NY restart

A worker is wiped down after handling a sample at the Syracuse Community Health Center coronavirus screening site.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has advised business owners across New York to envision how they will reopen safely with the threat of coronavirus still in the air.

What if you are not ready?

A reader asked: If your business is in a phase to reopen, but you choose not to start because of health concerns, do you lose your unemployment benefits?

NYS Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon answered the question during a teleconference with reporters. Here’s what she said:

Under federal law, people who receiving traditional unemployment insurance or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) cannot turn down a job because of a generalized fear of COVID-19 or dislike of the job, she said.

People can turn down a job, however, because of a specific COVID-19-related health issue. For example, if someone was told by her doctor that she is immunocompromised and has to self-quarantine, she would qualify for PUA, she said.

People can also turn down a job because of other non-health COVID-19 scenarios and still qualify for benefits. For example, if you are a child’s primary caretaker and the child is unable to attend school or other child-care options, you would qualify, she said.

“Our unemployment system has guardrails in place to ensure that those collecting unemployment benefits are doing so because of lack of work,” she said. “But if someone has specific health concerns or other PUA-eligible barriers to work, they will likely be eligible for continuing benefits.”

Anyone who feels like they are working in an unsafe environment should report it to the labor department to investigate, she said.


New York State is looking to hire thousands of workers right away in the battle against the coronavirus.

As many as 17,000 contact tracers are needed to track down people who may have been infected with COVID-19 and get them into quarantine. The need is greater than ever as parts of the state look to reopen amid the pandemic.

People anywhere can apply for these remote jobs, which could pay more than $50,000 a year. To start, it’s a one-year commitment, which can be extended, as needed. Part-time opportunities are available, starting at 20 hours a week.

To apply, visit the state Department of Health’s coronavirus jobs page.

The jobs are split into three categories: contact tracers, supervisors and community support specialists.

Tracers need to have a high school diploma, or equivalency degree. Supervisors needed a bachelor’s degree, with a nursing license (LPN or RN) preferred. Specialists need a bachelor’s and experience in social services.

For all jobs, good interpersonal skills are required. It’s a difficult job: you’ll be calling distressed people and trying to help them navigate a stressful situation.

The job itself will be done via phone and computer. The state will provide information about a newly confirmed infection. The tracers will talk to that person, find out where he or she has been, and try to get everyone in close contact into quarantine as soon as possible.

A computer and mobile device are required.

The state has said that workers will likely be assigned to infections in their general geographic area, even if the work is done remotely. That means that Downstate areas are likely to be hiring many more tracers than Upstate areas.

The state eventually wants to have a minimum of 30 tracers per every 100,000 people.

Some local municipalities are training their own armies of tracers. For example, Onondaga County is training 300 of its own employees to be tracers, enough for the entire Central New York region. It’s unclear how many additional tracers will be hired in communities that already have plans to train their own.

However, hard-hit areas like New York City are going to need far more than the state minimum. The city itself is independently hiring 1,000 of its own tracers, at $57,000 a person.

The salary for the statewide job has not been disclosed, though tracers are typically paid at least $20 an hour. Higher skilled positions will undoubtedly pay better.

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