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Curran: Nassau County 'within striking distance' of reopening; 15% in NY tested positive for coronavirus

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran on Monday talked

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran on Monday talked about the county inching closer to reopening. Credit: Facebook / Nassau County Executive Laura Curran

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This story was reported by Rachelle Blidner, Scott Eidler, Bart Jones and David Reich-Hale. It was written by Jones.

The effort to reopen parts of the economy through the coronavirus crisis got a boost on Long Island on Monday as County Executive Laura Curran said Nassau is “within striking distance” of starting the process, while residents continue to suffer and complain about “quarantine fatigue.”

In Suffolk, County Executive Steve Bellone said that as early as next week the county could meet some Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines as well for reopening, as it plots out a resumption of limited activities. And in Albany, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said some industries upstate, such as construction and manufacturing, may return to work soon after the current NY PAUSE shutdown expires May 15.

The governor also released the results of expanded testing showing nearly 15% of the state population may have been infected with COVID-19.

The new figure, an increase of 1% from testing last week, came after the state expanded its baseline from about 3,000 to 7,500 residents tested in seeking a more precise measure of when, where and how to restart the economy, Cuomo said.

Curran gave her most optimistic assessment yet of when Nassau might gradually resume economic activity.

"Given our current trajectories, our daily improving numbers, and without any unexpected hiccups, it is my opinion, and I am saying this as my opinion, we are within striking distance of reopening parts of our economy, like some outdoor construction," Curran said.

She expressed concern about "quarantine fatigue," a watchword that she said joins the coronavirus lexicon, with such terms as "social distancing" and "flattening the curve."

"I talk to people every day. People are feeling fatigued, they are feeling depressed, they are feeling anxious. I hear it, and I completely understand it. As human beings, as social creatures, we are not built for this sort of lockdown. We are not built to be staying home and to not work."

Ultimately, it will be Cuomo who makes the final decisions on when counties and regions reopen, though he is working closely with local officials, including Curran.

For the 12th straight day, Nassau saw a decline in the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, down to 1,462. That is 1,000 less than two weeks ago, and represents a drop of about 40% from the county's peak.

"We have to achieve just two more days of decreasing hospitalizations in order to check the CDC's box of reopening under Phase One, so we're almost there," Curran said.

Suffolk County is on target to have 14 days of decline next week — the CDC's threshold for recommending when to reopen — as long as numbers don’t plateau or go up, Bellone said.

“The trend is moving in the right direction,” he said. “If things continue on this current track, then in a week we should meet that CDC guideline.”

The county already would have reached the marker if there hadn’t been a small increase one day last week, he said.

Bellone said officials are discussing every day how to reopen the economy, though people will have to continue social distancing and wearing face coverings. A larger testing program and “aggressive” contact tracing will be necessary, too.

“If we do all those things, we can reopen safely … and prevent us from going back to where we are and have been over the last six weeks,” he said.

Cuomo reported 337 new deaths from COVID-19, less than half the state’s daily peak of nearly 800 three weeks ago. It was the second straight day the toll was below 400.

He said some New Yorkers should see a lifting of the stay-at-home directive soon.

“We want to 'unpause' May 15 … when the pause regulations expire statewide. I will extend them in many parts of the state,” he said. “But in some parts of the state, some regions, you could make the case that we should 'unpause' on May 15.”

He went on: “But you have to be smart about it. There is no light switch when you flick a switch and everybody goes back to doing what they are doing.”

Statewide, the situation continued to improve. Total hospitalizations for COVID-19 have dropped for two straight weeks, from nearly 19,000 to just under 13,000, state figures released Monday showed.

Intubations have been in negative territory for about two weeks, meaning more patients were taken off ventilators than put on. The number of new COVID-19 patients entering hospitals was cut in half over the last 11 days, from about 2,000 to about 1,000 a day.

'Watching the dial' on COVID-19

The updated figures on antibody testing showed 14.9% positives statewide, an increase of 1% since survey results were first released April 22.

New York City had a positive infection rate of 24.7%, and Long Island had 14.4%.

Cuomo said the state is expanding the testing to include 1,000 NYPD members, 1,000 New York City firefighters, 3,000 health care workers and 1,000 transit employees.

Temporary hospitals built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Stony Brook University and SUNY Old Westbury will remain in place in case they are needed for a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the regular flu season that starts in September, or a combination, Cuomo said.

The governor said he spoke with President Donald Trump on Monday morning about it.

As part of the state’s emerging plan to reopen, Cuomo said, officials need to secure locations where people who test positive for COVID-19 can go during their two-week quarantine — namely, hotels.

“Basically, you can say to the person, you can go home, but then you run the risk of infecting those people in your house," he said. "Or we can put you in an isolation facility.”

Curran noted that other guidelines for reopening under Phase One include a continuing decline in the percentage of positives, which is the case in Nassau. During testing highs in March, 55% of those tested came back positive. By Saturday, that figure had dropped to about 22%.

"That is very good news," she said. "Those are very good numbers."

“We also need a more robust testing program," including antibody tests for first responders and health care workers, Curran said. She added that she is hopeful Northwell Health can ramp up testing capacity to achieve that goal by May 15.

"Of course, we continue to work on guidance that we're getting from the state," she said, noting that it's unclear how long schools will remain closed. Once all three of the CDC's three metric checkpoints have been achieved, other sectors can reopen, with strict protocols.

Under the CDC's Phase One, schools and youth activities that are currently closed would remain closed, but elective surgeries could resume. Gyms could potentially reopen with proper sanitary and social distancing protocols. Under Phase Two, schools could hypothetically reopen.

Long Island on Monday reported relatively low numbers of new coronavirus cases, with 411 in Suffolk, for a total of 32,470, and 343 new cases in Nassau, for a total of 34,865.

New York State as a whole reported 3,951 new cases, for a total of 291,996.

Northwell said it had 2,016 COVID-19 patients in its hospitals on Monday morning. That’s down about 20% in the last week.

State figures compiled as of Sunday night tallied 33 new coronavirus deaths in Nassau, for a total of 1,620. Suffolk had 32 new deaths, for a total of 1,102.

In Washington, Trump released a “blueprint" designed to integrate federal and state efforts to boost testing and rapid response programs nationwide. The plan also will help states get more supplies for laboratories, mobilize private research efforts, and expand public and private testing, members of Trump's coronavirus team said.

New York’s COVID-19 Antibody Study

The state expanded its survey of New Yorkers for the COVID-19 antibody, seeking to establish a baseline infection rate for the coronavirus. These are the latest results, updated on April, 27, 2020.

  • New Yorkers tested, 7,500
  • Testing positive statewide, 14.9%
  • Female, 13.1%
  • Male, 16.9%

Positives by region:

  • Long Island, 14.4%
  • New York City, 24.7%
  • Westchester/Rockland counties, 15.1%
  • Rest of the state, 3.2%

Positives by race/ethnicity:

  • Asian, 14.6%
  • Black, 16.9%
  • Latino/Hispanic, 32%
  • White, 8.9%
  • All others or not specified, 22.2%

Positives by age:

  • 18-24, 12.4%
  • 25-34, 17.4%
  • 35-44, 16.3%
  • 45-54, 19%
  • 55-64, 14.8%
  • 65-74, 9.9%
  • 75+, 9.6%

Source: New York State