ALBANY — With another day’s worth of data showing declining numbers of New Yorkers hospitalized and dying from COVID-19, Gov. Andrew Cuomo offered a tentative roadmap to bring the state out of semi-hibernation.
But he also extended that hibernation — dubbed NYS on Pause, the school and business closures and other restrictions that have partially shut down the economy and society — from April 29 to May 15, because the pandemic remains dangerous.
Nearly 2,000 infected people statewide were admitted to hospitals Wednesday and 606 died, bringing the death toll since March 13 to 12,192 as of Thursday morning. But the 24-hour loss of life was lower than in recent days, and the total number of people hospitalized was down noticeably from a recent peak.
The blueprint to unpause New York will be planned in concert with six nearby states, Cuomo said Thursday, and it will depend on continued progress slowing the spread of the virus.
In order, the steps will be: continue to control the rate of infection; strengthening the healthcare system and stockpiling supplies; increasing testing and tracing contacts by those who test positive; and then phasing back into a new normal that will be different from the normal that existed March 1, when the first New York patient was confirmed to have COVID-19.
Businesses that are more essential to society and less likely to result in spread of infection will be prioritized for reopening. As part of the process, reopening businesses will have to be sure employees can safely commute or effectively work from home; ensure workplace social distancing; ensure that employees who interact with the public have the least possible contact and all necessary protective supplies, such as gloves and masks; and create a protocol to deal with employees who test positive.
The crisis will be over, he said, when a vaccine is developed, probably 12 to 18 months from now.
Also Thursday, Cuomo defended his order that everyone wear masks in public anytime they’re near anyone, starting Saturday. He said he’s heard a lot of complaints and criticism for this, and he’s not budging.
“I’m sorry it makes people unhappy,” he said during his daily briefing Thursday. “I do not consider it a major burden and it really is a simple measure that can save lives. And yes, people say it’s a personal intrusion on them, but again remember it’s not just about you, right?”
Cuomo said the order applies to everyone age 2 and older.
Asked by a reporter about the efficacy of cloth face coverings in stopping the spread of disease — numerous medical authorities have said repeatedly they are of limited value — the governor sidestepped the question. He reiterated the seriousness of the crisis and offered to take those who feel the pandemic is a government hoax to see the bodies of the 600 people who died Wednesday of COVID.
(The federal Centers for Disease Control recommends cloth face coverings as voluntary public health measure.)
Ultimately, Cuomo added, New Yorkers will control the course of the pandemic — the state can’t put masks on 19 million people, or punish all those who won’t wear them.
“I believe if the facts are presented to the people in this state, New Yorkers will do the right thing,” he said.
In other COVID-19 related developments Thursday:
- Statewide, the number of confirmed cases reached 222,284. In the Capital Region, Albany County’s cumulative total reached 581 confirmed cases, Fulton County 25, Montgomery County 32, Rensselaer County 137, Saratoga County 231, Schenectady County 245 and Schoharie County 20.
- Schenectady County reported one fatality. Albany Medical Center said three of its 61 COVID patients died.
- Albany Med said 82 of its 10,000 employees have contracted COVID since the virus reached upstate New York; 41 have recovered and been cleared to return to work.
- Schenectady County officials will host a Facebook Live event at 10 a.m. Friday to answer questions related to COVID-19. Residents can submit their questions to https://www.schenectadycounty.com/content/submit-coronavirus-related-question. The social media platform has become a popular way for local officials to update their constituents on news, precautions and directives during what has become the most worrisome pandemic and disruptive societal crisis in living memory.
- Speaking to reporters, U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-Rhinebeck, and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said they’d be pushing for greater aid to New York’s struggling rural communities in the next coronavirus relief package. Delgado said his district is the eighth-most rural in Congress, and its previously struggling communities are now facing acute funding needs but have trouble winning competitive grants. The Rebuild Rural America Act that Delgado and Gillibrand have been advocating would create a dedicated $50 billion funding stream.
- Albany County officials announced Hudson Valley Wireless is scheduling high-speed broadband internet hookups for residents of the rural Hilltowns in the southern portion of the county. The new capacity comes through infrastructure upgrades funded by the state, and will help people working or attending school from home.
- NYSEG donated $50,000 to the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York for assistance to food pantries in the utility’s service area, which reaches onto Clifton Park/Halfmoon. The Food Bank has seen a substantial increase in requests for assistance as tens of thousands of people find themselves suddenly unemployed amid the pandemic. NYSEG made similar donations in four other service areas across the state.
- U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, joined the working group that is planning the restart of the American economy after the pandemic is contained. “I am honored to be named to the bipartisan Task Force on Reopening the Economy by President Trump,” Stefanik said in a news release. “Over the past month, I have been speaking directly with North Country hospitals, health departments, local elected officials, small businesses, farms, and hardworking families in my district about their specific concerns and ideas throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Prioritizing the needs of Upstate New York and rural communities as a whole will be critical to protecting public health and restarting the American economy, getting people back to work, and easing the burden on so many families across my district and the entire country.”