Houses of worship reopening would fall under final phase; Long Island crosses off one more metric

State officials on Monday provided a clearer picture of where houses of worship fall under the four-phase reopening plan that is already underway for a large portion of upstate New York.

State budget director Robert Mujica said houses of worship opening under new guidelines would fall under the fourth phase of the reopening plan. 

“As the governor said, that’s a mass gathering,” Mr. Mujica said. “The same thing with a stadium or any situation where you have a lot of people together.”

The final phase of reopening also includes education, arts, entertainment and recreation. 

Mr. Mujica said an answer to the question of whether houses of worship could host smaller groups than their normal capacity has not yet been determined.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the first “super spreader” when the virus was first detected in New York occurred in New Rochelle. That hot spot started from someone at a religious gathering and ceremony. That one person infected dozens of people, he said.

Many local churches have held online services streaming through Facebook and YouTube where worshipers can watch from home.

Riverhead Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who is running as Republican candidate for state Assembly in November, raised the point of houses of worship at the April 30 Town Board work session, saying it was important for people to have a place to pray and practice their religion.

“I’ve been reached out to by priests and by other leaders of worship that people need their faith and it is a Constitutional right and the First Amendment to be able to practice their religion,” she said. “As long as they are maintaining social separation distance, I hope that you [police chief David Hegermiller] can work with the other townships and the governor to allow people to go back to their places of worship so they can at least pray when they can’t be with their loved ones.”

• The latest data on the state dashboard that tracks the seven metrics of reopening for each region showed some good news for Long Island on Monday. The metric for new hospitalizations shows Long Island has met the mark with a figure of 1.74. The goal is to be under 2 new hospitalizations per 100,000 residents as a three-day rolling average.

The metric still missing is the 14-day decline in hospital deaths or fewer than five deaths. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone reported Monday that there have been six new deaths in the last 24 hours — a figure not seen since the beginning of the outbreak in March.

Adding contact tracers would be the other missing metric. The state dashboard continues to list Long Island as “Expected” to meet the standard of 30 contact tracers per 100,000 residents.

Mr. Bellone said there are 230 contact tracers and additional tracers will be brought on this week for training by the team led by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“That process is beginning this week,” he said.

While the NY PAUSE executive order is extended to May 28, a region can begin Phase 1 of reopening once the seven metrics are met.

Six regions out of 10 in New York have now met all the metrics. New York City has only met three as of Monday.

Suffolk County had been posting a separate dashboard that showed numbers specific for the county, but Mr. Bellone said that was taken down to limit confusion since the reopening is based on Long Island as a region.

• Mr. Cuomo said he was in support of sporting events returning without fans and said the state would help support professional leagues.

“If they can economically have games with no fans and the numbers work for them — because the TV revenue is enough … I say great. Come back. The state will work with you.”

Mr. Cuomo’s press briefing was held in Buffalo Monday as he announced Western New York as the latest region ready to begin the reopening phase. He said on a personal level, he hopes to see the Buffalo Bills return to the field when the NFL season would start.

“When we can fill a stadium again, we can fill a stadium,” he said. “Why wait until you can fill a stadium before you start to bring a team back. If you can televise it in the meantime, great.”

• Mr. Cuomo urged any New Yorkers feeling symptoms of COVID-19 to get a diagnostic test. 

“We actually have now more testing capacity than we are using at many of our sites,” he said.

Anyone with a symptom is eligible to receive the diagnostic test. That includes anyone who was exposed to someone who has tested positive. The guidelines for receiving a test were far more restrictive at the onset of the outbreak when testing capacity was limited.

• Overall hospitalization numbers across the state continue to decline as well as net change in intubations. An additional 106 people across the state died from COVID-19. There have now been 857 fatalities since May 12.