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Cuomo: Amid low COVID-19 infection levels, state to test people at airports

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Monday that the state is setting testing sites at airports to screen for the coronavirus and protect gains. Credit: News 12 Long Island

New York registered what Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called "the lowest infection rate that we have had since we started this" — a 0.66% level of new positives on Sunday — while announcing that the state is opening testing sites at two major airports to screen for the coronavirus.

The state is moving its fight to contain the spread to Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, where the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey along with New York City Health and Hospitals will set up new testing sites for travelers from out of state, Cuomo said.

New York continues to issue a list of more than two dozen states and territories on a travel advisory requiring people who come from those locations to quarantine upon arrival for 14 days.

With the airport testing sites, the state will "be able to do faster testing of people coming in,” Cuomo said.

He did not explain who would be tested or how the operation would work.

"We have done a number of initiatives to protect our progress, as we call it," Cuomo said. "Our infection rate is low; the question is how do you keep it low?"

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The governor also said Monday that "lower-risk sports" in schools such as soccer and field hockey will be allowed starting Sept. 21, including practices and games, though traveling will not be permitted beyond regions. For sports such as football, deemed by the state to pose a higher risk of virus exposure, teams will be allowed to practice starting Sept. 21, but not play until a later date or Dec. 31.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran praised the return of sports, saying they "will give children a chance to stretch their legs and return to their beloved school teams."

The level of new coronavirus positives on Sunday meant the state now has 17 consecutive days measuring daily infection levels under 1%, despite testing at a consistently high level. The state has averaged 1% or below in new COVID-19 positives since June.

Hospitalizations related to the coronavirus were at 482 statewide, and seven people died of related causes Sunday.

Long Island registered a low daily level of new confirmed cases at 0.6%, but the upstate region of Western New York saw an uptick to 1.1%, which Cuomo said was linked to clusters of cases at a steel plant, a factory and among seasonal agricultural workers.

The number of coronavirus cases confirmed positive Sunday was 39 in Nassau County, 21 in Suffolk County and 214 in New York City, according to state data released Monday. Of 62,031 tests completed statewide, 408 were confirmed positive for the virus.

Gatherings 'a matter of concern'

Cuomo thanked officials in the Village of Westhampton and Suffolk County for their handling of a drive-in concert series in the village over the weekend, where police and Suffolk authorities enforced compliance. He said such events have been "a matter of concern" because distancing rules are not always observed.

He added: “The problem becomes when you stage the event, you host the event, and people don’t comply, and the local authorities aren’t prepared to deal with it. We’ve seen that in Southampton. That’s not the case in what happened at Westhampton. The exact opposite happened.”

States/regions in red are included on New York's travel advisory list as of Oct. 27, 2020. Guam and Puerto Rico, not pictured, are also on the list.

Cuomo was apparently referring to a “drive-in” concert in Water Mill in late July that included widely reported violations of COVID-19-related health codes. An irate Cuomo had warned the event could result in civil fines and criminal penalties.

In continued enforcement efforts of rules to prevent the coronavirus spread, the State Liquor Authority and New York State Police checked on 3,964 businesses this past weekend and issued 34 violations, Cuomo said Monday.

Liquor licenses of 14 more establishments were suspended, including “75 Main Group” at 75 Main St. in Southampton.

Violations found there over the weekend, the state said, included “a line of patrons waiting to enter the premises, ignoring social distancing, with most not wearing facial coverings. Investigators also observed two bartenders and three servers without facial coverings.”

An hour later, investigators returned and found “multiple employees and patrons standing, mingling and drinking around the bar without facial coverings, with several patrons from nearby tables wandering up to the bar to mingle and consume shots — in violation of the Governor's Executive Order prohibiting walk-up bar service.”

An 18-year-old underage agent was also able to purchase alcohol on two separate occasions without being asked for identification, the statement said.

Lauren DeFranco, a 75 Main spokesperson, said in a statement that the restaurant "has a zero-tolerance policy for any violations of social distancing, mask requirements, or serving alcohol to anyone under the age of 21." The restaurant is working with the state "to rectify this matter" and had "terminated the personnel involved."

Cuomo had complained earlier that "too many bars and restaurants are still flouting rules" as he called for local governments "to step up" and enforce them.

Some people in the region returned to gyms and fitness centers Monday, under state guidelines that included reducing capacity to about a third and being subject to local inspection for compliance. In Suffolk, officials said hotel, office and college gyms cannot open until Aug. 31.

With Candice Ferrette

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