Cuomo: New York must enact a statewide plan to reopen

2020-04-20 | Saratoga News (Los Gatos, Calif.)

April 20-- Apr. 20--ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo doubled down Monday on a statewide reopening plan, even as upstate lawmakers and advocacy groups have ramped up pressure to ease restrictions on a regional basis.

Cuomo has repeatedly rejected calls to start slowly reopening the economy upstate before easing restrictions in New York City and other hard-hit downstate areas. He has asserted that any decisions must be made for New York as a whole and in partnership with other nearby states, as enacting different rules across the state could encourage people to travel to reopened areas and congregate before they are safely able to do so.

"It affects everyone else," Cuomo said. "That is the reality. Everything is closed unless we say otherwise."

The same thought process applies to New York's partnership with six other northeast states, Cuomo said, offering examples of New Yorkers traveling to an open beach in Connecticut or a concert in New Jersey. Those events could be "magnets for people," he said.

State Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, on Sunday joined a growing group of legislators urging a piecemeal approach, arguing that the threat of the coronavirus upstate -- where fewer cases have been confirmed and areas are not as dense -- is not as severe as it is in New York City and surrounding suburbs. Recent models from a Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute researcher have estimated that different regions of upstate New York will hit their coronavirus apex at different times, with the Capital Region peaking between May 9 and mid-June, depending on compliance with social distancing guidelines.

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Amedore said the upstate economy could slowly begin reopening as early as May 1, though Cuomo's "on PAUSE" executive order lasts at least through May 15. A small group of New Yorkers, frustrated with the stay-at-home order, plan to protest at the Capitol on Wednesday.

Late last week, state Sen. George Borrello and Assemblyman Andy Goodell, both Republicans of Chautauqua County, put forth a plan to reopen businesses in different regions depending on several factors, including population density, infection rate, health care capacity and industry risk.

The fiscally conservative group Unshackle Upstate also called on state leaders Monday to begin reopening the economy north of New York City.

"While we understand the challenges of implementing a regional economic reboot, it is important for state officials to recognize the realities on the ground," Executive Director Michael Kracker said in a release. "State and local leaders have taken strong steps to stop the spread of the virus -- reducing the health impact. The economic impact, however, has taken an extraordinary toll on an already struggling upstate economy."

But Cuomo said the business and social restrictions will remain in place on a statewide basis as he and other governors discuss reopening strategies. The only exception, for now, could be allowing upstate hospitals to perform elective surgeries; the Cuomo administration will announce a plan on that issue Tuesday that will consider COVID-19 infections, hospital vacancy rates and future projections, the governor said.

Government officials say New York is heading down the other side of the coronavirus "curve," as COVID-19 hospitalizations and intubations continued to decline on Sunday. About 16,000 New Yorkers were hospitalized with the disease each day this weekend, Cuomo said.

Deaths also continued to decline, falling below 500 in a 24-hour period for the first time in several weeks. A total of 478 New Yorkers died from the virus on Sunday, including 455 in hospitals in 23 in nursing homes, bringing the state's cumulative death toll to 14,347.

Cuomo said any reopening strategies will "set the bar higher" and include plans to update public programs, such as transportation, safety and housing initiatives. Downstate, officials will form a "Reimagine New York" task force including New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio and county executives from the surrounding areas.

"When we reopen, we'll be better than we were before," Cuomo said.

The state is also launching a pilot program in New York City to aid public housing residents. Through a partnership with the New York City Housing Authority, the state will bring health care services -- including COVID-19 diagnostic testing -- to individuals living in public housing, along with 500,000 cloth masks and 10,000 gallons of hand sanitizer.

The governor also reiterated calls for funding from the federal government, saying the state could see 20 percent cuts to schools, local governments and hospitals if Congress does not approve additional money for states. He also called on the federal government to offer a 50 percent hazard pay bonus for those on the front lines of the pandemic, including health care workers, first responders and others.