A Column of News & Comment by Senator James L. Seward
Another week of major adjustments for all of us as we continue to battle the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. With a number of changes coming on a daily basis, it is important to keep updated with accurate information.
Of course, health updates are perhaps the most crucial. Both the New York State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are the best resources for timely health information and statistics. The special Coronavirus section of the New York State Department of Health website can be found at https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/home. While the CDC website is https://www.cdc.gov/.
One topic that has been ever-changing in New York involves the closure of businesses. The governor placed a moratorium on non-essential businesses, shutting down many through executive order. There have been a lot of questions about which businesses are actually considered essential and the list has evolved a bit since the original order. If you have any questions, it is best to consult the Empire State Development website at https://esd.ny.gov/guidance-executive-order-2026. Businesses not specifically listed can request essential status at https://esd.ny.gov/content/request-designation-essential-business-purposes-executive-order-2026
One major change recently made to the essential business executive order involves construction. The changes now state:
- All non-essential construction must shut down except emergency construction, (e.g. a project necessary to protect the health and safety of the occupants or to continue a project if it would be unsafe to allow it to remain undone until it is safe to shut the site).
- Essential construction may continue and includes roads, bridges, transit facilities, utilities, hospitals or health care facilities, affordable housing, and homeless shelters. At every site, if essential or emergency non-essential construction, this includes maintaining social distance, including for purposes of elevators/meals/entry and exit. Sites that cannot maintain distance and safety best practices must close and enforcement will be provided by the state in coordination with the city/local governments. This will include fines of up to $10,000 per violation.
- For purposes of this section, construction work does not include a single worker, who is the sole employee/worker on a job site.
While I referenced it previously, it is important to remind people that if you are out of work due to Coronavirus, New York State has waived the 7-day waiting period for unemployment insurance benefits. Information regarding unemployment insurance is available online at https://www.labor.ny.gov/home/ or by calling 1-888-469-7365. Due to enormous volume, the systems are slow so expect delays when trying to access unemployment benefits.
Extended benefits from the federal government are also expected and will be listed on the state labor department website when available.
This is also a trying time for a number of reasons, and if you or a loved one is struggling with stress, anxiety or depression, while also trying to deal with self-isolation, caring for family members, or the various uncertainties we are all facing, it is important for you to know that you’re not alone in those feelings.
It is also important for you to know that help is available. New York State has just established a new hotline for those in need of emotional support and mental health assistance. This effort is part of a collaborative, volunteer effort being undertaken by over 6,000 trained mental health professionals. The toll-free hotline number, 1-844-863-9314, is available 24/7 for you or a loved one to get in touch with a trained professional who is volunteering their time and energy to help.
So if you or someone you know needs a friendly, trained voice in the days ahead, please remember to call 1-844-863-9314. By staying informed and working together, we can get through these challenging times.
Finally, let me say thank you to the health care professionals, police, fire, and EMS workers, and the many others who are going to work every day and putting their lives on the line to keep us all safe. Stay healthy and we will get through this together.