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Cuomo: 'We start a new chapter' as NY regions prepare for reopening from coronavirus crisis

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday several businesses

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday that several businesses in upstate regions will be allowed to partially reopen this weekend, with limited construction, manufacturing and curbside retail.  Credit: NY Governor's Office

This story was reported by Rachelle Blidner, Scott Eidler, Bart Jones, Victor Ocasio, Michael O'Keeffe and David Reich-Hale. It was written by Jones.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo took his most concrete steps yet to start reopening New York's economy after a two-month shutdown, saying at least three upstate regions can partially emerge from restrictions Friday and resume activities, including manufacturing and construction.

Beyond that, and across the state, some low-risk business and recreational activities will be permitted starting Friday, including landscaping and gardening work. Sports such as tennis are allowed, too, as well as drive-in movie theaters, he said.

“We start a new chapter today in many ways,” Cuomo said at his daily briefing Monday, held in Rochester. “It’s an exciting new phase. We are all anxious to get back to work. We want to do it smartly. We want to do it intelligently. But we want to do it.”

Most of the state will remain largely on shutdown, including Long Island. Each region will be in charge of calibrating how quickly it brings back its local economy following the response to the coronavirus pandemic. Cuomo unveiled a list of people who will direct the effort for each area.

Long Island is not ready to reopen yet based on metrics Cuomo described, meeting only five of the seven goals.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said Monday, "I find it very unlikely" Nassau will reopen to Phase One on Friday. 

But, noting that tennis and other activities will be permitted, she floated the idea of constructing drive-in movie theaters. She said she is pushing for more jobs and businesses to be put in the essential category, meaning they could open sooner.

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"If you can shop at Walmart and Target, why can't you shop at Macys or your local mom and pop shop downtown?" Curran said in an interview. "You're shopping safely at Walmart and Target. Let’s use those same protocols for retail establishments."

No timeline for Long Island

The three regions approved to start reopening when the "Pause" order expires Friday are the Finger Lakes, Southern Tier and Mohawk Valley. They get the green light to allow construction, manufacturing and wholesale supply chain, along with retail stores for curbside pickup and drop-off or in-store pickup. Agriculture, forestry and fishing also will be permitted.

The North Country and Central New York regions have met six of the seven metrics established by Cuomo, and could be ready at the end of the week, he noted. He counted Long Island among areas that "are very close" to meeting reopening requirements, though he didn't provide details. 

The "Regional Control Room" appointees in charge of gauging the reopening on Long Island will include the two county executives, Curran and Steve Bellone of Suffolk, as well as Kevin Law, chief executive of the Long Island Association, a business umbrella group; John Durso, president of the Long Island Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO; Eric Gertler, president and CEO of Empire State Development; and Tracey Edwards, Long Island director of the NAACP.

Durso said the new group does not have a set timeline for a Long Island opening, though all of the members are aware of the economic hardship businesses are undergoing.

“Everyone realizes we need to get our economy going,” he said. “We will move as quickly as the numbers allow us to, with the utmost care for the public and the working people.

“It would be irresponsible to move too quickly because the circumstances then would be catastrophic, not just for business, but to the community."

Cuomo again outlined seven key criteria that regions should monitor as they reopen, including infection and hospitalization rates, testing and contact tracing, and availability of hospital beds and supplies if a resurgence of the COVID-19 virus were to occur.

He said indicators, including new hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients, daily deaths and intubations, are all down — many to levels that the state saw at the start of the crisis.

The daily death toll was 161, the first time since late March it has been below 200, and down from a peak of nearly 800 a day in early April. The daily death toll is “right about where we started before we really went into the heart of this crisis,” he said.

He called it “still too high, obviously at 161, but better than it has been. So, we see all the arrows are pointed in the right direction.”

The daily number of new hospitalizations of coronavirus patients, 488, was also similar to the number at the crisis' start, and was far below the peak of about 3,200 in early April. “That is just about where we started this horrific situation,” Cuomo said, “… right about where we were on March 19, before we went into the abyss of the COVID virus.”

“So in many ways from my point of view, we are on the other side of the mountain,” he said. “We have abated the worst by what we have done and now we can intelligently turn to reopening.”

The number of new coronavirus cases on Long Island continued to drop, according to state figures released Monday. Nassau added 120 cases, for a total of 38,337. Suffolk added 209 cases, for a total of 36,911. New York City added 940, for a total of 185,357. Statewide, 1,660 cases were added, for a total of 337,055 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Sunday.

Reopening "is the next big step in this historic journey," Cuomo said. "Next step, how do we reopen intelligently and how do we reopen without taking a step back?”

However, Cuomo cautioned the public needs to understand this will be a gradual process and that cautionary measures will need to be observed: "This is not the floodgates are open," he said. And if infections and other indicators start to rise, officials can "pull the plug" or slow down the reopening.

He said regions will need to help figure out a way to provide day care facilities, since he has ordered schools shut for the rest of the academic year and many workers will need to leave their children somewhere.

Curran said Nassau has met five of seven metrics for beginning Phase One of reopening. They include declining hospitalizations for 23 straight days, "which is excellent, excellent news," and exceeds the 14-day threshold, she said.

Of all of the people tested in Nassau on Sunday, only 6.8% tested positive. "That is by far the lowest number we've seen," she said. "This is really a remarkable achievement" she said, noting the figure had been about 50% at the peak.

Suffolk has met four of the seven state metrics required for Phase One reopening. What it still needs to meet: more contact tracers, fewer new hospitalizations and fewer hospital deaths. The county needs about 450 contact tracers and has trained 230 people to help with the program, Bellone said.

“We’re not going to meet those metrics by Friday,” Bellone said.

The state figures showed that confirmed deaths from the coronavirus have reached 1,973 in Nassau County, and 1,639 in Suffolk since the beginning of the crisis.

NYC looking at June

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday that the city could ease social distancing restrictions and permit nonessential businesses to reopen as early as June if indicators established by the state and the city continue in the right direction.

The mayor said he continues to worry that reopening too soon could lead to a “boomerang” effect and a spike in coronavirus cases, but the three indicators the city is tracking to decide when to ease restrictions were encouraging Saturday.

“I think it is fair to say June is when we're going to potentially be able to make some real changes if we can continue our progress,” de Blasio said.

The number of people admitted to hospitals for the coronavirus declined from 69 on Friday to 55 on Saturday, the mayor said, while the number of people in public hospital intensive care units dropped from 540 on Friday to 537 on Saturday. About 13% of people tested Saturday for the coronavirus are positive, down from 17% on Friday.

On Long Island, Northwell Health on Monday said it had 1,085 COVID-19 patients at its 19 hospitals, a 68% drop from its peak about a month ago.

Stony Brook University Hospital said Monday it has 131 hospitalized COVID-19 patients. That’s down 64% from the peak of 359 on April 14.

Catholic Health Services said it had 307 COVID-19 patients this weekend at its six hospitals on Long Island, down from a peak of about 900 a month ago. 

De Blasio said New York City will provide technical support, personal protective equipment and volunteers to more than 1,000 community health clinics serving the neighborhoods hardest hit by the coronavirus. 

The city will work with those community clinics to boost testing and tracing, and to build telemedicine networks that will allow the facilities to provide increased services to low-income, immigrant and minority populations, de Blasio said. 

President Donald Trump said Monday that the federal government is sending $1 billion to all 50 states to ensure local officials have the needed equipment to test for the coronavirus.

At a COVID-19 briefing in the White House Rose Garden, the president spoke without a protective mask, even as most, if not all of his staff at the event, were wearing them.

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