New York is poised for a first step in reopening businesses, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday that three regions of the state have met his criteria to begin a slow reopen, starting with some construction and manufacturing businesses, as soon as Friday.
The news comes as the rate of coronavirus hospitalizations (7,226) and the rate of fatalities (161 on Sunday) continue to decline. The numbers are now near what they were on March 19, right before the worst wave of the virus began.
Cuomo said three regions of the state -- the Rochester-Finger Lakes area, the Southern Tier, and the Mohawk Valley -- have met a list of seven criteria to begin reopening some businesses.
“We start a new chapter today,” Cuomo said.
In addition to construction and manufacturing industries, Cuomo said all retail shops can reopen in those regions, for curbside pickup or in-store pickup.
The criteria for partial reopening include:
- A 14-day decline in COVID-19 cases, as recommended in federal Centers for Disease Control guidelines.
- Hospitals in the region must have 30% of their beds open in case the virus spikes again.
- Enough tests (30 for every 1,000 residents).
- Enough contact tracers (30 for every 100,000 residents).
Two other regions, central New York and the North Country, have met six of the seven requirements, but currently do not have the capacity for enough tests. The two regions might be able to begin reopening by Friday if they can demonstrate they meet the testing requirement.
Cuomo also announced some statewide business reopenings for outdoor-based companies, including landscapers and gardeners. Some outdoor low-risk recreational sports facilities, like tennis courts, can reopen. Also, drive-in movie theaters will be allowed to show films.
Many responsibilities for the gradual reopening will fall to the individual regions, Cuomo said. The businesses that want to reopen must submit plans to control boards that include state and local officials. These plans will demonstrate that the businesses can operate with safe social distancing, and that they have enough personal protective gear, including masks and gloves, for their employees.
The governor said the control boards will closely monitor their health care systems to make sure that the reopenings don’t raise the infection rates.
“You’re increasing the activity, you’re watching the infection rate, you’re watching the hospitalization rate," Cuomo said. "You see that start to tick up, you have to have a circuit breaker. Slow down the activity level, because you are increasing the infection rate. And nobody wants to be there.”
Cuomo admitted that “nobody knows” how fast businesses can reopen and whether each phase of the planned reopenings will be sustainable.
Other countries, including China, South Korea, and Germany have had to retighten restrictions after partial reopenings led to a flare-up of the virus.
If the first phase of the reopening is successful, the regions might be able to proceed to the second phase by the end of the month. It would allow the opening of professional services, retail stores, real estate and rental leasing offices.
After another two weeks, the third phase, which would allow restaurants and hotels to open, could begin. And finally, if all of the reopenings do not lead to an increase in the spread of the virus, then concerts, and art museums, schools and universities could reopen.
There is no timetable yet for when regions that have had more incidents of the virus will be allowed to begin to reopen.
In the Capital Region, western New York, Long Island, and the Hudson Valley, the number of new hospitalizations and deaths is not yet declining. While there are fewer new cases and fewer fatalities in New York City, there are not enough free hospital beds to meet the reopening criteria. None of those regions currently has enough contact tracers, though they are expected to meet that requirement soon.
Cuomo signed an executive order that extends the shutdown orders until June 7, but he and his aides say a region could begin to reopen earlier than that, if it meets all of the criteria.