Last week, New York City's Public Advocate Jumaane Williams called for a lockdown of the city, in which all residents except for essential workers would be mandated to stay at or close to home for at least one to two weeks in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. Williams told Gothamist that while both Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have done things right during this crisis, he thinks both have spent too much time dragging their feet when it's come to restricting movement in the city that has become the epicenter for the outbreak in the country.

"There's just been failures of inaction," Williams told Gothamist on Friday. "It's been hard to watch every step of the way. Waiting, waiting, waiting to close schools. Waiting to close construction sites. Waiting to close playgrounds. The governor went from 25% to 50% to 75% [of nonessential workforce being told to stay at home]. Then we debated whether it should be called a shelter-in-place, waited to call it PAUSE. All of this waiting has a human cost. And we sadly may pay that cost in the back end. We just have to have much more decisive decision-making at a faster rate, particularly when it comes to restricting movement."

Williams's lockdown proposal includes enacting an emergency public information campaign, expediting decarceration efforts, and housing homeless New Yorkers, among other things. He thinks the city should issue formal guidance that even for essential travel needs (groceries, pharmacies, etc.), New Yorkers should remain within their neighborhoods. He wants public transportation schedules to be on weekend schedules to decrease congestion. And he wants more select streets temporarily closed for pedestrian traffic.

Williams also proposes closing outdoor recreational spaces including parks and playgrounds: "Closing city parks and playgrounds, while a sacrifice for many New Yorkers, will reduce congestion and disincentivize group gatherings," the proposal reads.

As Public Advocate, Williams can raise awareness but has little power to make any of these things happen. He can introduce and co-sponsor legislation in the City Council, but Council Speaker Corey Johnson has not signaled support for Williams's wider lockdown proposal. Johnson, for his part, has called for playgrounds to close and to open more streets in the past week, and said in a statement, “The Council is doing everything it can to help in this unprecedented crisis. We are united with the city and state in trying to reduce density through social distancing and increase our hospital capacity and supplies. We have hard times ahead and must work together for all New Yorkers."

On Sunday, City Councilmember Justin Brannan, who represents southwest Brooklyn, also said city parks should be closed.

Williams told Gothamist he was especially perturbed by the mayor's position on keeping playgrounds open. "The playgrounds should have been shut down awhile ago," Williams said. "It's amazing to me that we're still discussing this. The fact that you can tell the population that we don't sanitize the equipment but it's your decision whether you want to put your child on it or not, I don't know what that is. And then you take down hoops in certain neighborhoods while people who want to play games in other neighborhoods are able to. The message is very muddled now—we need a clear, concise message so we can all be aligned. We need a mandatory lockdown, and that includes no parks. It's just that simple."

Last weekend, Cuomo repeatedly emphasized that New Yorkers had been lax about keeping their distance from one another outside, pointing to groups congregating in close proximity in NYC parks, playgrounds and courts. Even after there were well-documented instances of New Yorkers continuing to flaunt the rules, and plenty of reasons to believe it's an important step toward containing the outbreak, de Blasio remains adamantly against closing the parks (he said he will revisit closing playgrounds later).

"It's painful, but unless absolutely necessary, we have to spend the next week or two indoors" Williams added. "This is what's worked across the world. Why we keep thinking we can do it differently than they did, it just doesn't make sense to me."

This photo was taken on March 24th, 2020 at Carl Schurz Park

Dr. Celine Gounder, a clinical assistant professor of medicine & infectious diseases at NYU School of Medicine & Bellevue Hospital, released a statement in favor of the plan: "We are currently in the exponential growth phase of the COVID-19 epidemic in NYC. We must take social distancing restrictions seriously for the sake of public health and the health of our economy. The sooner and more aggressively we institute a lockdown, the sooner we can stop transmission and the more deaths we can prevent. The slower we are in instituting a lockdown, the longer we'll have to implement social distancing measures, the more people will die, and the greater the damage to our economy."

At a press conference on Friday, de Blasio said the city may start fining New Yorkers who don't abide by the six foot social distancing rules up to $500 per infraction. "People need to understand this is really, really serious,” he said. (In his proposal, Williams emphasized that another reason for a lockdown is to avoid fines like that: "Enforcement should not focus on arrests or summonses.")

We've reached out to the mayor's office for comment on the status of parks and playgrounds.

Williams gives de Blasio and Cuomo credit for providing New Yorkers with a steady stream of information and updates on coronavirus developments, and for doing well with the testing that has been made available to them. He also praised Cuomo for his "calm, steady and confident hand" leading the state through this crisis. But de Blasio has faced criticism for his initial response in the early stages of the coronavirus spread in NYC.

And while Williams acknowledges a full lockdown would be a painful temporary step, it's one Williams feels has to be made now to stop the spread. "The way I view it is residents will forgive the leaders for making best efforts to protect them, even if some of those are wrong," he said. "I think they should not forgive us if we don't even try to do that. It's risky, I get it. But it's the only thing that works. People might not like it, people might be upset, but we didn't get elected for people to like us—we got elected to do what's best for the people of this city, and in some cases this state. And that's what we got to do."

Comptroller Scott Stringer, who previously advocated for the closing of playgrounds and to increase the amount of open streets to give New Yorkers more options to go outside away from clusters of people, said in a statement to Gothamist he has a similar view on the necessity of taking action. "When we look at back at this time, I want to be able to say that our city government stood up for our city, marshaled all resources at our disposal, and did everything we could to save lives. I am fully committed to assisting and supporting the pandemic response in every way I can," he said.

"We need all of us as leaders to be unified around this message," Williams said. "I'm not sure if some people have gotten the gravity of the situation yet...but it's here. It's bad. And hopefully as they get this information now, it will change behavior. We have to be one New York on this."