Editorial: Tentatively, government plans for the new normal as unofficial start to summer nears

During his daily briefing Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo laid out specific circumstances under which businesses in the state will be allowed to reopen and life can begin a wary, step-by-step approach to a new normal.

He said any reopening strategy would be predicated on two critical measurements: hospital capacity, meaning the number of beds available if a second wave of the virus struck; and the rate of COVID-19 infection. The latter measurement is hugely important, as it is a way to know with contact tracing if another outbreak has begun. 

Gov. Cuomo said that rate of transmission must not exceed 1.1 — meaning someone with the virus could infect slightly more than one other person. And, he said, hospitals must have 30% of their total bed capacity available before the economy can begin to restart. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has put forward another guideline: Businesses can only begin to reopen once local hospitalizations decline for 14 days in a row.

Data provided by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone shows that 32% of the 3,287 total beds in the county are now open. ICU units — critical in the battle against the virus — are about 75% full. And, the data shows, COVID-19 hospitalizations have declined in Suffolk for 10 consecutive days.

These numbers are good news — or, more accurately, they’re moving in a better direction than they have for weeks. 

Locally, town supervisors in Southold and Riverhead are also beginning to lay out what it will take to begin to process of restarting the economy in a region heavily dependent on small businesses and tourism. 

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said in an email, “We are putting together people with a small business background, government funding options experience (volunteers who can help navigate the bureaucracy) and also informal legal guidance for businesses that can open and for those that can’t.”

He added, “We are also going to offer guidance and act as a conduit with New York State for businesses which may have questions about state rules and restrictions in place and as they change.” 

Mr. Russell also said he is scheduling a conference call with “representatives from the various industries” for the purpose of getting “a sense of where business is right now and what assistance we can provide. It is not clear yet what will be permitted and what won’t under any new [executive] order.”

He said the towns, villages and various agencies have been holding daily conference calls with Mr. Bellone to further discuss how to proceed. “We are now discussing what restrictions on businesses may be eased going forward,” the supervisor said. “Construction, landscaping and other industries that have no public interaction are some of the most obvious businesses that will see the rules eased. Other than those, it is simply not known yet which others will and will not.”

It’s a start, and a good one. 

In Riverhead, Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said the town will have to begin studying ordinances that, for example, allow restaurants to offer outdoor seating or tents behind their restaurants, all with the eye toward meeting social distancing and safety requirements. 

“We’re not the only town that’s considering this type of proactive approach,” she said. “All the towns are talking about it.”

She said the Suffolk Supervisors Association and the East End Mayors and Supervisors Association have been discussing a range of ideas to help jump-start their local economies, while making sure safety is the No. 1 priority over everything else.

Memorial Day weekend, the traditional opening to everything great about summer on the North Fork, is just weeks away. We hope people can enjoy the region and its many businesses and still keep the virus at bay.