CAPITAL REGION — In response to geographically widespread protests calling for re-opening the state’s economy on Friday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said that he disagrees with the protesters, and said police should be enforcing mask and social distancing requirements at such gatherings.
“I disagree with people who say put the economy ahead of public health interest,” Cuomo said during his daily coronavirus briefing on Saturday, held at a subway station in Queens. “I understand their point of view, but I disagree.”
There were protests on Friday, including at the state Capitol in Albany and in Vail Mills in Fulton County, at which people rallied for re-opening the non-essential businesses that have been shut down since mid-March as part of the state’s efforts to control spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. The move not only threw thousands of people out of work but also required tens of thousands of others to stay home.
While the “pause” order is currently due to expire on May 15, Cuomo has indicated it will be extended in many areas, even as the state starts to plan for re-opening.
At both Capital Region protest locations, some of the protesters bore signs either explicitly criticizing Cuomo or showing support for President Donald J. Trump, who is running for re-election this fall.
“This is a highly politicized time, we know that,” the governor responded, when asked specifically about a protest in Suffolk County, on Long Island. “That has nothing to do with COVID. I’ve worked very hard to keep politics out of this situation… For myself, I’ve made it clear I have no political agenda whatsoever.”
He said he too wants to see the economy re-opened, but he isn’t going to do it if it increases the risk of spreading COVID-19, which has already caused the deaths of nearly 19,000 New Yorkers, and more than 66,000 people nationally.
“I’m not going to put dollar signs over human lives,” Cuomo said. “You don’t have the right to jeopardize my health.”
Many people at both Capital Region demonstrations and others across the state didn’t wear masks intended to slow the spread of the disease, nor practiced six-foot social distancing. Cuomo said those rules, issued by executive order, should be enforced by police. In general, however, local police have been monitoring demonstrations and social gatherings, but not taking enforcement action.
“I said to law enforcement across the state, enforce the masks,” he said. “I believe that should be enforced. It’s reckless (not to wear one) and it endangers other people’s lives.”
COVID-19 has continued to take a heavy toll in the state, with an additional 299 New Yorkers having died on Friday, according to numbers Cuomo released on Saturday. That was up by ten deaths from the day before, but the long-term trend since the first week of April has been toward fewer daily hospital admissions, intensive care admissions, and deaths.
While New York City and its suburbs have been the hardest-hit area in the entire nation, COVID cases have been found across the state. The Capital Region counties have seen more than 2,000 confirmed cases, and dozens of deaths.
Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy said Saturday there were two more deaths in the county, bringing the county’s death total to 46. The most recent deaths were a man and woman in their 60s, both with underlying health conditions. There have been 1,238 confirmed cases to date in the county.
Elsewhere, Schenectady County officials reported the death of a woman in her 90s, bringing the county’s total death toll to 28. There have been 521 confirmed cases in the county, according to the state Department of Health. Saratoga County has 361 cases with 13 deaths, Fulton County has 79 cases with three deaths, Montgomery County 56 cases with four deaths, and Schoharie County, 43 cases with one death.
Rensselaer County, meanwhile, reported a 13th death at the Diamond Hill adult care facility in Schaghticoke, an 80-year-old. There have been 327 total confirmed cases in the county, and 15 deaths, including those at Diamond Hill. In Troy, a street procession was held in honor of Troy Police Dective Sgt. Randall French, who died of COVID-19 on Thursday.
The actual numbers of cases in all counties are certainly higher, since only laboratory-confirmed cases are included in the state statistics, and local counties continue with their struggle to get enough test kits.
In other developments Saturday:
— The governor announced new results from random testing of 15,000 people for antibodies to the virus. In New York City, 19.9 percent have antibodies, indicating exposure to and rejection of the virus; In the Capital Region, it’s just 2.1 percent, and in the Mohawk Valley, 2.7 percent.
— Cuomo announced the state will spend $25 million to assist food banks, which are seeing huge increases in demand due to the economic shutdown. The Capital Region/Hudson Valley, where the main food bank also serves parts of the Mohawk Valley and North Country, will receive $4.4 million.
— In Saratoga Springs, the police department announced that parking enforcement personnel would start enforcing parking restrictions again on Monday. “Our parking enforcement personnel will be back out enforcing parking restrictions. We have had a few issues involving parking problems and emergency vehicles navigating narrow streets,” the department said in social media posts.