NEW YORK — The state will give death benefits for frontline workers who died from COVID-19, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday, before discouraging lawmakers from spending money the state doesn’t have as the Legislature resumes remote session this week.
The state and local governments will provide death benefits for frontline essential workers, such as health care workers and first responders, who died from COVID-19 during the pandemic. The governor called on the federal government to provide dedicated funding for hazard pay for frontline coronavirus workers, he said.
“You appeared for duty when it was troubling to do so and many people were afraid,” Cuomo said Monday during a pandemic briefing from the USS Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in Manhattan. “It’s not just words of thanks, but actions that show our appreciation.”
The governor and his youngest daughter, Mariah Kennedy-Cuomo, threw a wreath into the Hudson River before Monday’s briefing started.
“This Memorial Day, we know something about loss,” Cuomo said. “Today, we honor the service members who have lost their lives. We thank them for their service, their bravery and their sacrifice.”
State Legislature committee meetings are scheduled to take place Tuesday, with session scheduled for the following days to pass legislation related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cuomo feels the Legislature’s return is a positive thing, he said, but warned lawmakers against spending state money as New York faces a minimum $13.3 billion budget shortfall. The state projects a $61 billion hole over four years because of unforeseen pandemic expenditures.
“There’s nothing we have done I haven’t talked to the Assembly and the Senate about — the question is what they do,” Cuomo said Monday. “Legislatures tend to spend money. That’s basically the power of the purse. The problem in this situation is, we don’t have any money.”
In recent weeks, officials have said they expect to cut schools, hospitals and local government spending up to 20%. The governor has called on federal lawmakers to pass coronavirus legislation to help close state and local government budget gaps. A fifth, House-passed COVID-19 bill that would provide billions in assistance to states, sits in the U.S. Senate.
“Any additional money we spend increases the cuts to school aid, local governments and hospitals,” Cuomo said. “It’s a zero-sum game... There are a lot of good work you could do now, but it all takes money... we don’t have it.”
Lawmakers will utilize temporary rule changes adopted in March to hold proceedings with web-based teleconferences and video conferences. Strict social-distancing measures will be in effect.
Lawmakers must vote to extend session or continue to pass legislation after session is slated to end June 2.
New York’s COVID-19 fatalities reached 22,715 Monday — up from 22,510 Saturday and 22,619 Sunday. Johns Hopkins University & Medicine’s online COVID-19 tracker, which includes probable virus deaths in its tally, listed the state’s virus death toll as 29,141.
The U.S. COVID-19 death toll reached 97,850 as of Monday afternoon.
The state saw 96 virus-related deaths Sunday, including 75 in hospitals and 21 in nursing homes. New York’s COVID-19 death rate is fluctuating, but on a decline after totaling 109 fatalities Saturday, 84 Friday and 109 Thursday.
The state tested 1,739,449 people by Monday, revealing 362,764 total positive cases of the virus. New York’s hospitalization rates continued a downward trend to 4,348 patients, according to the governor’s office.
Residents at the state’s 600-plus nursing homes are regularly tested for COVID-19, but it is not mandated, Cuomo said. Earlier this month, the governor issued an executive order requiring all nursing-home staff be tested for the coronavirus twice per week statewide.
“I wouldn’t call it a requirement, but we are testing all the people in nursing homes,” Cuomo said, adding residents are tested on an ongoing basis.
“Nursing homes are the prime breeding grounds for this killer.”
State officials continue to study the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which ravaged the state and nation for more than two years, for lessons about how to intelligently restart the state economy. St. Louis and Denver both experienced sharp increases in deaths after relaxing stay-at-home orders. In Denver, the deaths spiked worse than the first wave.
Cuomo pointed to a recent study highlighted in The Washington Post on Sunday that shows 24 states may have uncontrolled COVID-19 growth to reiterate why New Yorkers must continue to wear face masks or coverings in public, wash their hands and remain six feet from other people.
“You look at places that didn’t close, they had a much higher retention rate,” Cuomo said. “It’s not smart, it defies history, it defies everything we know — it defies common sense.”
The North Country, Central New York, the Finger Lakes, the Mohawk Valley and Southern Tier regions started reopening May 15 — the day the state’s NY On Pause order, which mandated the closure of schools and nonessential businesses, first expired. A regional control group of officials continues to monitor virus testing, tracing, hospitalization and death metrics each day.
“We’re watching the numbers,” Cuomo said Saturday. “Two weeks between each phase is a rule of thumb. That’s not a hard-and-fast number.
“...Phase II is more a judgment call of when have the numbers stabilized. Can you explain an increase, or is the increase problematic?”
Phase I is easier to implement than phase II, state Budget Director Robert Mujica said, because the required benchmarks were clear-cut.
Phase II businesses include professional services such as hair salons, finance and insurance, retail, administrative support, real estate and rental leasing. The governor’s executive order will be amended and the state will release specific social-distancing guidelines and safety protocols before phase II industries are permitted to reopen in any region, Mujica said.
Campground and RV parks opened statewide Monday. All veterinarian practices are permitted to resume statewide Tuesday.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority employees will thoroughly clean and disinfect every bus and all of its commuter trains daily to curb the virus’s spread — similar to the MTA’s daily cleaning of New York City subways implemented last month.
“We never disinfected trains and buses before,” Cuomo said. “We didn’t think they had to.”
The Long Island Rail Road is prepared to add additional train cars to ensure riders can maintain social distancing. Face masks are mandatory in New York when riding public transportation and when it is impossible to remain six feet from others.
New York professional sports league training camps were cleared to restart Sunday. Leagues must follow mandated state Health Department social-distancing protocols.
The Mid-Hudson region is on track to start reopening nonessential businesses Tuesday under phase I, including construction, manufacturing, forestry, fishing, pickup retail and wholesale trades. Long Island is on track to reopen Wednesday, if the area’s number of virus deaths continues to drop. The region’s contact-tracing operation is expected to be completed and online by Wednesday.
Cuomo urged New Yorkers to get a free diagnostic test at one of more than 760 sites statewide. Frontline workers, New Yorkers who come in contact with a COVID-19-positive person or anyone with symptoms should get tested and will be prioritized to receive a diagnostic test.
Repeat diagnostic tests are permitted. To schedule a free COVID-19 test, visit coronavirus.health.ny.gov.