By Brittany Mazzurco Muscato
New York City, center of the universe. It’s home to 8.6 million people, it’s a major tourist destination, it serves as an international center of commerce, and it even houses the United Nations’ headquarters.i All across the globe, it’s known as the city that never sleeps. Or, at least until the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Now, New York’s bustling streets are empty, and with nearly a third of the city’s households at risk of losing jobs, there is increasing pressure for Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio to wake the city up and reopen it for business.ii iii
However, this decision is not suited for the mayor or governor. No, a global pandemic requires a globally mindful response, especially for an international city that is wholly intertwined with the global economy. NYC is the center of the universe, and it’s time our city’s COVID-19 response started treating it as such.
When it comes to COVID-19, there are more uncertainties than there are facts. Treatments, prevention tactics, accurate infection numbers—these are speculative at worst and hotly-contested at best. The only thing we are certain of is that this disease spreads easily and effectively, which is why so many governments across the globe have adopted shelter-in-place policies.iv However, sheltering from the virus does not make you immune to it. Sheltering simply slows its spread and reduces the burden on our healthcare system, and the tactic is working. At its current rate, the virus won’t infect the entire global population for nearly a year. But, with no cure in sight, this means that countless people are still likely to be at risk of infection once most shelter-in-place orders are lifted.v The moment a community reopens, people, and the virus, become mobile again. This equation spells catastrophe for global recovery.
Increased density, increased spread
Let’s start with the most immediate effects: If NYC’s shelter-in-place order was lifted tomorrow, New Yorkers who fled the city during the pandemic will return home. This mini-population boom will allow the virus to more easily spread throughout the city. After all, it’s harder to socially distance oneself when there are more people around. But, even if we exclude the “corona-cationers,” the mere number of people who travel in and out of the city every day to work could reverse weeks of sheltering in place. New York’s workforce consists of 1 million daily “in-commuters” from the Hudson Valley, Connecticut, and New Jersey.vi Think about what that means practically: The population of America’s largest city grows nearly 13% every single morning. Once NYC is open for business, it risks exporting this virus to all of those commuter communities, and the entire mid-Atlantic region would see a dramatic rise in infections once again.
Planes, trains, and automobiles
Opening up NYC would also mean opening NYC’s famous attractions. Tourism revenue has become a vital component of the city’s economy, with 391,400 jobs supported by the tourism and hospitality industries.vii No one can deny that New York is a global vacation destination, attracting an average of nearly 200,000 tourists a day.viii And, those are just people traveling for pleasure. As the home of hundreds of multinational organizations, NYC is also the most popular global destination for business travel. In total, the city’s airports welcomed 138.8 million domestic and international passengers last year.ix With over 17 times the city’s population passing through annually, this once again endangers the city of re-importing the virus, in addition to exporting it to the world.
A trendsetting city
Finally, opening up commerce in NYC would require businesses across the world to open as well. Due to the rise of globalization, employees and supply chains are no longer limited by geography, so a company based in Manhattan could rely on a company in Indiana to manufacture one of its products while a company in New Delhi provides customer service support. NYC businesses outsource jobs to nearly 15 million people in other countries, and supply chains extend to all corners of the globe.x Resuming normal business operations in NYC will likely put pressure on other locations to follow suit, either directly and indirectly. For cities and countries still in the thick of the pandemic, this pressure to keep their livelihoods may cause them to prematurely relax or violate “shelter in place” orders and cause growth rates to spike.
While it may sound hyperbolic to say that opening up one city will re-expose the entire world to the virus, we must remember that this virus originated from a single market. For this global pandemic, and our globally intertwined economy, New York City should only open when the pandemic is manageable globally. And, even then, the City should take care to slowly roll out industries that attract large numbers of travelers. This is for New York’s benefit as much as it is the globe. NYC is the center of the universe, and it should only open when our global economy is ready for it to do so.
Brittany Mazzurco Muscato is a Master of Public Administration candidate at the NYU Wagner, specializing in Public Policy Analysis. She currently serves as a Project Manager at the NYU Furman Center, as well as an economics Teaching Colleague at Wagner. Prior to pursuing her MPA, Brittany ran her own marketing, digital media, and public relations consultancy for nonprofit organizations. She is interested in using research to better inform public policies aimed at solving economic inequality and access to opportunity.
i “New York City, New York Population 2020.” World Population Review, 2020, worldpopulationreview.com/us-cities/new-york-city-population/.
ii Deffenbaugh, Ryan. “How Covid-19 Is Intensifying the Gap between City’s Richest and Poorest.” Crain’s New York Business, 31 Mar. 2020, www.crainsnewyork.com/coronavirus/how-covid-19-intensifying-gap-between-citys- richest-and-poorest.
iii Eisenberg, Amanda, and Madina Touré. “De Blasio: NYC Schools Will Close as of Monday, May Not Reopen This Year.” Politico PRO, 15 Mar. 2020, www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2020/03/15/de-blasio- nyc-schools-will-close-as-of-monday-may-not-reopen-this-year-1267141.
iv Zeckhauser, Richard J. and Gernot Wagner. “The Implications of Uncertainty and Ignorance for Solar Geoengineering.” In: Governance of the Deployment of Solar Geoengineering. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, edited by Robert N. Stavins and Robert C. Stowe, p. 107-11 (February 2019).
v Wagner, Gernot. “Compound Growth Could Kill Us – or Make Us Stronger.” Project Syndicate, 18 March 2020.
vi “The Geography of Jobs.” NYC Planning, Oct. 2019.
vii “Economic Impact of Tourism on New York City’s Economy.” NYCdata, The Weissman Center For International Business, Baruch College/CUNY, 2018, www.baruch.cuny.edu/nycdata/tourism/economic_impact.html.
viii Mcgeehan, Patrick. “N.Y. Draws a Record 65 Million Tourists (in Spite of Trump’s Trade War, Many Were Chinese).” The New York Times, The New York Times, 16 Jan. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/01/16/nyregion/nyc-tourism-record.html.
ix “Airport Traffic Report.” The Port Authority of NY & NJ, 2018.
x Amadeo, Kimberly. “7 Things You Should Know About Outsourcing.” The Balance, The Balance, 25 Jan. 2020, www.thebalance.com/how-outsourcing-jobs-affects-the-u-s-economy-3306279.