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Time To Multitask, Get The State Economy Restarted

It is understandable that area residents are struggling to justify the virtual close of Chautauqua County’s economy when there are so few cases of COVID-19 inside the county.

There is a good deal of unease for small business owners who don’t qualify for many of the programs available to help laid off workers, and one can’t help but wonder if small business owners who were struggling to remain in business will bother to reopen when the state of emergency is eventually lifted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. A federal stimulus package approved early Wednesday morning will provide some help to those who are out of work, but even a few thousand dollars per household will only go so far if businesses remain closed into the summer months given the seasonal nature of many businesses in our area.

That’s one reason it was good to hear both President Donald Trump and Gov. Andrew Cuomo talk about reopening businesses — though the president and the governor are on two very different timelines. The president wants to see businesses open by late April while Cuomo is eyeing a much later date.

Perhaps both men are on the right track. The economy needs to be reopened. Cuomo mentioned earlier this week that a risk assessment measure could be implemented in conjunction with prevention and diagnostic methods like checking temperatures when people go to work. Such a system may work in areas that aren’t hard hit, allowing businesses to reopen while still following basic social distancing measures. That would also allow limited health care resources to flow from areas with relatively few cases to areas where the pandemic is likely to fill hospitals.

Even if risk assessment pointed to letting rural counties get back to work, area residents should know that allowing more freedom of movement and reopening businesses doesn’t mean area residents should make travel plans, particularly to coronavirus hot spots. Chautauqua County may remain relatively less affected than big cities, but that is the case because of our lack of population density and interaction with affected areas. And, with Buffalo a mere 90 minutes away, we must remember just how close we are to a hot spot.

None of this will happen soon. It is likely President Trump’s goal of reopening businesses by Easter is overly optimistic given that statistical modeling earlier this week indicate it will be another 18 days before the pandemic reaches its peak, according to Cuomo’s Wednesday press briefing. That’s another three weeks before we truly know how bad the novel coronavirus pandemic has hit Chautauqua County and the rest of New York state.

Health is the primary concern right now. But close behind keeping New Yorkers healthy should be getting the state’s economy restarted. As the governor said earlier this week, it’s time to walk and chew gum at the same time.

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