ALBANY — It may take more than two weeks for regions to enter the next planned stages of reopening the economy, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday.
The Finger Lakes Region, which includes each of the four GLOW region counties, along with the North Country, Central New York, 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 during a pandemic briefing Saturday in the governor’s mansion. “Two weeks between each phase is a rule of thumb. That’s not a hard-and-fast number.”
Phase I is easier to implement than phase II, state Budget Director Robert Mujica said, because the required benchmarks were clear-cut.
“Phase II is more a judgment call of when have the numbers stabilized,” the governor added. “Can you explain an increase, or is the increase problematic?”
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.
New York’s COVID-19 fatalities reached 22,510 Saturday — up from 22,426 Friday. 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 28,926 Saturday afternoon.
The state saw 84 virus-related deaths Friday, including 62 in hospitals and 22 in nursing homes. Friday was the first day since March the state had fewer than 100 coronavirus deaths in a 24-hour period.
Cuomo said weeks ago, when several hundred New Yorkers were dying each day from the virus, a medical expert told him to have a goal for the state’s daily death toll to get below 100.
“If you can get under 100, I thought...to blow a sigh of relief,” Cuomo said. “Eighty-four is still a tragedy, but the fact it’s as low as it is...you need something in life to shoot for.”
New York’s COVID-19 death rate is on a decline after totaling 109 fatalities Thursday, 105 Wednesday and 112 Tuesday.
The state tested 1,652,061 people by Saturday, revealing 359,926 total positive cases of COVID-19. New York’s hospitalization rates continued a downward trend to 4,642 patients Saturday, according to the governor’s office.
Cuomo and the state have faced weeks of backlash after New York has more than 5,400 reported and probable COVID-19 deaths at more than 600 nursing homes and adult-care facilities statewide.
Many COVID-19-positive nursing home residents returned home to their facilities before they recovered after a March 25 state Health Department memo declared the state cannot discriminate against COVID-19 nursing home patients and prohibit their return, which potentially infected the most vulnerable New Yorkers — older adults and people with underlying conditions.
The state rule was implemented per CDC guidance, Cuomo has said repeatedly in recent weeks, deferring questions to President Donald Trump about the federal agency.
“The policy the Department of Health put out was in line directly with the March 13 directive put out by the CDC,” Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa said Saturday. “I know there’s been lot of discussion on this topic. There are over a dozen states that did the exact same thing — many of whom were concerned about hospital capacity...It’s been is a national and international tragedy that everybody has had to grapple with, and it is something that we’re trying to learn from everyday and move forward.”
New York Congressional Republicans and state lawmakers have called for an investigation into the state’s handling of COVID-19 in nursing homes and related deaths. Earlier this week, the governor said he welcomed such investigations, reiterating Saturday the state followed the president’s agency guidance.
“That depoliticizes it,” Cuomo said. “What New York did was follow what the Republicans’ administration said to do. That’s not my attempt to politicize it. That’s my attempt to depoliticize it. Don’t criticize the state for following the president’s policy.”
As some experts and recent studies suggest, a second wave of positive virus cases is hitting Southern states that may have opened too quickly, including parts of Florida, Alabama and Texas, Cuomo warned New Yorkers not to underestimate the virus, to wear a mask in public and wash your hands.
“I’m telling you, those masks can save your life or another person’s life,” the governor said, reiterating emergency room workers have lower rates of infection than the general population because of their consistent usage of personal protective equipment.
State beaches and lakefronts opened Friday and are slated to remain open through the Memorial Day weekend, before closing at dusk Monday. They will operate at 50% capacity with concessions closed and group activities prohibited.
New Yorkers largely complied with social distancing — remaining 6 feet from each other — and did not overcrowd areas or engage in group activities, Cuomo said.
“People were great,” he added. “They did what they’re supposed to do.”
The governor encouraged New Yorkers to remain vigilant with social distancing and wearing masks or facial coverings over the holiday weekend.
More than one-third, or about 35%, of people who become infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, or do not show symptoms, according to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. The governor urged New Yorkers to get a free diagnostic test at one of more than 760 sites statewide. The state will open 15 new testing sites at downstate medical centers in partnership with AdvantageCare Physicians.
“That’s one of the insidious elements to this virus, so get a test,” Cuomo said. “It protects you, it protects your family — it protects everyone.”
Frontline workers, New Yorkers who come in contact with a COVID-19-positive person or anyone with symptoms should get tested. Repeat diagnostic tests are permitted. To schedule a free COVID-19 test, visit coronavirus.health.ny.gov.
Officials played five more honorable mentions of the 600-plus 30-second videos submitted this month as part of a state competition explaining why people should wear masks in public. Votes are accepted through Monday. The winning video will be used as a state public service announcement.
To view the top five videos and vote, visit coronavirus.health.ny.gov/wear-mask.
Saturday marked 84 days since New York had its first official COVID-19 case.
To see where each region stands on reopening and the complete county breakdown of COVID-19 cases and deaths statewide, view the COVID-19 trackers at www.thedailynewsonline.com/site/covid19_status.html and www.thedailynewsonline.com/site/covid19.html