ALBANY — New York and six nearby states announced Monday they’d embark on a regional approach to restarting the economy after the danger of the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.
It’s a move to be made slowly and carefully, said N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo — so as to not cause a resurgence of infections — and across state borders, as the economy and workforce are interconnected on a regional basis.
Underscoring the risks that a second wave of the virus would present, the COVID-19 death toll topped 10,000 in New York on Monday morning.
New York now has nearly a third of all confirmed cases (195,031) and well over a third of the deaths (10,056) in the United States.
If New York were a nation it would have the fifth-highest reported death toll in the world behind Italy, Spain, France and the United Kingdom, and a death toll significantly higher than any of those nations on a per-capita basis.
Monday was also possibly the deadliest day in the greater Capital Region, where there were two new deaths in Albany County and one in Rensselaer County, as well as one each in Warren and Schoharie counties, the first for either.
The data on Capital Region deaths are a moving target. Thirty-seven people have died of COVID in the seven counties of the Capital Region by the state’s tally. Add in nearby Columbia, Warren and Washington counties and the total rises to 47. Meanwhile, 45 residents of those 10 counties have died. The individual counties may show yet another set of numbers if they are on a reporting different timetable.
At the same time, Cuomo noted, the statewide hospitalization rate continues to flatten. Nearly 2,000 new patients were hospitalized Sunday, but almost as many were discharged.
The people dying in such high numbers now are those who were hospitalized days or weeks ago, when the virus was spreading.
It is against this backdrop that governments can ease the societal shutdowns they have imposed, Cuomo said, likening the process to opening a valve while watching the gauges to see what happens.
The gauges in this case would be new infections and hospitalizations
“If you see that infection rate start ticking up then you know you’ve opened the valve too fast. That is the delicate balance that we have to work through.”
Cuomo said normalcy will return incrementally, not in one fell swoop.
“There is going to be no epiphany, there is going be no morning where the headline says, ‘Hallelujah, it’s over.’”
He also reminded New Yorkers that the rapid slowdown in infections over the last two weeks has come because they’ve heeded cautions. Two or three days of reckless behavior would reverse the progress: “I believe the worst is over if we continue to be smart.”
The Spanish Influenza of 1918 provides a clear model for this: U.S. cities that went ahead with parades and other mass gatherings suffered worse and more prolonged contagion than cities that took steps to limit mass gatherings.
Cuomo said taking the economy out of hibernation needs to be a coordinated and deliberate effort. For example, letting businesses reopen without mass transit, public schools and child care also operating would be futile or even chaotic.
The governors of Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island will form a coordinating group consisting of one health expert, one economic development officer and the chief of staff from each state. Their goal will be to use every tool available — testing, contact tracing, treatment and distancing — to ease social distancing without triggering renewed spread of the virus.
Asked by a reporter if the economy in upstate New York could be reopened sooner than densely populated downstate, where most of New York’s infections and deaths have been reported, Cuomo said it will be a topic of discussion for the states’ coordinating group.
“Could I see a distinction in places that have different caseloads? Yes.”
In other COVID-19 developments Monday:
- Albany County’s cumulative total of confirmed cases reached 499 by the state Department of Health’s running tally. Elsewhere in the Capital Region, Fulton County had 21 cases, Montgomery County 33, Rensselaer County 113, Saratoga County 201, Schenectady County 204 and Schoharie County 12.
- Albany Medical Center offered an optimistic update: The number of new confirmed infections across the region continues to drop, as does its own patient census. The region’s largest hospital had 66 COVID patients, ten fewer than Friday. Three died but 20 were discharged to continue their recovery at home. Albany Med also said it is beginning a standby leave policy, under which employees can stay home with salary and benefits if their normal duties have been suspended in the crisis.
- State Sen. James Seward, R-Oneonta, was one of the Albany Med patients discharged. The veteran legislator, whose large district includes Schoharie County, announced at the end of March that he and his wife, Cindy, had both tested positive for COVID-19; she had a mild case and was recovering at home. He joined her there and expects to resume his legislative duties in his final term before retirement.
- Montgomery County and Schenectady County renewed their declarations of emergency before they could expire.
- The Albany County Department of Health asked anyone who was at M&M Variety, 108 Lark St., Albany, during the hours of 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. from March 26 through April 8 to call it at 518-447-4659.
- Lehigh Cement Company said Monday the slowdown in construction across the region will force it to stop most of its cement manufacturing at its Glens Falls plant and its quarry in Moreau. Its cement grinding operations in Glens Falls will continue in operation, and sales will continue, thanks to a large stockpile of cement on-site. The company will temporarily lay off 54 of 90 local employees; it will pay for their health benefits in full after layoff.