By BETSY MCCAUGHEY
Governor Andrew Cuomo is allowing upstate construction and assembly line businesses to reopen May 15, but other businesses have to stay shut longer. How long? That depends on how “essential” they are, he said.
Sorry, Governor, but any business is essential if it’s how you earn your paycheck. People need to work, and new research indicates for otherwise healthy, working-age people, it’s safer than taking a car trip.
“People under 65 years old have very small risks of COVID-19 deaths even in the hotbeds of the pandemic,” according to Stanford scientists John Ioannidis, Cathrine Axfors and Despina Contopoulos-Ioannidis.
In New York, 70 percent of coronavirus deaths are people over 65 years old. In Michigan, it’s 79 percent. And in Washington state, it’s 92 percent.
Instead of this pandemic spanning all ages, the coronavirus is a disease that kills one age group gruesomely.
In Delaware, 58 percent of coronavirus deaths have been nursing home residents and their caregivers. In Massachusetts, 55 percent, in Pennsylvania, 51 percent, and in New Jersey, 40 percent.
Shutting down the economy didn’t stop these deaths. They were predictable. In Italy and Spain, over half of deaths were nursing home residents.
Yet, health officials in New York, and most states, rushed to equip hospitals but ignored nursing homes. Without help, these facilities became death pits. Florida was an exception. Governor Ron DeSantis rushed in medical supplies, deployed the National Guard to test residents and cut the nursing home death rate to roughly half New York’s.
As for younger people, a minuscule 1.8 percent of New York City coronavirus deaths are otherwise healthy people under 65. We’ve all seen news reports of a young mother or middle-aged coach tragically killed by coronavirus, but those are exceptions.
Plans to reopen should focus on the majority, not these rare exceptions.
Step one is opening up large workplaces, including office settings, where employers can proactively improve hygiene. Employers can erect hand sanitizer kiosks every few feet, provide antimicrobial keyboards and desktops and install continuous disinfection devices in the central air systems to reduce viral contamination. These technologies are already used in professional sports teams’ locker rooms and manufacturing facilities. The upside is a healthier workforce and lower absenteeism even if the virus doesn’t come back.
Air travel can be made more hygienic by installing hand sanitizer dispensers near the touchscreens, jetways and security lines. Airlines are requiring masks, but the airport is the problem, according to MIT researchers. They estimate that installing hand sanitizers at the world’s Top 10 airports could reduce pandemic risk by 37 percent. If all airports had them, the risk would go down 70 percent. New York’s Port Authority could take the lead at the region’s three airports.
Similarly, hand sanitizers on subway platforms would improve safety for straphangers.
New York City mass transit is facing a double health crisis, posed by the virus and by an influx of homeless using the cars as toilets and sleeping quarters. COVID-19 can survive on stainless steel for at least 48 hours, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. Most bacteria survive even longer, weeks in some cases.
MTA workers manually scrub subway cars every two or three days. That’s better than nothing, but barely. Applying antimicrobial coatings to subway poles and seats would continuously kill traces of the coronavirus and bacteria.
Nature Research reported Monday that the coronavirus particles linger in the air for hours when spaces are crowded and ventilation is limited. Think subway cars and Grand Central Station at rush hour. New technologies can continuously reduce that viral burden.
President Donald Trump has marshaled the private sector to cure the ventilator shortage and produce masks, medicines and vaccines. He features problem-solving CEOs at his briefings. It’s time to deploy innovative technologies to make going back to work safer.
Many workers are fearful, reports Fishbowl. No surprise. They’ve been bombarded with daily death reports that ignore age or health status.
Reopening the economy should be guided by facts. And the fact is working-age people seldom die from the coronavirus. With precautions in place, they can go back to work.