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LI could reopen sooner under changed metrics for counting hospital deaths 

New York State's metrics were established based on

New York State's metrics were established based on guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, the U.S. Department of State, and other public health experts. Credit:

Long Island may be closer to reopening now that the state has changed some of the metrics used in determining when to ease restrictions from the coronavirus lockdown.

The change affects how hospitalizations and death rates for each region of the state are viewed. As of Monday, the state is looking at those two metrics, from May 15, the date the original stay-at-home order expired, instead of across the entire length of the pandemic’s arrival in New York.

The revision will make it possible for the Western New York region to start reopening on Tuesday.

Each region has to hit seven metrics set by the state to fully reopen. Long Island has hit five of the metrics, with decline in hospital deaths and contact tracers still lacking.

Long Island can meet the hospital deaths metric if it experiences 14 days of declining hospital deaths or an average of fewer than six deaths per day over the most recent three days of data — not at any time since the pandemic began. As of Sunday, Long Island had five days of declining hospital deaths and an average of 12 hospital deaths per day over the past three days.

Melissa DeRosa, secretary to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, said Monday the change was made after the state's original lockdown order expired.

"What we’ve been very clear on is once we hit May 15, as soon as a region hit the bench marks, they could enter Phase One," DeRosa said. "So the time reset on May 15, which was the end of the pause."

That decision could mean Long Island reaches the hospital deaths requirement more quickly. Long Island could then enter Phase One of the reopening process. Nonessential construction, manufacturing and agriculture businesses would be allowed to reopen, and retailers would be permitted to provide curbside pickup to customers.

A top Long Island health executive questions why deaths are used as a metric for reopening.

“We should be tracking hospitalization rates, the percentage of beds available, personal protective equipment and testing in a region,” said Dr. Patrick O’Shaughnessy, executive vice president and chief clinical officer at Catholic Health Services, which operates six hospitals on Long Island. “But getting a region like this, which has been so hard hit, to five or fewer deaths will be difficult, because we still have a lot of critically ill patients.”

Long Island’s high density also could make it difficult to quickly dip below the six-death threshold, said Steve Bello, a senior vice president and regional executive director at Northwell Health.

“Some of the metric goals that make sense upstate don’t apply here,” Bello said. “To get to five deaths could take a while."

Bello said Northwell Health has seen significant declines in every metric.

Northwell on Monday said it had 909 COVID-19 patients at its hospitals, a drop of 73% from the peak on April 7. It reported 11 deaths on Sunday. 

Catholic Health Services said it had 257 COVID-19 patients Monday, down from more than 900 at its peak during the first half of April.

Nassau County spokesman Michael Fricchione said Monday that all of the contact tracers needed to meet the state contact tracing mandate, which requires 30 contact tracers per 100,000 Long Island residents, have been identified. He said many are already undergoing training and, "we are expecting we will have that by the time the other metric is fulfilled."