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New York issues a ‘pause’ on nonessential services and gatherings. Here’s what that means.

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The new restrictions are aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19 throughout New York state


As the number of COVID-19 cases balloons throughout New York—which has emerged as the epicenter of the new coronavirus pandemic—Gov. Andrew Cuomo has ordered all non-essential retailers and businesses to close, and for residents across the state to stay home as much as possible in an effort to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. The order was put into place on March 20, and will be in effect through April 29.

“While the numbers look like they may be turning, now is not the time to be lax with social distancing—that would be a mistake and we all have a responsibility and a societal role in this,” Cuomo said during a Monday press conference. “As I said from day one, I am not going to choose between public health and economic activity, and to that end I am extending all NYS on Pause functions for an additional two weeks.”

The executive order, which Cuomo calls PAUSE—which stands for “Policies Assure Uniform Safety for Everyone”—mandates that any businesses not deemed “essential” must keep 100 percent of their workforce home. Any businesses that do not comply could face fines or enforcement measures. It also requires that all non-essential gatherings be canceled, and that anyone going outside maintain at least six feet of space between themselves and others.

So where can you go during this time? And should you be going outside at all? Read on.

What is an “essential” business?

What qualifies as an essential business is fairly broad: The list includes hospitals and other health care facilities (including vets and walk-in clinics); utilities; mass transit and airports; retailers like grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, farmers markets, and restaurants (for delivery only); banks and other financial institutions; services like mail delivery, trash collection, laundromats, auto repair, bike shops, and child care; news media; emergency construction projects; and groups that provide services to the homeless and other vulnerable New Yorkers. Those businesses must also take steps to ensure that patrons are able to practice social distancing—spacing lines with at least six feet between each person, for example.

Moving companies have also been deemed “essential,” if you had a move planned for April 1, but it might still be prudent to postpone. Here’s everything you need to know about renting right now.

What’s not essential?

Many places where people might gather in large numbers have been deemed nonessential, including malls, movie theaters, gyms, auditoriums, casinos, and sporting events. Additionally, businesses that provide grooming or personal care services—barbershops, nail salons, tattoo parlors, and hairdressers—are also on the nonessential list. While churches and other houses of worship have not been deemed nonessential, they’re discouraged from holding services or having people gather together.

Most construction projects have now been deemed nonessential under a new directive by Cuomo, but some crucial work, including on infrastructure, hospitals, and affordable housing, along with emergency repairs, will be permitted.

Can I still go outside?

The short answer: Yes. The order stops short of discouraging people to leave their homes entirely; instead, it states that people should continue to practice social distancing, and limit activities to things that can be done alone or while maintaining at least six feet of distance between themselves and others.

The order also mandates that New Yorkers to halt any gatherings “of any size, for any reason” for the foreseeable future. So going for a solo run is fine; playing a game of basketball with some friends or hosting a dinner party, not so much.

In order to enforce these rules, the city has asked the NYPD to have officers patrol parks and other gathering spots; basketball hoops have also been removed from some 80 parks and playgrounds to discourage people from playing.

The city implemented a short-lived pilot program to pedestrianize some city streets in an effort to give New Yorkers more space to spread out. The pilot, which began on March 27, was suspended after April 5.

What if I’m older, or immunocompromised?

Another component of the PAUSE order is “Matilda’s Law”—named for Cuomo’s mother—which sets out different rules for New Yorkers over the age of 70 or who are otherwise considered vulnerable to COVID-19. They’re discouraged from leaving their homes at all, save for solo exercise; the order recommends that they also pre-screen any visitors to their homes, and to wear a surgical mask when around other people.

How will these new rules be enforced?

Businesses who do not comply with the order could be subject to fines or penalties, although similar measures were not immediately announced for individuals who do not heed the governor’s mandate. “We’re going to ask the NYPD and other agencies to keep an eye on places where people are getting a little too crowded and to go in and remind people to separate and spread out,” de Blasio said during a press conference.

NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said that officers will enforce the rulings, but that issuing summonses or arresting New Yorkers would be “a last resort.” Cuomo, meanwhile, said that if people are found to break social distancing guidelines, they’ll be fined $1,000.

Why is this being done?

The move came after city and state lawmakers increasingly called for Cuomo to adopt a shelter-in-place model for New York, following the lead of places like San Francisco and Los Angeles county. Now, a month after the novel coronavirus outbreak began sweeping across the U.S., most states throughout the country have some form of stay-at-home order in place; “a vast majority of Americans — nine in 10 United States residents — are now or will soon be under instructions to stay at home,” according to the New York Times.