May 25, 2021

How We Can Accelerate the New York City Comeback

For the past year, business executives, elected officials, economists, and even celebrities like Jerry Seinfeld have weighed in on the New York City exodus and its comeback.  Now that spring is here and vaccinations are underway, people are asking “What does the comeback look like?” Is it trains filled with commuters? Times Square overflowing with tourists? Is it office buildings back to in-person hours and packed conference rooms?


The “new normal” for New York City may not look or feel exactly like the “old normal” but two things are certain: 1) New York City’s comeback relies on people feeling confident and comfortable with their level of risk as they go about their daily business (whether that be work or leisure related) and 2) The confidence and comfort level of the general public in certain spaces – particularly indoor spaces – will require the businesses and government agencies to actively participate in that risk mitigation.


So, what does risk mitigation look like from private business and public policy perspectives? Simply, it looks like updated and modernized biosecurity regulations, tools, and processes put into place that keep pathogen transmission to a minimum. The COVID-19 pandemic forces us to ask if we should rethink how we interact with air, surfaces and people who might be unknowingly infected with a virus.  In a city as dense as New York, that may sound like a tall order, but there is some low-hanging fruit that could help kickstart the comeback and generate momentum for New York’s residents and visitors.

  1. City officials, business leaders and COVID-19 experts should collaborate on an approved list of recommended tools for risk mitigation.  The HVAC filter upgrades (to a minimum of MERV13) required for restaurants to reopen come to mind, as do touchless mechanisms for doors, restroom fixtures, and check-out counters, which have been shown to minimize surface transmission.   The City’s small business owners don’t have the time to research what technologies work for what types of spaces, but an approved list of suggested changes could help them make decisions faster, smarter, and with more impact for the community. 

  1. Pair the official list with a grant program or tax incentive to businesses implementing biosecurity measures. This would give New York City’s business community the help and direction they need to fuel the comeback and create consumer confidence. These solutions are not only valuable in inspiring the comeback from COVID, but they are sustainable solutions for other (and potentially unknown) biosecurity threats. They improve indoor air quality, reduce the transmission of pathogens, and can make indoor spaces healthier and easier to breathe in.  

  1. New York City needs a comeback communication playbook. Adopting a system to help businesses inform their employees and customers of the level of biosecurity/safety– not unlike the current health inspection grades posted at New York City restaurants - would go a long way to building a confident public.  While we wouldn’t suggest that businesses need more regulation, having a displayable biosecurity certificate for the spaces that do invest in approved technologies could further accelerate both consumer and employee confidence.

While COVID is the immediate concern, implementing biosecurity measures has benefits to the NYC economy with an eye to the long term. A study by the workforce solutions company Circadian states that unscheduled absenteeism, primarily caused by employee illness, costs employers roughly $3,600 per year for each worker. Concurrently, Harvard University published a study titled “The Impact of Green Buildings on Cognitive Function,” where researchers linked better indoor environment quality to high cognitive function of their test subjects. If these results were applied to knowledge workers in the typical NYC office, this would result in roughly $6,500 per employee per year for employers in increased productivity. These studies show that healthier indoor spaces lead to a healthier, more productive employee that directly contributes to the profitability of the company they work for. 

A COVID comeback that signals the next great wave of NYC productivity? That sounds like a win-win for New York.