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LI can learn from a gradual reopening of the state, officials say

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday that he might allow NY Pause orders to expire in some regions on May 15. Credit: Ny Governor's Office

ALBANY — While Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s plan to slowly reopen the state as the coronavirus dissipates appears aimed first at upstate, the experience will help Long Island when it moves to reopen, officials said.

Cuomo said some regions of the state will open May 15 and provide increased understanding that can be used in areas such as New York City and Long Island, that have been hit hardest by the virus. He didn’t identify which regions would start to reopen first, but indicated some sparsely populated upstate regions with few virus infections appear ready.

“How do you bring them back and what precautions do you put in place?” Cuomo said. “And part of this is on business: How do you incorporate the precautions going forward?”

The governor said the learning curve must include ways to maintain social distancing that keeps workers at least 6 feet apart or wearing masks when they can’t, taking the temperature of workers before they enter the work site, finding a way to conduct business with safe and minimal contact with the public, and making sure local hospitals have enough staff and beds to handle a potential resurgence of the virus in September, when flu season begins.

“There will be lessons learned,” said Kevin Law of the Long Island Association. “Normally you would like a uniform policy in place, but it just doesn’t make sense. As much as we want to see Long Island opened, the last thing businesses want here is to have a quick reopening and some quick setbacks so that we have to quarantine again, because that would be devastating.”

Law urged businesses to work with the Suffolk and Nassau health departments.

“We need to help businesses figure out what precautions they need to take when they reopen and it’s going to be different for the thousands and thousands of different businesses we have,” he said.

Cuomo on Monday also said the experience of reopening upstate tourism sites could be instructive for Long Island for when the time comes to open its beaches and other attractions.

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He said the opening of such sites could draw a lot of people from surrounding regions and states because of “pent-up demand.” So more testing and precautions against the spread of the virus would be needed to avoid “a situation where people flood an area” before these attractions can open safely.

“The balance is very delicate,” said Gerald Benjamin, distinguished professor of political science at the State University of New York at New Paltz. “Any backsliding has both a substantive impact — a burden on health care institutions and personnel, first responders — and, less stated, risks diminishing confidence and support. A regional approach will work, as long as New Yorkers believe it is equitable.”

Cuomo noted that the Chicago Fire of 1871 led to a revolution in firefighting and prevention and that the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911 inspired worker safety reforms for decades.

“We are going to turn the valve on reopening, a little bit, then watch the dials,” Cuomo said. “We want to ‘unpause’ May 15 when the ‘PAUSE’ regulations expire statewide. I will extend them in many parts of the state, but in some parts of the state, some regions, you could make the case that we could unpause May 15. But you have to be smart about it.”

“Turn the valve a little bit for a region, watch those gauges very carefully every day,” Cuomo said of the learning process. “You can either close the valve, open the valve a little bit more, or leave it where it is.”

“We have a couple weeks,” Cuomo said he’s been telling local leaders, “but start thinking through what it will take to reopen.”

Cuomo said he needs to see a decline in the hospitalization rate for two weeks before anything reopens.

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