ALBANY — With COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths down several days in a row in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo spent part of his daily public briefing Monday discussing how the state will return from shutdown, now that the pandemic appears to be on the decline here.
It won’t be fast or easy, he said, bluntly stating that there is no plan now to reopen schools and that individual counties cannot start reopening without state approval.
Cuomo also introduced the idea of making significant societal changes rather than just resuming what had been business as usual 52 days ago, when the first COVID case was confirmed in New York.
He announced the Reimagine NY Task Force, and said it would look at creating more social equity, better use of technology and better housing, public health and transportation systems — primarily downstate.
“With reopening, I want to set the bar higher,” Cuomo said. “Meaning the question shouldn’t be, ‘When do we reopen, and what do we reopen?’ … let’s use this situation, this crisis, this time, to actually learn the lessons, value from the reflection, and let’s re-imagine what we want society to be. … Let’s use this as a moment to really plan change that we could normally never do unless you had this situation.”
The governor did acknowledge the growing pressure to quickly reopen the economy he partially shut down to slow the spread of COVID-19. He sympathized, but said he won’t rush the reopening.
“Nobody disagrees that we want to get out of this situation,” Cuomo said. “Nobody. You don’t need protests to convince anyone in this country that we have to get back to work, and we have to get the economy going, and we have to get out of our homes. Nobody.”
But one county cannot reopen its restaurants or swimming pools in a vacuum, he said, because it affects surrounding counties.
“So, everything is closed, unless we say otherwise,” Cuomo said.
Asked about some public school districts planning to reopen, Cuomo replied: They might be making plans on how to reopen, but they can’t be making plans to reopen because they are not allowed to.
“Schools are closed,” he said. “There is no plan to open schools. Period.”
Cuomo’s school shutdown order continues through May 15. He offered no hint Monday when it might be lifted, but said once the decision is made that schools can reopen, the state will need time to develop a plan and protocol for the actual reopening and the sustained operation that will follow.
- Cuomo called on the federal government to provide hazard pay — a 50 percent bonus — to essential front-line workers during the pandemic. These would include people who work in public transit, health care and building cleaning. Cuomo said they should be rewarded for going to work each day at risk of contracting the virus, unlike those that “frankly have the luxury of staying at home” at risk of nothing worse than cabin fever. He did not mention that most of the New Yorkers staying home are doing so on his order, and that many may not have a job to go back to when he does allow them to go back to work.
- Cuomo said details would be forthcoming Tuesday on the request by upstate hospitals — much less busy with the pandemic than their downstate counterparts — to resume some of the elective procedures that he ordered halted to conserve supplies and hospital capacity for a surge of COVID patients. “We’re at a point where some of the upstate hospitals have significant financial burdens because they’re not doing elective surgery,” he said.
- Secretary to the governor Melissa DeRosa will be part of a maternity task force that will examine the best approach to authorizing and certifying dedicated birthing centers, so that new mothers can have a safe alternative to stressed hospitals during the pandemic. It will make recommendations to Cuomo by the end of this week.
- DeRosa said most of the backlog of unemployment insurance applications resulting from overwhelmed state computer systems had been cleared up over the weekend. Just 43,000 remained unprocessed, she said. She advised people to opt for direct deposit of benefits, as it’s quicker than the debit card option.
In other COVID-19 related developments Monday:
- New York state reached 247,512 confirmed cases Monday morning, 55 percent of them in New York City and 40 percent in the five counties closest to New York City.
- Across the Capital Region, Albany County had 687 confirmed cases, Fulton County 27, Montgomery County 35, Rensselaer County 177, Saratoga County 254, Schenectady County 269 and Schoharie County 20. Albany County reported one new resident death.
- Albany Medical Center, the region’s largest hospital, was holding steady in its COVID patient census Monday, with 63 confirmed cases, the same as Friday. Over the weekend it admitted six and discharged six. Also over the weekend, it used convalescent plasma therapy — infusion of antibody-rich plasma donated by recently recovered COVID patients — on 11 of those inpatients.
- Albany County announced a new drive-through test site at the Rite Aid at 1863 Central Ave. It will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily starting Wednesday by appointment to those who meet CDC guidelines. Officials expect it to perform about 200 tests a day.
- The State University of New York announced it distributed more than 8,000 laptop and Chromebook computers to needy students so they could finish their spring semester coursework online.
- CDTA, which already has revised its bus schedules to reflect decreased numbers of riders on some routes and increased importance of some routes due to stops at critical sites, said it would make more changes effective Sunday, April 26. These will involve increased frequency and expanded hours of operation on lines that serve hospitals, grocery stores, pharmacies and other essential businesses, including routes 1, 22, 100, 286 and 905.
- CDPHP said it will hold a Facebook Live event at noon Wednesday during which Dr. John Bennet, president of the Albany-based health insurer, will discuss the importance of maintaining health coverage during the pandemic and the options available to those who’ve lost coverage or are unemployed. Bennett will also discuss the company’s plan to emerge from the crisis.