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COVID-19 infection rate below 1% for a full month, Cuomo says

At a news conference Sunday, Sen. Chuck Schumer

At a news conference Sunday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump's handling of the pandemic crisis, stating Democrats won't support a relief bill that fails to include critical funds for state and local aid along with mass transit, two priorities important to the larger economy. Credit: Craig Ruttle

The overall COVID-19 infection rate in New York State has remained less than 1% for a full month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Monday.

There were 520 new positive cases on Sunday of 58,865 test results reported to the state, or 0.88% of tests. And the number of positive tests on Long Island was down to 1% on Sunday after showing an uptick of 1.5% on Friday and 1.1% on Saturday.

But that good news comes as New York faces one of its greatest challenges to keeping the infection rate low — the reopening of elementary and secondary schools this week. Schools shut down in-person classes in March and switched to distance learning. 

The Sewanhaka, Riverhead and Southold school districts have reported COVID-19 cases among students and staffers. Riverhead started classes last week, and Sewanhaka and Southold staffers are preparing for the opening of school this week.

State health and SUNY officials are still grappling with a cluster of cases at Oneonta, where almost 600 students have tested positive for COVID-19 and in-person classes were shut down for the fall semester. More than 6,000 students attend the upstate college. 

Some officials believe the uptick on Long Island could at least partly be attributed to an increase among college students.

“As we close out this Labor Day Weekend, I urge everyone to remain smart so we can continue to celebrate our progress in the weeks and months ahead,” Cuomo said in a statement. “It took the work of all of us to get here, and to protect this progress we will need to all continue to wash our hands, wear our masks, remain socially distant and above all, stay New York tough.”

In honor of Labor Day, Cuomo said he signed legislation mandating public employers craft detailed plans on how employees will be protected during outbreaks of communicable disease, including protocols for distributing protective equipment and working remotely.

Cuomo took to video on Monday to acknowledge one Labor Day tradition that was canceled due to the pandemic, the West Indian Day Parade in Brooklyn.

“We can all see in our mind’s eye the pageantry and the food and the dancing and the smiles,” he said of the annual celebration of Caribbean American culture that draws millions of people to Eastern Parkway every year. “We all know in our heart that is what makes New York special — and this year more than most we deeply appreciate it.”

The State Liquor Authority and State Police Task Force inspected 1,064 bars and restaurants on Long Island and in New York City on Sunday and issued violations to seven for failing to follow state requirements to stop the spread of COVID-19. Five of the sites were in Suffolk County, with one in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn.

The 520 new cases of COVID-19, which include an additional 46 in Suffolk County and 36 in Nassau County, bring the state’s total to 440,021.

There were two new fatalities, and 413 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized across the state.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said the county’s positivity rate is 0.9%, with 34 people hospitalized with COVID-19, 12 in the intensive care unit and four patients on ventilators. She said Labor Day should be a time to remember health care workers and other essential employees who have been on the front lines during the coronavirus pandemic.

“They continue to put their lives on the line for us, and we’re grateful for them every day,” she said in a statement. “Our County workforce stepped up for residents when they needed it most this year, and I salute them all for their service.“

Cuomo and Nassau and Suffolk officials have repeatedly called on the federal government to provide financial relief to help ease the sweeping economic damage caused by the pandemic.

On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and five U.S. House of Representatives members from New York City gathered at a news conference in Manhattan to make it clear they will not support a coronavirus relief bill unless it provides financial help for mass transit along with state and local governments.

Schumer said Republicans’ proposed $500 million — which provides funding for small businesses, schools, colleges, vaccines and contact tracing, but not the states and municipalities — would be “a dagger to the heart of New York.”

“They should go back to the drawing board and work with us to come up with a bill that will really help,” Schumer told Newsday.

Without that federal relief, local governments will likely have to lay off tens of thousands of workers, and transit agencies such as the Long Island Rail Road may have to cut back on service, Schumer said, adding the bill does not do enough to help children dealing with hunger and tenants facing eviction. He said he is concerned that if the bill passes, “We will get nothing else for months.”

 With Rachelle Blidner