Nearly half of New Yorkers believe the economy should stay closed until June

New York City, and the New York area in general, has faced the worst of this pandemic storm in the United States. The state now appears to be turning a corner in its fight against COVID-19, but according to a new survey of New Yorkers, just under half want to take a cautious approach to re-opening the local economy. In all, 49% of surveyed NYC residents think non-essential businesses should stay closed until at least June 1st. 

Considering what New York has been through over the past few weeks, it makes sense that locals are wary about relaxing lockdown measures.

Another 19% believe stores should be up and running by May 31st, while others are more impatient; 20% want stores open by May 15th and 12% would like to see the NYC economy in full swing by April 30th.

The research, the latest in CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy’s series of surveys gauging New Yorkers’ reactions to the coronavirus pandemic, was conducted between April 17th-19th. A total of 1,000 NYC residents and 1,000 New York State (NYC, Long Island, Upstate) residents were surveyed.

Hard times often make us more appreciative of our friends, family, and neighbors, and while New Yorkers have a reputation for being rude they also tend to look out for each other. In fact, the survey found that three in five New Yorkers (60%) feel more connected with their neighbors than ever before because of the pandemic. Similarly, 61% feel a sense of solidarity with their fellow Americans all over the country.

“The New Yorkers we surveyed have been badly buffeted by the coronavirus. This experience appears to have made them more cautious than some in other parts of our country,” comments CUNY SPH Dean Ayman El-Mohandes. “Nonetheless, New Yorkers feel a strong sense of solidarity with all Americans.”

The once bustling and alive restaurants, bars, and shops of New York City have seen their doors closed for weeks now, and millions have been forced to stop working. Everyone wants the world to get back to normal, but many New Yorkers (66%) are concerned about the safety implications of returning to work too soon. Over a quarter of surveyed workers (28%) say they would like to see all employees in their company or business take a COVID-19 test before coming back to work. Additionally, 27% flat out won’t go back to work for the foreseeable future out of fear of becoming infected themselves or infecting a loved one.

For many New Yorkers, it simply won’t be possible to return to work until schools reopen as well; 51% say that when non-essential businesses reopen their child will have no caretaker at home. Additionally, 11% will stay home from work indefinitely to care for their children until schools reopen and 24% have a child in grades K-12 learning at home right now.
As the weeks have crawled by during this pandemic and subsequent lockdown, more and more New Yorkers are finding themselves unemployed. Overall, household job loss has reached 37%. Four weeks ago that percentage was 29%. Unemployment statistics by race and ethnicity continue to evolve as well; four weeks ago 17% of African American households had lost a job but that number has now reached 35%. Job loss in Asian American NYC households has also seen a big jump, increasing from 25% a month ago to 40% today.

The survey also asked respondents about their mental health these days, and unsurprisingly many New Yorkers are still feeling on edge. Close to half (40%) have felt anxious more than half the time over the past two weeks and 32% say the same about feeling depressed. Meanwhile, 43% feel isolated and alone.

So what’s causing most of that anxiety and worry? The most common answer to that question was a concern for the health of loved ones (44%), followed by worry about one’s own health (17%), general feelings of being unsafe (13%), isolation (12%), job loss (9%), and trouble finding food (4%). It’s also worth mentioning that the top stressor among Asian Americans is feeling unsafe.

As far as coping mechanisms, 55% of New Yorkers have been drinking alcohol through this pandemic and 26% are using marijuana. Of those groups, 25% are drinking more than usual and 31% are smoking more than usual.

“We are seeing persistent elevated mental health challenges and an increase in depression risk for Asian Americans, suggesting changing social, economic patterns across ethnicities as the pandemic unfolds,” says Dr. Victoria Ngo, Associate Professor of Community Health and Social Sciences and Director of the Center for Innovation in Mental Health at CUNY SPH.

The full survey can be found here. It is also published in the Journal of Health Communication.