As NY COVID-19 Deaths Drop, Cuomo Outlines Regional Restarts

NEW YORK (AP) -
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo provides a coronavirus update during a press conference in the Red Room at the State Capitol, April 27, 2020, Albany, NY . (Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo outlined how stay-at-home restrictions could be eased for parts of New York where the coronavirus outbreak is less severe. The city also will close 40 miles of streets to cars next month to give pedestrians more room to move outside.

___

REGIONAL RE-OPENINGS

Regional officials aiming to re-open their economies next month should make sure testing is up to speed and that there are enough hospital beds available to handle a combined load of coronavirus and flu patients, Cuomo said.

The governor outlined re-opening guidelines as statewide hospitalization rates and deaths continue to decline from peaks earlier this month. The 337 deaths recorded statewide Sunday was the lowest daily tally this month and down from a high of 799 on April 8. More than 17,000 people have died in New York since the start of the outbreak.

Cuomo said at his daily news briefing that statewide stay-at-home restrictions set to expire May 15 will likely be extended in many parts of the state.

“But in some parts of the state, some regions, you could make the case that we should un-pause on May 15,” said Cuomo, who likened it to turning a valve a bit at a time. The governor, like elected officials around the nation, is facing calls to ease restrictions soon.

Floyd Rayburn, who employs 30 people at his Canandaigua-based masonry business, doesn’t see a need to wait until mid-May. He didn’t think the widespread shutdowns were necessary in places with lower numbers of cases.

“It’s time to open up the whole state, the whole country. Open it up,” Rayburn said by phone Monday.

He is still paying employees as part of the Paycheck Protection Program, the relief fund that Congress created to help small businesses through the crisis, but said he would rather open back up and put them back to work.

“I’ve got two years of backlog,” Rayburn said.

Cuomo said decisions will be made and monitored based on rates of hospitalizations, antibody testing, diagnostic testing and data on infection rates. Regional officials need to be prepared to make sure there are enough workers to trace the contacts of infected people, enough places to isolate infected people and enough hospital capacity.

“Are you contemplating what will happen when the flu season kicks in in September, when we could potentially be dealing with COVID cases on top of flu cases?” Cuomo asked.

Preliminary results of statewide antibody tests, which check for substances the immune system makes to fight the virus, suggest the coronavirus is far less prevalent in some upstate areas compared New York City, a pandemic hotspot. While almost a quarter of people in New York City tested positive, the rate was below 2% in northern and central New York, according to preliminary estimates.

Construction and manufacturing jobs that represent low risks for workers will be among the first to resume once New York state begins reopening, Cuomo said Sunday.

___

OPEN STREETS TO PEDESTRIANS

De Blasio said the city will close 40 miles of streets to cars next month and up to 100 miles during the duration of the COVID-19 crisis in order to give pedestrians more room to move while maintaining social distancing.

“During this crisis the goal is to get up to 100 miles of those open streets,” said de Blasio, who had earlier resisted calls from advocates for pedestrians and cyclists to close off large swaths of roadways to cars.

De Blasio said an early focus of the plan will be streets near parks, since people are already gathering there. He said he is working out details with the City Council, which passed a bill last week to require the city’s transportation department to close up to 75 miles of streets to cars.

Short stretches of four streets were closed to cars during a pilot program that started in March and ended after less than two weeks.

De Blasio had said earlier that New York was “profoundly different” from cities like Oakland and Minneapolis that have opened up miles of streets to pedestrians during the pandemic, arguing that keeping cars off streets that are designated for walking would require too much police manpower.