After seven weeks of near-total shutdown in New York state, the nation’s epicenter for COVID-19 infections, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday some regions will be allowed to begin reopening by the end of this week.
“It’s an exciting new phase,” Cuomo said at his daily briefing. “We’re all anxious to get back to work. We want to do it smartly.”
The reopening will begin on a region-by-region basis, starting in rural parts of Western and upstate New York — the Finger Lakes, Mohawk Valley and Southern Tier — where the rate of infection can be managed, according to a checklist of metrics that the state has asked regions to monitor daily.
By contrast, nonessential business in New York City, where some 940 people tested positive for the virus on Sunday alone, will likely stay closed through the end of the month, at least, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday.
Businesses that will head back to work first include construction, manufacturing, all retail where curbside pickup is possible, as well as agriculture, forestry and fishing.
In one of the most promising changes for cooped-up New Yorkers, the governor is also allowing drive-in movie theaters to reopen in every part of the state.
“Talk about back to the future,” he quipped on Monday. Landscaping and gardening services may also resume statewide, as well as outdoor, low-risk activities previously off limits, such as tennis—no word yet on golf, however.
“We start with businesses that are more essential and pose a lower risk,” Cuomo said, adding that it will be up to businesses to reconfigure workspaces in order to abide by social-distancing rules. Workers have to be able to stay six feet apart and have access to personal protective equipment, such as face masks. Employers will also have to keep staff from gathering, potentially keeping workplace cafeterias closed, the governor said.
The first steps toward reopening come as the number of daily deaths from the COVID-19 totaled 161 on Sunday, the lowest death count since March. New hospitalizations, at less than 500 on Sunday, were also down to levels last seen at the beginning of the crisis in mid-March.
“That is just about where we started this horrific situation,” Cuomo said.
The next phase of infection mitigation will be left up to what the governor is calling “regional control rooms,” a collection of local leaders and lawmakers who will monitor data on a daily basis, “if not an hour-to-hour basis, how many people are walking into hospitals,” Cuomo said. Regions are now tracking seven major metrics, all related to hospitalizations, testing, tracing and hospital capacity, as a way to control the virus as parts of the economy reopen.
Still, Cuomo advised New Yorkers to keep wearing their masks, adding that “people need to understand this is not the floodgates are open.”
The governor’s “New York on Pause” order will remain in place mostly as is for seven of the state’s 10 regions, though some are getting closer to reopening than others.
For instance, the rural North Country region only has one hurdle—to increase testing slightly—before it can reopen. Central New York, which includes the cities of Syracuse and Utica, is also on the cusp of reopening; it also needs to increase daily testing by about 15%.
Meanwhile, New York City is the furthest behind in reaching those reopening goals. Daily hospitalizations are still too high and hospitals remain overburdened. About 24% of the city’s intensive care beds are available, below the 30% threshold needed to begin phase 1 of the reopening.
Based on the state and local measures, New York likely has until June before some nonessential businesses can resume, de Blasio said at his briefing on Monday morning.
“Unless something miraculous happens, we’re going into June,” de Blasio said, though he was hopeful “real changes” could start next month.
As of Sunday, around 180,000 New York City residents had tested positive for the coronavirus, more confirmed cases in a single city than most countries have recorded; 14,753 people have died in the city as of Sunday, nearly 20,000 if “probable” COVID deaths are included, according to the city health department.
Whether the city can reopen in several weeks will depend greatly on how well residents continue to adhere to social distancing, de Blasio said.
“At any point, if the data started to change, that then delays the moment when you could do any kind of loosening of restrictions,” de Blasio said. “We have to earn it every day is the bottom line. And I think the right thing to think about is this conversation; end of May beginning of June is when we’ll be able to start filling in the blanks.”