New York State and City Pandemic Response Provide Early Template for Vendors

Published: March 20, 2020


As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic unfolds, New York state and New York City have moved to the top of the chart in terms of cases diagnosed. This is no surprise given the city’s global connectedness and population size. Thus, it is instructive to see how they have been responding to the outbreak as a representative case for the nation.


  • New York state and New York city are the hardest hit by the pandemic so far and provide be best case of tandem state-local response in action during the first week of all-out governmental response.
  • The executive actions of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio show that states and localities can achieve total flexibility of procurement of supplies and equipment for pandemic response.
  • The supply chains of vendors serving the response effort will be severely taxed.  Therefore, they should immediately begin mapping their clients and service area in order to prioritize resource allocation as the pandemic follows highly predictable geographic patterns from the most internationally connected nodes to the least.


As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic unfolds, New York state and New York City have moved to the top of the chart in terms of cases diagnosed nationally.  This is no surprise given the city’s preeminent global connectedness.  Thus, it is instructive to see how they have been responding to the outbreak as a representative case for the nation.

The response is being coordinated by the administrations of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio.  Their joint effort has had its ups and downs as the governor has felt the mayor is being too cautious in rolling out stringent isolation rules within the city.  However, this is more likely a manifestation of the usual upstate-downstate political friction than an actual point of pandemic strategy.

As with most governmental entities in the U.S., both New York state and city have engaged in multiple rounds of all-hazards and pandemic planning since the terrorist attacks of 9/11.  An impressionistic case can be made that both entities have recognized their unique vulnerabilities in a global context and have been in the top tier in terms of planning, but that is not to say they were fully prepared for this event, just more prepared than average.  A study conducted by the Laboratory of Viral Diseases, Wadsworth Center, New York State Department of Health, and published in late October 2019 declared that “indicators warn that the world is not ready for a pandemic, and surge plans need to be updated worldwide.”


New York state is operating under the "Pandemic Annex" (March 2020) to the state’s Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan.  It’s response to the pandemic began in earnest on March 7th when Gov. Cuomo issued Executive Order (EO) 202.1 CONTINUING TEMPORARY SUSPENSION AND MODIFICATION OF LAWS RELATING TO THE DISASTER EMERGENCY.  In the EO he initiated the following actions.

  • Exempting state agencies from procurement regulations “to the extent necessary to purchase necessary equipment, materials, supplies, or services, without following the standard procurement processes, including the standard prompt payment policy.”
  • Allowing courts to “dispense with the personal appearance of the defendant, except an appearance at a hearing or trial, and conduct an electronic appearance in connection with a criminal action pending in any county in New York State”
  • Allowing any public body “to meet and take such actions authorized by the law without permitting in public in-person access to meetings and authorizing such meetings to be held remotely by conference call or similar service, provided that the public has the ability to view or listen to such proceeding and that such meetings are recorded and later transcribed.”

On March 16th New York was joined by Pennsylvania and Connecticut in a regional, open-ended cooperative effort to address the pandemic.  Cuomo’s EO 202.4 on that same day further acted as follow:

  • Any local government or political subdivision shall, effective March 17, 2020, allow non-essential personnel as determined by the local government, to be able to work from home or take leave without charging accruals, except for those personnel essential to the locality’s response to the COVID-19 emergency. Such non-essential personnel shall total no less than fifty-percent (50%) of the total number of employees across the entire workforce of such local government or political subdivision.  
  • Restrictions on reporting to work for any state worker whose service is non-essential, or not required to support the COVID-19 response, are expanded to all counties in the State of New York.
  • School districts shall develop a plan for alternative instructional options, distribution and availability of meals, and child care, with an emphasis on serving children of parents in the health care profession or first responders who are critical to the response effort. Such plans shall be submitted to the State Education Department and may be amended or modified by the State Education Department, in consultation with the Department of Health and Office of Children and Family Services at any time. School districts in Nassau County, Suffolk County and Westchester County and the City of New York must submit such plans for approval no later than midnight, March 17, 2020 to the State.

On March 18th, EO 202.6 Gov. Cuomo rounded out the state’s emergency flexibility, suspending lobbying and procurement restrictions in order to allow that “any agency may receive a donation in kind or otherwise, in any amount from any source, provided such donation is made to the State and is administered by a state agency in furtherance of the response effort.” In addition, he declared that “it is in the best interest of the state to have the workforce continue at full capacity in order to properly respond to this disaster. No later than 5 p.m. on March 19, 2020, Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) shall issue guidance as to which businesses are determined to be essential.” The ESDC has published that list of essential businesses, which takes effect on March 20th at 8 p.m.


Mayor De Blasio launched his city’s formal response on March 12th with Executive Order 98 simply declaring a local state of emergency.  By March 17th he had ramped up city response with EO 101, suspending “laws and regulations related to procurement are suspended with respect to any procurement of goods, services or construction when an agency head determines in writing that the procurement is necessary to respond to the emergency.”

By March 18th De Blasio was declaring that “ventilators, surgical masks and surgical gowns — really basic stuff” could run out within weeks.  While the extent of shortage for consumable personal protective equipment (PPE) is impossible to quantify.  Some studies have looked at the potential shortfalls for more tangible items, such as ventilators.  The New York State Task Force on Life and the Law New York State Department of Health produced the 2015 “Ventilator Allocation Guidelines,” which found that a 1918-type scenario would result in a peak week ventilator shortfall of nearly 16,000 units.  One source prices those ventilators at $36,000 each, which would have required a $576 million investment to stockpile necessary units back in 2015.

While this overview of recent events must end as events unfold.  It serves as the leading edge of the nation’s pandemic response and provides a roadmap, however tentative, that will likely be followed in every jurisdiction that will be hard hit.