Western New York to begin reopening Tuesday

May 18, 2020

Western New York has met all of the required metrics required by the state to begin the first phase of reopening from the shutdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced late Monday morning.

Cuomo gave his daily COVID-19 update from Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, where he said sectors of the regional economy will be allowed to reopen Tuesday.

"It's been a long, painful period. But we start to reopen tomorrow," Cuomo announced.

Those sectors include residential and commercial construction; agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting; retail, limited to curbside or in-store pickup; manufacturing; and wholesale trade. 

Additionally, Cuomo announced that Erie County Medical Center has been given a waiver to resume elective surgeries. Judges and other court staffers will return within 30 days.

Credit Michael Mroziak / WBFO News

As of earlier Monday, the western region of New York, which includes Erie, Niagara, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties, needed to achieve one more of the seven metrics the state is using to reopen regional economies. Western New York was the only upstate region that had not reached those criteria, until now. 

Cuomo said the required number of contact tracers, which was set at 521, will be trained and ready to begin their work as of Tuesday. 

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul says aggressive recruitment during the weekend yielded the necessary number of people to work as contact tracers.

"There are individuals from the various counties participating, people who work in county health departments, county social services," she said. "Even in Niagara County, we have 50 (Deputy) Sheriffs that have been identified. We've really enlisted public servants from the five county region. They've stepped up. They've been participating from the very beginning. They take a four-hour training course, and they'll be ready to launch tonight."

Cuomo said the number of deaths in New York over the last 24 hours was down to 106, which was the level last seen on March 26, before a spike that saw more than 700 daily deaths when the virus was at its deadliest rate of infection. Other tracked numbers, including hospitalizations and intubations continue to go down.

Hospitalizations were down from 204 Thursday to 189 Saturday. The region's hospitalization peak was 263 patients on April 28. While 14-day rate decreases are among the criteria, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa explained the three-day average, which may also be factored, was favorable through the weekend dating back to Friday.

"What we've been very clear on was that once we hit May 15, as soon as a region met the benchmarks they could enter phase one," she said.

The governor continued to urge New Yorkers to get tested for the disease and said the most recent test he took live during his Sunday briefing was negative. 

Cuomo also announced that New York is sending 320,000 test kits to nursing homes statewide this week, as well as reserving about 35,000 test kits per day solely for nursing homes. The tests are part of the state’s new mandate that nursing homes test all of their workers for COVID-19 twice a week. 

“If you watch what happens with the staff, it’s a canary in the coal mine for what's happening in the nursing home,” Cuomo said. 

The governor noted that nursing operators are unhappy with the new mandate given the difficult logistics of administering tests to workers twice a week.

“I understand that and I understand that no other state is doing this. ... I understand we have the most aggressive standard in the nation,” he said, “but I also know that it is necessary.”

At least 5,000 New York nursing home residents have died of COVID-19, including at least 250 in Western New York, according to the latest state data. That figure does not include nursing home residents who died after being taken to a hospital.

Cuomo encouraged major sports teams to plan to return without fans, naming the Buffalo Bills specifically.

"I want to watch the Buffalo Bills, but I'm still objective. I'm acting as governor. There's no personal agenda here," he said. 

Cuomo's administration also clarified houses of worship fall under the final phase of reopening, due to continued concerns over large gatherings. The governor reminded the room that it was a religious gathering from which New Rochelle's coronavirus hotspot originated.

"One person, who went to a religious gathering and then a ceremony, infected dozens and dozens," he said.