MANHATTAN (CN) — Hours after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo cut the lights on Broadway, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency Thursday due to the coronavirus pandemic.
While promising to protect and keep running the city’s schools, mass transit, and public health care systems, de Blasio maintained he would use the attendant powers only as needed.
The declaration came on an afternoon where Cuomo had already said he would shutter Broadway starting at 5 p.m. and impose a ban on gatherings of 500 people or more across the state.
Any event with fewer than 500 people must cut its attendees by half, with violations punished by a fine.
De Blasio noted that the public-gather restrictions apply to bars, restaurants and other businesses in the city, which will only be permitted to operate at 50% capacity.
“We don’t do any of this lightly,” he said. “This is difficult stuff.”
He also noted the sadness of that order for the lively, cultured city.
“It’s really going to be kind of a hole in our lives, and it’s painful.”
Today marks the last day the public can enter the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall and the New York Philharmonic canceled their programming through the end of the month.
De Blasio pleaded again for federal relief.
“We need the federal government to move immediately with a huge stimulus program,” he said.
Broadway shows had been dropping ticket prices to entice customers during the economic slowdown caused by fears of the COVID-19, a new strain of the coronavirus that officially reached pandemic status Wednesday.
That evening, Cuomo also announced the postponement of Manhattan’s 2020 St. Patrick’s Day parade. The event typically draws between 1 million and 2 million visitors to Manhattan.
“The loss of revenue to the state budget is incalculable,” Cuomo said Thursday. “I don’t see any possibility of state’s being able to handle this without federal action.”
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson agreed with the measures.
“Life is going to have to change for some period of time in order to better control this outbreak,” he said in a statement Thursday. “This is no longer business as usual. It is time for a more aggressive strategy and measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic.”
New York City had 95 confirmed cases of coronavirus as of Thursday afternoon. Nearly half of the state’s 325 total cases are concentrated in Westchester County, a suburban area just north of the Bronx, which has 148 cases and counting.
“We have a huge, huge medical system here in the city,” de Blasio said, adding that providers are ready to mobilize, even pitching tents in parking lots if need be.
He noted that the U.S. census, set to be conducted this year, will be a “huge challenge,” though upcoming special elections in Queens would continue as scheduled.
Next door in New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy banned public gatherings of more than 250 people.
De Blasio was somber throughout the press conference Thursday. He said the crisis could last six months or more.
“We are going into a long battle,” he said. “It is going to be a long, painful episode.”