It’s Time to Close NYC Schools and All Non-Essential Businesses

It’s Time to Close NYC Schools and All Non-Essential Businesses
New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital
The re-named New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital. (Photo by Donny Levit / BKLYNER)

By City Council Member Brad Lander

It’s time for New York to move much more aggressively to implement social distancing. Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio must work together to order a thoughtful closure of our schools, as well as all non-essential businesses (including restaurants and bars).

That needs to be done in a thoughtful way, that provides child care & food for the families of essential workers (lots of people in health care, food, pharmacies, and transit are going to need to continue to work), and guidance on what is essential vs. non-essential. But we need to do it now.

For those of you who can, I strongly urge you to keep your kids home from school (and yourselves home from work) starting tomorrow.

We learned yesterday that a parent at PS 58 in Carroll Gardens is a confirmed case of COVID-19 (and FWIW, my chief-of-staff and education liaison both have kids there). I spoke with the principal Katie DelloStritto there. Right now, DOE is still requiring her to keep the school open, as they did with PS 107 on Friday, even though she agrees with me (and most of you) that it should be closed.

I’m deeply grateful to her and to the staff who will show up to take care of the kids whose families have no choice but to send them to school — but I urge everyone who can (at PS 58, PS 107, and all the rest of our schools) to keep your kids home.

This cannot be a substitute for a comprehensive plan from City Hall. If action is taken only by individual families, then school attendance this week will be a tale of two cities, with kids from affluent zip codes staying at home, while families who cannot afford to stay home risk exposure. A thoughtful plan to close the schools now is an urgent matter of BOTH public health AND economic and racial equity.

That’s not a reason to panic for yourselves or your family. The vast majority of people who get COVID-19 will recover in a few days … as will the overwhelming majority of those who are not elderly or medically vulnerable.

But aggressive social distancing is what we can and must do together to slow the spread of the virus, in order to protect vulnerable people and reduce the massive and deadly strain that’s about to hit our hospitals.

If you want to understand this more fully, here’s one good analysis of what is likely to happen in New York City. And here’s an article that shows how effective social distancing can be, that even includes a simulator.

So the best way to think about social distancing is an act of social solidarity. It’s less about protecting yourself, and more about working together to protect others in a time of very real crisis.

If you or a loved one is sick: Stay home, and call your doctor. Health care professionals expect that 80% of people who get the virus will get better on their own after a few days. If your symptoms worsen, call 311 to get routed to a healthcare provider, or (especially if you would have been inclined to go, for example, to the emergency room at NYP Brooklyn Methodist Hospital) call the New York Presbyterian Hospital hotline at: 646-697-4000.

As hospitals prepare to be overwhelmed with people seeking care, it is critical that their resources and energy are going to those who need it most. Let’s all do our part to make sure the “worried well” are not inhibiting their ability to care for those most in need.

Closing our District Office: We’re doing our part at the City Council as well. The City Council has canceled all our hearings and meetings. Starting tomorrow, our District Office will be closed. We will continue to work remotely to serve constituents and keep you informed. If you need to reach out, you can email us at, or call (718) 499-1090. (We may be a little slow to respond as we shift to remote work, but you know we’ll do our best). And we will be updating our website with resources and information regularly.

Taking care of others (and keeping ourselves sane): For the couple hundred of you who signed up to help calling home-bound seniors with Heights & Hills, we will be scheduling a conference call shortly to get the effort started (watch out for a separate email).

And we’ll be gearing up this week to provide more resources for what to do with kids while you’re at home, family caregiving for elderly or vulnerable relatives, and how to stay sane while you’re at home (my daughter Rosa recommends a “passion project;” she’s going to try to some new clothing design and sewing). We’ll likely do a video-conference call on Tuesday or Wednesday to check in and get started.

Supporting Small Businesses: A closure of non-essential businesses will have a dramatically harmful impact on small business owners and workers. I’ll be pushing for economic recovery policies to provide emergency support. The City has announced emergency loans and grants to small businesses, but more than that will be required. We’re going to need Depression-style public policy here: a moratorium on evictions, suspension or delay of mortgage and tax payments, and economic recovery payments to small business and families. I’ll fight hard for all of that (and to make sure it does not only reward corporate and investor interests, as so often happens). But we can’t wait to act.

Additional resources (which we will keep adding to on our website here):

Centers for Disease Control: Most up-to-date information.

NYC Health and Hospitals: Nursing home and patient visitor policy

Hand in Hand, Domestic Employers Network: How to be a fair employer during coronavirus.

I’ve been emailing over the past couple days with Ady Barkan, a friend and activist with ALS who has taught me more than anyone else about the power of solidarity. He’s been changing the world by working remotely for quite a long time now, in far more challenging ways than are required of us. Let’s try our best to channel Ady’s example in the days ahead.