Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that some Upstate New York regions may be able to have a limited reopening of some businesses when the current shutdown order expires May 15, but it will come with many caveats.
The governor is setting a list of criteria for potential regional reopenings in the Rochester area, where he held his daily briefing, as well as the North Country, the Mohawk Valley, Central New York and the Southern Tier.
It is based on epidemiological science and aims for holding the transmission rate of COVID-19 to 1.1% or lower, so that the greater freedom of movement does not lead to the virus multiplying exponentially and overwhelming the health care system.
Cuomo said New York is trying to learn from other countries, like Italy and Singapore, where an initial reopening occurred too quickly and restarted the spread of the virus.
“Rather than starting and stopping you’d rather have a controlled start, so that you don’t have to stop,” Cuomo said. “You reopen too fast, then you have to stop.”
He noted that although several regions of the state have had a lower rate of the virus than the hotspots of downstate and higher transmission in Buffalo and the Albany area, no region is ready to reopen right now.
Regions that qualify for a limited reopening will first have to see the rate of infection decline for 14 days in a row, in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. In regions that have seen few cases so far, there needs to be less than 15 new cases and fewer than five new deaths in a three-day rolling average. And there has to be fewer than two new COVID-19 patients admitted to the hospital each day for every 100,000 residents.
Also, there needs to be an adequate number of hospitals and 30% of all hospital beds must be kept empty, in case the virus resurges. All hospitals also need to have a 90-day supply of personal protective equipment, masks and gloves, at an amount to meet the highest level of COVID-19 infections that a region experienced at its highest point so far.
There also needs to be enough testing, with a capability to provide 30 tests for every 100,000 residents, along with adequate contact tracing.
Cuomo said meeting those goals for reopening will depend on local government officials and health care administrators working together.
“Putting all of these new systems in place is an incredible task,” he added.
So far, the lack of adequate testing is the biggest obstacle for many of the regions.
The reopenings will be limited and occur in phases. The first businesses that can reopen are manufacturing and construction firms that can demonstrate that they can operate their businesses with social distancing, and have enough masks and other protective gear for their employees. Also retail businesses that can limit sales to curbside pickup.
The second phase includes professional services, retail stores, real estate and rental leasing offices. The third phase would allow restaurants and hotels to open. And if all of those reopenings do not lead to an increase in the spread of the virus, then concerts, art museums, and schools could reopen.
Even then, businesses will have to adjust their hours to reduce density and adhere to cleaning and sanitization standards. Everyone will have to wear masks and some workers won’t be allowed into their workplace unless they undergo a health screening.
Cuomo said it won’t be easy and much will depend on the cooperation of individual New Yorkers, who should be wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
“Everybody has a role to play here,” he said.