How A Healthy Economy And Public Health Work Together

covid-19 test
A health worker takes a swab sample from a man to test for COVID-19 in New York on Sept. 25, 2020. (REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

When COVID-19 hit Nassau County, we faced an unparalleled health emergency that wreaked havoc on our local economy. Cases surged and gradually subsided. Thanks to Nassau County’s businesses and residents doing their part and staying home, we successfully crushed the curve.

This wasn’t easy, and it’s come at a high cost. Businesses across Long Island have taken a hard hit and for many, the pain persists. When we began reopening the economy on May 27, some speculated this could reignite the pandemic’s spread.

More than three months later, Nassau proved to the rest of the country it’s possible to re-open the economy and protect public health at the same time. And the proof is in the numbers. Throughout the summer, daily cases and hospitalizations dramatically dropped, and our positivity rate has remained at 1%, all while expanding our reopening and getting people back to work.

Meaning 99% of the thousands of tests given in Nassau every day continue to come back COVID free. This tremendous success is a result of government, businesses and residents following the guidelines to keep the virus at bay even when it got tough.

New challenges remain as students return to school virtually and in person, and as our region continues to face unemployment rates last seen since the great depression. But I wanted to outline how I am working in every way possible to revive local businesses and bring back an economy that’s healthier and stronger than ever.

Immediately following our frontline response efforts, my top priority was understanding the impacts of this crisis on our businesses and residents. Nassau was the first County to create an Economic Advisory Council to track the losses of our business community and identify their real needs in real time. The council included some of Long Island’s top business and nonprofit leaders – and their feedback helped inform our recovery strategies and helped my push for state and federal support.

Early on, the council’s input along with feedback from my ongoing discussions with construction leaders, helped my fierce advocacy to the state to deem residential construction essential during the shutdown. The construction industry is a driving force of Long Island’s economy. We also indefinitely extended the expiration dates for county licenses and registrations, providing breathing room for Nassau’s 10,000 home improvement contractors, gym owners, barbershops, for-hire vehicle drivers and others who shouldn’t have to pay for a license they couldn’t use.

We pursued a robust campaign to ensure business owners had the latest news, guidelines, tools and resources on how to reopen safely. We set up webpages, created PSAs, hosted daily televised briefings and virtual Town Halls and more. We set up an SMS text message service, available in six languages, so that residents can receive the latest news and resources directly on their cellphones. Our Office of Minority Affairs helped small business owners apply for PPP and much more.

As our reopening expanded, we realized the success of our small businesses depends on employees feeling safe to return to work, and customers feeling confident to once again shop and dine in our malls and on our Main Streets. Consumer confidence is the number one concern of 40 percent of the businesses we surveyed across Long island and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is crucial to building back that confidence.

That’s why we partnered with the Nassau County IDA and the Town of Hempstead to provide 5,000 small businesses and nonprofits with free PPE kits. We also secured up to $10 million in loans for Nassau County’s small businesses, Minority/Women-owned Business Enterprises (MWBE) and nonprofits unable to get Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

My Administration had cut red tape that strangled development in this county for decades, such as the infamous “239(f)” approval process and we continued to cut red tape throughout the pandemic. Through our Open Streets Pilot Program, the first of its kind which has become very popular, Nassau fast-tracked permits to close county roads, making it easier for businesses  especially in downtown communities  to utilize street space and boost capacity and revenue, while following state guidelines. We helped Main Streets transform for outdoor seating, dining, retail and more.

As case numbers steadily dropped, I urged the governor and state officials to allow specific industries to reopen, such as real estate, not wanting Nassau to miss out on the influx of affluent homebuyers flocking from the city to suburban locations; and construction needing job generating, shovel ready projects to move forward.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo reinstated elective surgeries and urgent non-COVID medical procedures in Nassau after a letter I wrote urging him to do so. Hospitals were ready and delaying vital procedures such as mammograms and biopsies has a heavy cost. These delays could be deadly.

The county’s financial success and ability to pay our first responders, top-notch health department, road maintenance, infrastructure projects, is directly linked to the success of our local economy. That’s why I pushed for malls to reopen with other large and small retailors. Malls are more than just a big job-provider for our residents: they’re also a critical source of sales and property tax revenue for Nassau.

I wrote to support the opening of gyms and fitness centers, barbers, nail salons, and youth sports  including private organizations and public schools, after touring their facilities. I was impressed by our business owners’ ingenuity and the significant changes and smart safety measures they put in place. I knew they were ready and could protect employees and customers.

Furthering our recovery efforts for downtown communities, we debuted a free Downtown Deals Travel app to promote staycations and activities for residents to do locally. In September, my team launched “Taste Nassau Today,” a social media and digital marketing campaign to give our restaurants a boost with the slogan ‘Dine Where it’s Fine, in Nassau L.I.” We’re hoping to attract new restaurant goers right across the border in many cases to Nassau where indoor dining is permitted at 50 percent capacity.

Now more than ever, we must find ways to get shovels in the ground quickly. County investments will be prioritized to stimulate our economy and get people back to work  a crucial need for our county. We are working with labor, developers and municipal leaders to get key initiatives and economic drivers moving, including the Hub, transit-oriented development and affordable housing.

I will continue to do everything I can on the county level to revive our economy, helping small and large businesses reopen and recover strong. We will face healthcare and economic challenges due to COVID-19 with colder weather and will need Washington to provide support. Nevertheless, even if we have stood largely six feet apart, we have been facing COVID-19 together and together we can turn the tide and reposition our region for growth.

Laura Curran is the Nassau County executive.

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