Andrew Cuomo on Sunday sketched out the beginnings of a plan to start the arduous process of reopening New York state on May 15, when his executive order expires. The news will likely be welcomed by market participants.
In the first phase, construction and manufacturing businesses operating in areas that were not particularly hard-hit by the virus would be allowed to resume operations, with restrictions. After that, the reopening would theoretically proceed according to how critical a given business is to New Yorkers, taking into account an assessment of the risks associated with reopening that business (or that industry).
It was the first time Cuomo delved into the specifics of reopening since the crisis forced a state-wide lockdown. Although he described the latest daily death toll from the virus as “horrific”, it was the lowest since late last month at 367. Hospitalizations fell for a ninth straight day. The trend continues to suggest the most acute phase for the state passed weeks ago.
Following any initial reopenings, Cuomo said a two-week pause would be instituted to allow time for officials to evaluate the effects, in terms of new hospitalizations, new infections and antibody tests.
Again, this is ostensibly good news for a market that has demonstrated a propensity to seize any and all opportunities to cheer evidence in support of the notion that the world’s largest economy may soon begin to emerge from its “induced coma”, to quote JPMorgan.
Cuomo’s plan sounds as though it will be carefully implemented and, in the latter stages, involve complicated guidelines for high-contact, high-risk businesses. Make no mistake, that’s a good thing. Georgia has been in the news all weekend for governor Brian Kemp’s rather cavalier decision to allow everything from spas to tattoo parlors to reopen – as though Georgia is some obscure statelet with no large metropolitan areas and a low risk of large outbreaks.
We’ll see how it goes down south, but suffice to say that even as a haphazard attitude towards reopening Georgia is itself a perilous proposition, a finger-in-the-wind approach to New York could easily lead to disaster. And not just from a public health perspective, but also from a psychological perspective, in the event the state (including New York City) has to be closed back down after declaring itself open for business.
How much attention this will command in the week ahead depends largely on whether trends continue on the current trajectory. If they do, anticipation will build. Given his measured response over the course of the crisis, it’s entirely reasonable to suggest that market participants will put a lot of stock (figuratively and perhaps literally) into any green-light from Cuomo on easing restrictions in America’s epicenter.
He did suggest things aren’t likely to return to “normal” any time in the foreseeable future, though. Specifically, he posed a series of questions to employers and schools:
How are you going to protect your people? What are you going to do differently with your employees? What does the physical space look like when you reopen in this new normal? What’s the access? What’s the screening? How do you move people?
Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.
I’d reiterate that any corporate management team which isn’t currently pondering how, and to what extent, the post-COVID reality is going to affect their top and bottom lines is derelict. Consumer-facing businesses which don’t quickly adapt may find it challenging to compete with those that do. Perhaps the days of ducking into a crowded Starbucks in Manhattan on a whim and waiting around shoulder-to-shoulder with your fellow sardines are over.
In any case, Cuomo struck a somber tone when discussing the lowest daily death toll in nearly a month.
“There is no relative context to death”, he said. “Death is death”.