyal customer, or just get together with extended family and essential friends.

We can’t, yet. If we do, people will die needlessly.

President Donald Trump’s new criteria for gradually reopening the nation are great news for some states now, but the challenges in New York remain daunting and such softening of restrictions will take time, discipline and federal help to achieve.

At his news conference, Cuomo laid out his plan for how to start moving toward Trump’s gating criteria for reopening. The day before, when 606 New Yorkers died of the coronavirus, was the lowest death count in 10 days, but it’s still high and brought the total to 12,192 lost statewide. The three-day average of virus hospitalizations was down, but just 2%. And the transmission rate in the state is 0.9, meaning every 100 people with the coronavirus are passing it on to 90 more. If that rate hits 1.0, the pandemic would not decline. If it hits 1.2 or 1.3, the state’s hospitals again will be taxed beyond their capacity to treat patients.

Until there is a vaccine, the only way to begin reopening our society without restarting an exponential growth of illness is increased testing that identifies both people who have and can spread the coronavirus and people who’ve already had it, are producing antibodies against it and cannot catch or spread it.

Cuomo has asked the Food and Drug Administration to expedite a quick finger-prick antibody test that could check 100,000 New Yorkers a day. That plus hugely increased virus testing, for which federal assistance is also crucial, would help clear workers to go back on the job and back to their lives, where continued distancing and other precautions could keep them healthy until the crisis recedes further.

Wuhan, China, was able to smother a coronavirus inferno via draconian behavioral restrictions that drove transmission down to a point where each 100 people with the virus were only passing it on to 30 new victims. Now the region has largely resumed its normal patterns of living.

As the state’s politicians seek more federal help, and scientists seek a vaccine and therapeutics and better testing, and front-line workers risk their lives, most New Yorkers are only being asked to be patient, to follow the rules and cover their mouths and stay home as much as possible.

In the context of racing a deadly disease we’re only just beginning to catch up with, it’s not too much to ask.

— The editorial board

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