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OpinionEditorial

Taking steps toward normalcy on Long Island

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has redefined the state's

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has redefined the state's criteria to allow upstate regions to reopen. Credit: Office of the Governor

The starting line for Long Island’s official reopening draws closer. As the weather warms and coronavirus cases fall, the feeling builds that the region must be at the line already.

We’re not. But we’re close. So close, in fact, that it would be reasonable to let Long Island take small steps on the road back to normalcy.

The math is tantalizing. Long Island falls short on three of the state’s seven metrics to begin Phase One of reopening. But a close examination of the numbers gives rise to optimism that by the end of this month we can take those steps.

One metric requires regions to have 30% of their hospital beds available for COVID-19 patients in the event of a new influx; Long Island has 27%. That’s close. On a second metric, a three-day rolling average of 5 or fewer new deaths, Long Island has 10. But that limit of 5 is for every region in the state, a burden more onerous for Long Island (population 2.84 million) than for areas like the North Country (430,000). And those deaths are mostly a reflection of patients still on ventilators for earlier admissions, not new cases.

Long Island also falls short on hiring tracers to track people who test positive and their contacts. Nassau and Suffolk have hired about 800 of the 2,000 needed and the state’s dashboard says the region is “expected” to meet the standard. The state also is hiring tracers and should assign some to Long Island to boost the counties’ total.

We’re not suggesting opening doors wide for bars and restaurants or allowing large gatherings in catering halls or concert venues. The region still needs restrictions, perhaps for a longer time, given it still has about 150 new cases of COVID-19 daily and too many Long Islanders flout guidelines on social distancing and wearing masks.

Attractions like Old Westbury Gardens and other historic sites with ample land can reopen, and activities such as tennis and horseback riding can resume. The number of employees working curbside retail can be expanded. Residential construction projects should get started up again. Later on, perhaps new data will let outdoor dining return a little earlier than other restaurant activity.

These are modest changes. But they are important, for jobs and mental health but also symbolically. A too-tight throttle out of sync with real life risks losing the fidelity of people who must continue to adhere to guidelines if we’re to ever emerge from this pandemic.

The goal of staying home, distancing and wearing masks was to flatten the curve of new infections so hospitals could handle patients. That has been done. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s mantra has been to follow the numbers and adjust as necessary. The state already redefined its criteria once to allow upstate regions to reopen. The governor this week loosened restrictions on religious gatherings and services.

A gradual reopening doesn’t mean universal carte blanche, but a little more normalcy would go a long way for everyone.

— The editorial board

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