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Cuomo: 'We have the beast on the run,' but reopening still far off for Long Island

While New York has continued to make progress

While New York has continued to make progress in preventing infections of the coronavirus to drive its case numbers down, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Friday stressed again the need for continued vigilance and a measured reopening to prevent a resurgence. Credit: NY Governor's Office

This story was reported by Robert Brodsky, Matthew Chayes, Candice Ferrette, David Olson, David Reich-Hale, Ken Schachter, Craig Schneider and Olivia Winslow. It was written by Olson.

Long Islanders and other downstate residents should not expect any part of the region’s economy to reopen soon, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Friday, a week before the COVID-19 restrictions he imposed are set to expire.

This is the case even as the governor touted the success of the state's policies in pushing back against a confounding enemy.

“We have the beast on the run, there’s no doubt about that. We haven’t killed the beast, but we are ahead of it," Cuomo said, "… because we have been smart, and because we have been disciplined.”

He said there are discussions about allowing a return of some manufacturing and construction upstate, where there are far fewer COVID-19 cases.

But, after noting that hospitalizations remain stubbornly flat, he said, “Downstate, I don’t believe those numbers are going to change dramatically enough to make a difference in the next few days.”

Cuomo said disparities in how COVID-19 affects different racial and ethnic communities continue. Even though African-Americans comprise only 9% of the state’s population outside New York City, they account for 18% of the fatalities from COVID-19, and while Latinos comprise 12% of the population outside the city, they represent 14% of fatalities.

Twenty of the 21 ZIP codes with the most recent COVID-19 hospitalizations have disproportionately high black or Latino populations, he said, pointing to a map with red clusters of new hospitalizations in predominantly minority areas of Long Island and New York City. 

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“This is something we are focused on and we’re going to address and we will address immediately,” Cuomo said during his daily coronavirus briefing, from Marist College in upstate Poughkeepsie.

Cuomo said infections would have been far higher if businesses had not been ordered closed, and if New Yorkers had not worn masks and taken other steps to limit the spread of the virus.

He displayed a graph that showed the trajectory in new hospitalizations that state officials had hoped for: The sharp rise in late March and early April that occurred, and, following a brief plateau, a sharp drop expected after that.

That’s not what happened.

Instead, Cuomo said, the number of new hospitalizations has been more or less flat, hovering around 600 for days. There were still 8,196 New Yorkers hospitalized Thursday for COVID-19, he said.

Deaths recorded on a daily basis have fallen, but the decrease has slowed, he said, announcing that 216 people died from COVID-19 on Thursday.

“You see that it’s been persistently constant in the 200 range for the past few days," he said.

The slow decline means that, if "we reopen irresponsibly, you will see that infection number go straight up,” he added.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran on Friday estimated a reopening won't take place until late June, under the state’s guidelines.

Kevin Law, chief executive of the Long Island Association and a member of the governor’s advisory board on reopening the economy, said Cuomo’s phased reopening of regions upstate beginning May 15 will be a “test case” for Long Island and other areas at the “epicenter” of the virus outbreak.

“The governor has set a bunch of health care metrics that we need to meet,” said Law, who also does not expect a “green light” to reopen the Long Island economy until June.

Cuomo had a grim announcement: The first known death in the state of a child from an inflammatory disease linked to COVID-19. A 5-year-old boy died Thursday in New York City. He has ordered an investigation of the condition that's sickened 73 children across the state.

Later Friday, the state announced that nearly 3,000 more New Yorkers tested positive for the coronavirus, including 219 in Nassau County and 331 in Suffolk County, bringing the Long Island total to more than 74,000.

Thirty-five more Long Islanders died from COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the death toll to 3,486.

Curran’s tone at her daily coronavirus briefing turned grim when she talked about the sharp rise in unemployment. She pointed to empty downtowns and said she is hearing about too many businesses that are closed “and way too many are staying closed.”

“We need to start getting society engaged again,” Curran said.

Law said “if the state can expand the amount of businesses deemed essential, that’s something that can be done right away and could put thousands of people back to work.”

At the same time, Law cautioned against the repercussions of a premature reopening.

“That could lead to another shutdown, which would be devastating to our region,” he said.

NYC park restrictions eyed

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday that capacity will be restricted at certain parks.

The NYPD will begin limiting how many people can be at Piers 45 and 46 at Hudson River Park on Manhattan's West Side. De Blasio said capacity also would be monitored at Domino Park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

The mayor had warned on Thursday that the number of parkgoers might be limited as the weather warms.

“There are certain parks where just the configuration of the park lends itself to overcrowding, and we’re working on strategies right now to address that,” de Blasio said.

De Blasio said the city was launching a new Test & Trace Corps in anticipation of when there’s low-level transmission, and social distancing mandates are loosened. Members of the corps will help administer tests and trace cases and the contacts infected people had. They will help isolate and care for those affected, he said.

Fewer patients in the region

There were some positive signs on the health care front.

Northwell Health on Friday said it had 1,203 COVID-19 patients at its hospitals, a drop of more than 64% from a month ago, when the health system reported 3,360 patients at its 19 hospitals.

At Stony Brook University, tents erected as an emergency-room satellite will be closing, after a continued decline in patients, having seen about 2,600 people. Equipment will remain inside the tents if there is a need to use it the future, Stony Brook officials said.

Stony Brook Medicine health care workers staffing the ER Field Satellite will be redeployed to Stony Brook University Hospital. 

In Suffolk, County Executive Steve Bellone noted that Friday marked the 75th anniversary of the end of the European conflict during World War II, but that, instead of a gathering of veterans to thank them, a U.S. flag was raised and lowered at Armed Forces Plaza in Hauppauge and the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook.

“It was an uplifting moment,” Bellone said.

Sixty-five residents of the home have died of COVID-19-related causes, according to a letter posted Tuesday on the veterans home’s website.

Bellone said 70 recruits graduated from the Suffolk County Police Academy, although the graduation had to be done virtually and streamed live on Facebook. The recruits graduated early to quickly deploy them to help with the coronavirus response.

Trump to be tested for antibodies

In an interview Friday on "Fox & Friends," President Donald Trump said he would soon get tested for antibodies to the virus and noted that a valet, who recently tested positive, had relatively little interaction with him. Trump said White House staff who cook his meals will be required to wear masks.

He again urged a reopening, saying "we can’t close our country for two to three years.”

Trump called new job numbers showing 14.7% unemployment — the highest since the Great Depression — “no surprise," but, he said, "they will be back very soon."

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