Cuomo’s N.Y. Reopening Plan: 10 Regions, 4 Phases, Many Caveats

ALBANY, NY – Governor Andrew M. Cuomo presented on Monday a flexible plan for how the New York state economy can start over, a set of criteria that will determine which regions allow sectors to reopen and when.

In comments at an event in Monroe County, where the coronavirus killed more than 100 peopleCuomo reiterated that the entire state would remain closed until May 15, when his request to stay at home is scheduled to expire. New York City and its suburbs, which are still besieged by the virus, may be the last places to start returning to normal appearance, he suggested.

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Still, the guidelines set by the governor offered a glimpse of hope for companies that were hit as the economy rallied and residents tired of closed shops, closed bars and the frightened and subdued society around them.

"This is not a sustainable situation" Mr. Cuomo said of shutdown, now in its seventh week. “Close everything, close the economy, lock yourself at home. You can do this for a short time, but you cannot do it forever. "

Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, said New York would rely heavily on progress in key areas – a decline in new positive cases of viruses and deaths and increased testing, hospital capacity and contact tracking – under a complex formula that will determine when parts of the state are eligible to reopen.

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Once the requirements were met, the plan would first allow construction and manufacturing and some retail stores to reopen for sidewalk removal, similar to California, after May 15.

The effect of phase one would be assessed after two weeks. If the indicators are still positive, state officials said, the second phase of the reopening would include professional services, more retailers and real estate companies, among others, perhaps until the end of May.

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Restaurants, bars and hotels would follow, followed by a fourth and final phase that would include attractions like cinemas and theaters, including Broadway, a powerful financial force in New York City.

The governor's announcement came after states that were not hit so hard by the pandemic moved to a limited extent to restart their economies. In one of those states, California Governor Gavin Newsom said bookstores, florists, clothing stores and a few other companies could begin to find customers for the sidewalk pickup beginning on Friday.

But New York, the epicenter of the US outbreak, with nearly 25,000 deaths and more than 300,000 cases, has moved more cautiously.

Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League, which represents theater owners and producers, said on Monday that since the shows went dark in March, there was an understanding that Broadway houses would be among the last companies to return.

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"It's just common sense," said St. Martin, noting that Broadway theaters are usually quite crowded and that productions cannot afford to play at half capacity. "We hate it, but we understand."

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Schools, which have already been canceled across the state for the rest of the academic year, would also be covered in the final reopening phase.

The calculations apply to the state 10 regions, which includes densely populated areas such as New York City and its suburbs and large rural areas in the interior of the state, such as the Southern Tier, which borders Pennsylvania.

The governor made it clear that less populated areas, where infection rates are minuscule compared to what the city and suburbs have experienced, would be the first to resurface from the standstill.

"If the upstate needs to wait for the interior to be ready," said Cuomo, "they will be waiting for a long time."

Each region would have to meet seven specific criteria before companies and services could open again.

The criteria, strongly influenced by guidelines issued last month by the White House and the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, include:

  • Net hospitalizations for cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, must show a continuous decline of 14 days or total more than 15 new hospitalizations per day, on average, for three days. The latter would probably be a realistic goal only in less populated areas.

  • A 14-day decline in virus-related hospital deaths, or less than five a day, averaged three days. New York City and many other parts of the state have reached that point of reference, but Long Island and Hudson Valley have not.

  • A three-day rate of new hospitalizations below two per 100,000 inhabitants per day, something that was far beyond the reach of New York City and its suburbs on Monday.

  • A vacancy rate in hospital beds of at least 30%, which Cuomo said was necessary to be prepared for possible new waves of the disease in the future. Most parts of New York have reached the limit, although more than 9,600 patients with coronavirus are still hospitalized.

  • An availability rate of at least 30% for beds in intensive care units; 3,330 people remain in these units, often on ventilators, necessary in severe cases of the disease.

  • A weekly average of 30 virus tests per 1,000 residents per month. This category may be the most challenging to be found in many rural or more remote areas, where tests and, therefore, positive results were far behind large cities, such as New York, which is already surpassing that goal.

  • Finally, the governor also wants at least 30 job contact trackers per 100,000 residents as part of a program led by Michael R. Bloomberg, a former New York mayor, who donated $ 10.5 million for the effort. Cuomo described the initiative as "a monumental undertaking", requiring "an army" of trackers, some of whom will be civil servants who have been relocated.

The desire to reopen the state comes when the New York budget is under immense pressure: state coffers are being drained by the cost of the outbreak – almost $ 3 billion spent, in the latest report – and a steep drop in various types of revenue tax.

Even limited increases in commercial activity can help county and city governments, said E.J. McMahon, a conservative economist and founder of Empire Center for Public Policy, saying the revenue "accrued during the block".

"With restaurants still very restricted, and with seasonal fairs, festivals and sporting events still prohibited, it will be a very weak and partial recovery," said McMahon. "But that would at least mean that sales taxes hit rock bottom."

Representative Tom Reed, Republican representing the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier areas, two regions where the number of tests currently being conducted do not meet the governor's requirements, said he and other officials were working "to build the necessary test infrastructure". Reed added that he hopes Cuomo will understand "the impact that a prolonged strike will have on major local industries and historically underserved rural communities."

Cuomo said on Monday that he wanted to see companies open again, but was also concerned out loud about possible resurgences of the virus that have occurred in places like South Korea.

"You see that it reopens too soon or reopens without intelligence and can have an immediate reaction," said Cuomo. "And this is not speculation. This is looking at other countries and seeing what happened around the world."

Julia Jacobs contributed reporting.

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