This story was reported by Zachary R. Dowdy, Candice Ferrette, Bart Jones and David Reich-Hale. It was written by Jones.
New York State will allow public pools and playgrounds to open at local governments' discretion as summer arrives, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Thursday, while holding up New York as a model for the rest of the country for its reopening from the coronavirus shutdown.
Cuomo, who has said regions will be monitored for two weeks between phases, announced five upstate regions are set to enter Phase 3 of the reopening Friday. That will allow their restaurants and food services both indoor and outdoor to get back to work, along with personal care businesses such as nail salons and massage parlors.
Long Island is weeks away from Phase 3 under the state's typical timeline, since Nassau and Suffolk entered Phase 2 this week.
But Nassau County Executive Laura Curran cited massive unemployment, growing numbers of people on food lines and others unable to pay their rents to explain why she thinks a faster reopening would help communities recover.
“These problems are not going away and they won’t go away quickly. That’s why we got to, I believe, accelerate reopening so that we can get this economy cranking again,” Curran said.
Curran also announced on Thursday evening that the county will open 67 playgrounds in Nassau's 35 public parks this Saturday, aiming to bring back "a fun outdoor activity for some of our youngest residents."
The number of COVID-19 cases are rising in 21 states, including 14 that are hitting new highs, while the numbers in New York are dropping to their lowest levels even as it reopens its economy and society, Cuomo said.
“We are the exception, and an outrageous exception," he said. "We so far have the exact opposite phenomenon. We reopen, the number continues to go down. How can that be? Because our reopening is different than their reopening, our reopening is based on the numbers, our reopening is phased, and because New Yorkers have been smart, and they have been diligent” and “they have been informed in this state.”
Cuomo said that despite giving the green light on public pools and playgrounds, local authorities need to exercise caution and track new cases daily to guide their actions.
“If the positives are in a cluster, a neighborhood that has that pool, don’t open the pool," he said. “Well, everybody wants to swim. I understand. But everybody doesn’t want to see a spike in COVID again. So use your judgment. Sometimes yes is not the right answer. It’s the easy answer."
While the state continued to see decreasing infections, hospitalizations and deaths linked to COVID-19, Cuomo said local governments, businesses and residents must stay the course and observe social distancing and other protective measures.
“This COVID has not gone away," he added. In New York, “The numbers are good. Everything we have done has been exactly right up until now. But that’s up until now. And you can make a mistake today that wipes out everything we’ve done. So we have to stay smart."
Daily results for Wednesday showed Long Island's residents testing positive at 0.9% for the coronavirus, same as the previous day and down from 1.1% on Monday. In New York City, 1.7% of those tested came back positive. The state's regions ranged from a low 0.3% in the North Country to New York City's level — where the Bronx had the highest level of positive test results at 2.4%.
The state lost 36 people Wednesday to the coronavirus, one of the lowest daily death toll tallies so far.
The state figures showed there were another 736 confirmed cases of the coronavirus across New York on Wednesday, adding up to 380,892 since the pandemic started. Nassau had 45 new positives for a total of 41,060 and Suffolk had 48 new positives for a total of 40,512. New York City had 399 new positives for a total of 208,517 confirmed coronavirus diagnoses since the start of the outbreak.
The upstate regions moving on to the third phase of reopening are Central New York, Finger Lakes, Mohawk Valley, North Country and Southern Tier.
Numbers continue to improve
Curran said she would like to see an accelerated reopening of Long Island’s economy, since indicators show the county is keeping the virus at bay.
“I believe that the numbers continue to be very good and go in the right direction — that’s something that should be seriously considered. Shrinking the time between phases,” Curran said at her daily coronavirus briefing.
She said the county’s sales tax receipts were down by one-third and only 3% of businesses said in a survey they did not expect to lose revenue.
“This is devastating — devastating. Our local businesses are hit really hard,” Curran said.
Curran said she dined outside in Sea Cliff on Wednesday night, marking the first day of the second phase. She said she believes the county’s business owners have the ability to protect customers and their employees from illness and are taking public health precautions seriously.
“Many are concerned about a lack of consumer confidence or that people would be afraid to come back out into the world to get the economy going again. So they are taking seriously how they are cranking up again while addressing those fears while putting their customers and employees at ease,” Curran said.
She said she is awaiting state guidance on whether the county can open the pools at Nickerson Beach. Four of the county pools — Cantiague Park, North Woodmere Park, Wantagh Park and Christopher Morley Park — will reopen July 3, as announced Wednesday. The pools will be limited to county residents, Curran said.
She said she is making the case to the state to reopen malls and resume youth sports sooner than planned as well.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone praised the lower number of new cases in the county.
“Forty-eight is a good number," he said. "We want to be below 100, substantially below 100, so 48 is a good number.”
Hospitals in the region also continued to see low numbers of coronavirus patients.
Northwell Health, based in New Hyde Park, said it admitted nine COVID-19 patients over the last 24 hours at the 19 hospitals it owns and operates, a number that was essentially flat over the last week.
Catholic Health Services on Thursday said it has dipped below 100 hospitalized COVID-19 patients at its six hospitals, down from a peak of about 900.
Dr. Patrick O'Shaughnessy, executive vice president and chief clinical officer, said, "Mask wearing and social distancing has made a major impact."