Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday urged officials and policymakers across the state to "be smart" in weighing the factors at play in bringing back society after the coronavirus shutdown. Credit: NY Governor's Office

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This story was reported by Matthew Chayes, Vera Chinese, Candice Ferrette, Bart Jones, David Reich-Hale and Craig Schneider. It was written by Jones.

Long Island saw some of its lowest coronavirus pandemic figures in weeks on Tuesday, as officials said they were inching toward meeting federal and state guidelines to slowly reopen segments of the local economy.

The number of new cases of COVID-19 on Long Island were some of the lowest since the crisis started to escalate in March. Nassau had 220 new positives, while Suffolk had 254. Long Island has not seen figures that low since mid-March.

Nassau had peaked at about 1,900 daily positives on April 7, while Suffolk peaked at nearly 1,600 the following day.

Nassau County reported Tuesday it is one day from reaching an important milestone in satisfying the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s standard for safely reopening some economic activity such as outdoor, nonessential construction.

For the 13th consecutive day, Nassau showed a decline in hospitalizations, to 1,459 — three fewer patients than the day before — and a 40% drop since the peak, County Executive Laura Curran said.

The CDC calls for 14 days of declining hospitalizations, new confirmed cases and an increase in the number of tests provided, according to the county.

“We need one more day of declining hospitalizations to check that very important box for the CDC protocols for Phase One of reopening,” Curran said. “Again, the good news continues. About three weeks ago we were 50%, now down to 21% of people are testing positive.”

Statewide figures showed similar declines. The daily coronavirus death toll of 335 was the third straight day the number was below 400, and less than half the peak of nearly 800 three weeks ago.

And for the first time in weeks, the number of COVID-19 patients checking into hospitals statewide in one day was under 1,000 — down to 953. The figure was nearly 3,000 about three weeks ago.

The news came as the United States surpassed 1 million cases of COVID-19, by far the most of any nation in the world and nearly five times the total of the next-closest country, Spain.

Despite the improving numbers on Long Island and in New York State, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo pushed back against the notion of a quick reopening of the New York economy, highlighting the risks of a virus resurgence that could again overwhelm hospital systems.

He urged officials and policymakers across the state to "be smart" in bringing back society after the shutdown, saying he will be guided by health data.

He warned against caving in to political pressure.

“We have to act as our logical selves here," he said. "Don’t be emotional. Don’t be political. Don’t get pushed politically into a situation: Protesters are in front of the Capitol, we better reopen. No, I’m not going to do that.”

Still, he said hospitals in central New York will be cleared to resume elective surgeries soon, and that he will announce this week whether schools will reopen during this academic year — and what may happen with summer school.

At the same time, he delivered a blistering critique of world health organizations, the federal government and even the media for failing to warn the United States of the impending catastrophic death and damage the virus was bringing our way, after it first broke out in China as far back as November.

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Cuomo gave his most detailed plan yet for reopening the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, saying hospitals must be at no more than 70% capacity and the rate of transmission cannot be higher than 1.1 for a region to resume activities.

He listed multiple factors in addition to guidelines by the CDC that spell out a 14-day decline in COVID-19 hospitalization levels as a key element in considering a restart.

“Remember we have gone through hell and back over the past 60 or so days," Cuomo said during his daily briefing. "What New Yorkers have done has been to save lives, but we have to stay vigilant … This is not over,” even if we want it so. He went on: “We literally saved lives. We can’t now negate everything that we accomplished."

Testing, tracing and isolating people exposed to the virus remain important components of the state's plan to gradually reopen the economy by region, he said.

“We want to reopen, but we want to do it without infecting more people or overwhelming the hospital system … so that’s the balance.”

While the state's current restrictions are set to expire May 15, Cuomo said not all parts of the state will be ready to start reopening after that day, and he specifically said "not New York City, not downstate, unless a miracle happens."

He called downstate New York "one of the worst-hit places on the globe," and said protecting residents' health would be his priority. "I'm not going to trade economics for life and death … Life comes first." 

Watching rate of transmission

Nassau had 27 new COVID-19 deaths on Monday, for a total of 1,647. Suffolk reported 29 new deaths, for a total of 1,131, according to state figures issued Tuesday.

Northwell Health said Tuesday it had 1,932 COVID-19 patients at its 19 hospitals, including 11 on Long Island. It’s the first time since March 29 that the health system, the largest in the state, has been below 2,000 COVID-19 patients.

“It continues to decline, which is certainly encouraging,” said Terry Lynam, a spokesman at Northwell.

Nassau County's total of confirmed COVID-19 cases rose to 35,085, while Suffolk's rose to 32,724. Long Island's total was 67,809. New York City added 1,849 cases for a total of 162,338, while the state as a whole added 3,110 new positives for a total of 295,106.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone trumpeted what he called “great news,” noting that the county has gained access to municipal low-interest borrowing that could help in the effort to provide property tax relief for residents.

Suffolk previously had been considered too small of a county to qualify for the relief under the Municipal Liquidity Facility.

The change, accomplished after Bellone had a telephone conversation with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, will allow the county to do short-term borrowing at low interest rates.

He said the county is already facing cash flow problems due to the lack of revenue related to the COVID-19 shutdown.

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