ALBANY — Some upstate businesses could open as soon as May 15 when Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order mandating widespread closures expires.
In the first of a proposed two-phase plan announced by the governor on Sunday, the construction and manufacturing sectors could reopen provided they adhere to proper safeguards.
After two weeks to monitor the impacts, other industries could follow based on balancing risk factors with how they essential they are.
All businesses will be required to submit plans to the state detailing plans for how they can safely operate, from ensuring social distancing to measures designed to protect workers and customers.
“It’s very much going to be up to the business,” Cuomo said on Sunday at his daily briefing. “What is your business and how would you do business in this new normal? You develop a plan on how you would reopen given everything we now know.”
State officials have quietly been meeting with industry groups for weeks to review strategies, Cuomo said.
New York will base its reopening plan around federal CDC guidelines recommending the hospitalization rate be in decline for 14 consecutive days, which is the incubation phase for the virus.
The state will use three metrics to weigh the impacts, monitoring the daily hospitalization rate along with the results of the antibody and diagnostic testing.
“Watch those dials like a hawk and then you adjust,” Cuomo said.
Testing will continue to ramp up this week after the state announced on Saturday it will expand diagnostic testing to essential frontline workers.
Opening up the eligibility criteria and allowing pharmacies to be collection points for tests is a major milestone, Cuomo said.
But an increase in hospitalizations and positive diagnoses would be signs that reopening may need to be tamped down.
With 1,087 new patients hospitalized on Saturday, the levels are at their lowest rate since March 31. Total numbers statewide are 12,389.
Success in stamping out the virus is also based on how people behave.
The state can’t effectively force people to wear masks and wash their hands, Cuomo said.
“All the progress we’ve made flattening the curve, we can lose that in days if we’re not careful,” Cuomo said. “There’s no doubt we’ve gone through the worst. As long as we act prudent going forward, then the worst should be over.”
Upstate regions may be able to open sooner than the New York City-metro area.
The plans also calls for coordination with neighboring states, syncing up the gradual reopening of transportation networks, parks, schools and beaches.
“Coordination doesn’t mean total consistency,” said Cuomo, “but it does mean coordination.”
Some industries will ultimately have to find a new economic model, including professional sports, the governor said.
The governor said he’s had talks with professional sports organizations, but declined to disclose details.
“What sports can you do without an audience?” Cuomo said. “Or make it work economically without selling seats in an arena?”
Reopening the shuttered hospitality and retail sector will likely prove to be more complicated because it may be harder to ensure safety protocols, Cuomo said.
“That is a complex sector to deal with,” he said.
Cuomo indicated the approaching warm weather is a factor in accelerating a reopening plan, particularly for downstate, where outdoor activities will be critical as a safety valve for what he called the “sanity equation.”
“We can’t tell people in a dense urban environment we don’t have anything for you to do and stay in your apartment with three kids.”
The longer-term outlook remains murky for schools, which would would not reopen until the second phase at the earliest.
And with districts statewide voting on budgets next month, the state hasn’t yet determined how budget votes will be facilitated.
By May 1, the state will have solid revenue numbers and release more detailed financial information to school districts, said Robert Mujica, the state’s budget director.
Cuomo has said the virus will give the state an opportunity to correct longstanding inequalities baked into society, including health care system.
Asked if a plan would include relief for St. Clare’s pensioners, the governor admitted it was too early to say.
“I’m aware of it,” he said. “I don’t know how we can help those people through here.”
The state’s death toll now stands at 16,966. The virus killed 349 New Yorkers on Saturday, the lowest daily total since March 31.