New York State rolled out sweeping new mandatory “100% workforce reductions” Friday as Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered all nonessential workers to stay home in a dramatic escalation of the state government’s efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic.
The order establishing new workforce rules—which Cuomo dubbed the “New York State on Pause” executive order—was set to take effect at 8 p.m. Sunday.
Late Friday afternoon, the governor’s office issued guidance on essential services under the executive order.
While law firms were not explicitly listed in the order as essential businesses, the order did include “services related to financial markets” and “law enforcement” as essential. The guidance also included a form that businesses could use to request designation as essential.
And in a video statement to the Unified Court System, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said New York courts would remain open for “essential and emergency” matters.
“Our goal is to ensure access to justice, and at the same time, protect the public and our judges and staff by containing the virus,” she said.
However, there was no blanket designation of legal services as essential.
Henry “Hank” Greenberg, president of the New York State Bar Association, said Cuomo’s order will have a profound impact on law firms small and large across the state. The coronavirus, he said, is accelerating a digital transformation within the profession but also imposing a “tremendous burden and hardship,” particularly for solo practitioners and small firms because they often don’t have deep reserves.
Greenberg described the coronavirus’ effect on the state’s legal profession as unprecedented and said Cuomo is creating a sizable amount of law through his executive orders.
Cuomo stressed that businesses remaining open in the face of the restrictions could be fined and forced to close by state officials.
“When I talk about the most drastic action we can take, this is the most drastic action we can take,” he said at the state Capitol.
Cuomo refused to characterize the measure as a lockdown or a shelter-in-place order. The latter had been openly considered by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in recent days, with some pushback from the governor.
New York state officials Friday reported at least 7,100 cases of COVID-19 statewide, of which 2,950 are new.
Cuomo also banned “nonessential gatherings” and said people in public must practice social distancing by standing at least six feet from other people.
“This is about saving lives. And if everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy,” he said.
DiFiore in her video statement said persons assigned to work in a court should contact their supervisor and not come in if they’re experiencing flu-like symptoms.