Shift begins to regional reopening phases as spread of COVID-19 continues to decline

Three upstate regions out of 10 in New York have met the metrics to begin the first phase of reopening when the NY PAUSE executive order expires Friday as the state begins shifting from a statewide set of guidelines to a more regional approach, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday.

“We start a new chapter today in many ways,” Mr. Cuomo said during his Monday press briefing in Rochester, nearly two months since the initial stay-at-home order went into effect to curb the spread of the coronavirus that has claimed more than 21,000 lives in New York. “It’s an exciting new phase. We’re all anxious to get back to work.”

Long Island has now reached five of the seven metrics, according to latest data from the state.

The first phase of the reopening starts with construction, manufacturing, curbside retail, agriculture, forestry and fishing.

“[People] have to understand this is not the floodgates are open,” Mr. Cuomo said. “Be smart. Nobody is going to protect your health but you.”

The governor pointed to continued declines in hospitalizations and daily new cases, which are now on par with the numbers seen at the outset of the outbreak in mid-March.

“It’s been a crisis and a painful one, but we’re coming out of the other side,” Mr. Cuomo said. “From my point of view we’re on the other side of the mountain. We got hit with the virus. We saw that incline, the number of cases growing, the number of deaths growing. We finally hit a plateau because we did what we needed to do and we changed our behavior and we closed down and we turned the corner.”

The Finger Lakes region, which includes Rochester, the Southern Tier that borders Pennsylvania and Mohawk Valley, which is west of Albany, are the first three regions to reach all seven metrics. Those metrics take into account hospitalization rate, hospital capacity, testing capacity and contact tracers. The governor said the state will be publishing a dashboard on its website that outlines each region’s metrics starting Monday.

Long Island, which is counted separately as a region from New York City, has yet to reach the metric for a 14-day decline in hospitalized deaths (three-day average) or under five new deaths per day. And the other metric is related to new hospitalizations, which requires under 2 per 100,000 residents as a three-day rolling average. The final metric of 30 contact tracers per 100,000 residents is listed as “expected” for Long Island.

The governor said New York will reopen across the state certain low-risk businesses and recreational activities as of May 15. Those include: landscaping and gardening; outdoor, low-risk recreational activities such as tennis; and drive-in movie theaters.

Determining which specific businesses meet the criteria to reopen under the larger umbrella of each phase will fall to regional control rooms. Those will include the top government officials, academic officials, health care professionals that monitor all the metrics. Mr. Cuomo said those control rooms will act like a “circuit breaker” to slow down the activity if the infection rate or hospitalization rates begin to increase.

“Those regional control groups are very important,” he said.

The Long Island control group includes Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran; Eric Gertler, president and CEO of Empire State Development; Kevin Law, co-char of the Regional Economic Development Council; and John Durso, president of the Long Island Federation of Labor.

The second phase of reopening will be for professional services, finance and insurance, retail, administrative support and real estate/rental leasing.

Mr. Cuomo did not outline a specific timeline for when the second phase could begin. He said on Monday that will be determined by the numbers such as infection rate and hospitalizations. He had previously said there would be a two-week buffer between the first two phases.

The third phase would allow for restaurants, food services, hotels and accommodations to begin reopening. Restaurants can currently serve take-out and delivery. The final phase is education and arts, entertainment and recreation.

It’s up to local authorities to ensure business compliance, the governor said.

While there had been confusion as to whether the NY on PAUSE executive order had been extended to June 6, Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor, said the state of emergency that allows each of the executive orders to remain in effect was extended to June 6. The specific executive order for NY on PAUSE remained May 15, which now allows some regions to begin Phase 1 on that date.

There were 161 fatalities reported in the past 24 hours across the state, the first time the daily death toll has been under 200 since late March.