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Cuomo: Businesses can deny access to customers not wearing face covering

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday held a news conference in Brooklyn to talk about what New York City needs to do in order to reach Phase One of reopening. Credit: Facebook / Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo

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

Business owners can toss out or deny access to customers who refuse to wear a mask or face covering, under an order issued Thursday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo as he tries to crack down on people failing to obey coronavirus mitigation guidelines.

"We are giving the store owners the right to say, 'If you are not wearing a mask, you can't come in,' " Cuomo said. "That store owner has a right to protect themselves. That store owner has a right to protect the other patrons in that store."

The governor also brought some star power to his campaign, saying actor Rosie Perez and comedian Chris Rock will take part in public service announcements to encourage people to wear masks and socially distance.

The two Brooklyn natives appeared with Cuomo for his daily coronavirus briefing, held Thursday at the Madison Square Boys & Girls Club in Brooklyn.

Cuomo said the state's focus will shift to help New York City prepare for a reopening under health and preparedness metrics observed by other regions, with stepped-up efforts to test more city residents, build up contact tracing and promote the use of face coverings.

The last metrics update published by the state for the different regions' standing on Wednesday showed New York City falling short on three of seven benchmarks: keeping 30% of hospital and intensive care unit beds available for any potential increase in COVID-19 patients and assembling a contact tracing corps of 30 per 100,000 residents.

“The state has a set of rules and metrics to reopen that apply to New York City just like they apply to every other region," Cuomo said. “In this state, there are no different standards of safety … if it’s safe for your family, it’s safe for my family … that’s my personal gauge.”

As New York City struggled to meet reopening metrics, coronavirus indicators statewide continued to march in a positive direction, he said.

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While still a devastating number, Cuomo said, the state's daily death toll of 74 people who succumbed to COVID-19 on Wednesday represented the fourth straight day the figure was below 100. That compared to a high of nearly 800 confirmed deaths in a day at the pandemic's height.

New hospitalizations of coronavirus patients, recorded at 163 patients Wednesday, have fallen far below the peak of about 3,200 in early April.

And the total number of hospitalized coronavirus patients, 4,010, was well below the peak of nearly 19,000.

In hosting Rock and Perez, the governor said he hopes to better get out the message about wearing masks and getting tested.

"You are not just disrespecting yourself, you are disrespecting your loved ones, your communities" if you don't wear a mask, Perez said. "Please, mi gente," she encouraged Brooklyn residents, calling them "my people" in Spanish.

“People need to get tested, they need to make it a festive occasion, they need to posse up and get tested," Rock said. "If you love your grandmother, if you love your elderly mother … you should get tested.”

Rock guessed that only around 40% of people in Brooklyn wear a mask.

“The kids really aren’t wearing a mask,” he said. “And you know it’s sad. It’s sad that … our health has become sort of a political issue … It’s a status symbol almost to not wear a mask."

Rock said he is willing to do anything to help in the campaign.

“We’re soldiers for New York,” he said. “There’s a hundred thousand dead Americans, and I will go wherever, you know, I’m called."

Meanwhile, officials on Long Island said they are working to resurrect their battered economies, which entered the first reopening phase on Wednesday.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said her focus has turned to business revitalization.

“It has come at such a high cost for our downtowns,” she said, referring to the state-mandated shutdown since mid-March. “The success of our businesses here in Nassau County is directly linked to our success as a government in Nassau County.”

Curran touted her plan to fast-track permits to allow closures on county roads that pass through local villages and hamlets.

“Now is the time to prepare our downtowns to get back to business,” she said.

The Open Streets Pilot Program, “the extra capacity of sidewalk and street seating could make a difference for survival for restaurants and business and could help them actually start making a profit once we get the green light to do so.”

Outdoor dining, and other businesses

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said he plans to issue an executive order requiring the county health department to automatically approve requests from restaurants to expand their outdoor dining if the related town or village already has approved it.

“We want to make sure there is nothing hindering [an expansion] once we have the go-ahead to move forward with outdoor dining,” Bellone said.

Bellone said he hopes outdoor dining can be accelerated. Expansions could happen on sidewalks and back areas that normally would not be allowed.

Still, questions remain about how businesses can best prepare to welcome back employees and customers — and how they can safely move some operations outdoors.

Among top concerns is when hair salons, barbershops, restaurants, catering halls, movie theaters and gyms could open their doors in Nassau and Suffolk.

Evlyn Tsimis, Nassau’s deputy county executive for economic development, said at a Newsday-sponsored webinar that salons remain the “million-dollar question” for many residents. The shops, considered personal services, are slated for a Phase 3 reopening, which could be a month away or more.

“But momentum is building to bring it to Phase 2,” Tsimis said. “It’s a hot topic on everyone’s mind. There is a real feeling that this can be done safely, and that people can wear masks and limit the number of people inside the salon at one time.”

Nassau officials said there is a growing push to allow more outdoor dining, with flexible uses of space ranging from back parking lots to closing municipal roadways for plaza-like dining.

Catering halls hosting large indoor events, gyms, theaters and other recreational events are slated for Phase 4, officials said.

Kristen Jarnagin, president and chief executive of Discover Long Island, the region’s tourism promotion agency, said it’s critical that the reopening proceeds carefully and not force a second round of shutdowns. Tourism on Long Island, she said, is a $6.1 billion industry supporting 100,000 jobs, about 80% in small businesses.

“We can’t afford to shut down again and lose our season,” Jarnagin said. “That’s why, as much as we all want to open so quickly, it’s so important that we do it safely and responsibly to ensure this doesn’t happen.”

De Blasio anticipates June reopening

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said between 200,000 and 400,000 people in New York City are expected to return to work when the city starts to reopen in the first half of June. 

But there will be conditions, de Blasio said. Among them: One person in an elevator at a time; occupancy in a work site capped at 50% of normal; mandatory social distancing, delineated by markers. "A constant everyday check on how employees are doing,” such as temperature checks.

“We’ve come a long way. We’re not going to blow it now,” de Blasio said at his daily virtual news conference.

New cases of the coronavirus continued to remain at relatively low levels, according to state data released Thursday.

Nassau reported 106 new cases Wednesday, for a total of 40,140. Suffolk had 101 new cases, for a total of 39,359. New York City reported 1,083 new cases, for a total of 201,051. New York State as a whole had 1,768 new cases, for a total of 366,733.

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