Story at a glance
- Nearly 35,000 COVID-19-related deaths have been recorded so far in the tri-state area, though officials admit the real toll is likely higher.
- Five New York regions currently meet the criteria to begin reopening when Gov. Andrew Cuomo's "PAUSE" order lifts late Friday.
- Of 10 state regions, New York City is the furthest from meeting the reopening criteria.
For the first time since Gov. Andrew Cuomo shut down the entire state of New York on March 11, roughly two months ago, parts will soon begin to reopen for business. Some see the reopenings as a light at the end of a very long tunnel amid a pandemic that has taken thousands of lives and caused unparalleled levels of unemployment, while others are worried that reopening the state will ultimately lead to more positive cases of the virus. According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, the state has recorded 343,3051 coronavirus cases and 27,607 deaths, about a third of all fatalities in the country.
During his daily press briefing in Rochester on Monday, Cuomo said: “In many ways, from my point of view, we’re on the other side of the mountain.”
The four phases of Cuomo’s plan
Cuomo has outlined a four-phase plan for reopening the state, the first of which would allow certain businesses to open, including construction, manufacturing and retail with curbside pickup. Additionally, businesses such as landscaping and gardening, as well as drive-in movie theaters, would be able to open statewide. The state will also be relaxing restrictions on outdoor activities that allow participants to maintain a healthy distance away from one another, such as tennis.
While this initial stage of reopening technically begins at midnight on Friday, only 5 of 10 New York regions meet Cuomo's criteria to begin: Mohawk Valley, North Country, Southern Tier, Finger Lakes, and, as of Thursday afternoon, Central New York. According to his guidelines for reopening, each phase will be in effect for at least two weeks in order to study its effects before progressing to the next — each of which comes with a new round of reopenings for certain nonessential businesses. Phase two, for instance, includes businesses such as in-person retail and real estate. Phase three includes restaurants and other food services, and the fourth phase will see the reopening of arts, entertainment, recreation and education.
As part of Phase One of reopening, residential and commercial construction can resume in the regions that have met the benchmarks.— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) May 15, 2020
-Indoor & outdoor work allowed
-Masks must be worn within 6 feet of another worker
-Employer must provide masks
-No congregate meetings
“This is the next big step in this historic journey,” Cuomo said, and that “all the arrows are pointing in the right directions.”
Cuomo also announced on Friday via Twitter that beaches in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware will open the Friday of Memorial Day weekend "with strict precautions" as a part of a joint agreement by the region. Cuomo said "beaches will be at 50 percent capacity & masks will be required when social distance not possible. Staff will enforce," adding that "if local government's [sic] don't enforce these rules, the beaches will be closed."
What summer might look like in NYC
New York City is currently the furthest region away from meeting Cuomo's seven reopening benchmarks, having only met four so far. Despite this, all three of Mayor Bill de Blasio's key indicators were trending in the right direction as of Thursday, with new daily hospital admissions and the number of patients in intensive care showing a visible decline.
Cuomo has made it clear that he wants the reopening process to be slow and backed by data, making sure that the entire state has the mechanisms in place to prevent resurgence of the virus. His plans include keeping nearly a third of hospital and ICU beds available should they be needed by COVID-19 patients and implementing more robust testing and contract tracing infrastructures — something the entire country has been lacking since the outbreak first started. Developments in the number of those infected will continue to be monitored, Cuomo says, and reopening will be put on pause if any given region slips on a benchmark at any given time.
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For those living in NYC, Mayor de Blasio has pledged to share the city’s plans for summer, which are projected to look unlike any summer residents have seen in the past. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who have developed a composite model called the COVID-19 forecast hub, project New York will ultimately lose 31,740 people to the virus by June 6.
Though festivals and large events in NYC, such as LGBT Pride, have been cancelled through June, Cuomo has said that the city will need to have at least some "summer activities" open for residents, saying “you can’t tell people in dense urban environments ‘We have nothing for you to do,’ there’s a sanity equation here.”
The governor’s comments acted as a contradiction to former comments from de Blasio, who has come under criticism for saying public pools and summer camps will not be open for the season and telling residents to “keep expectations low for now.” The mayor also said that a ban on nonessential businesses and large gatherings would not end before June.
Despite this uncertain future for the city, the mayor said on Monday that it is a possibility for city schools to reopen in time for the next academic year to start come September.
"As of this moment I think schools can open in September, but keeping a close eye on it," said de Blasio.
Mike Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, recently told NBC New York that there were an array of scenarios under consideration for schools reopening in the fall, including a "staggered attendance" option for all 1.1 million NYC public school children, which would have them alternate between days in school and learning from home.
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