ALBANY — Fulton, Montgomery, Schoharie and other Mohawk Valley counties will be allowed — slowly and deliberately — to start reopening their economies on Friday.
Nearly two months after he ordered the shutdown of much of the state’s business community to slow the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday that the Mohawk Valley, Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions have met all seven of the criteria he imposed for restarting. The Capital Region falls short on two of the seven metrics imposed by Cuomo and will remain closed until it meets them.
The governor has described the process for deciding what reopens as based on facts and science, and free of emotion and opinion. The process is essentially that: When a region meets seven criteria, it can allow reopening of the most essential businesses that create the least risk of disease transmission in phase one, then gradually open less essential businesses/higher risk in phases two through four.
Cuomo was asked during his daily briefing Monday at a wellness center in Rochester what would happen if there was an uptick in COVID infections within a region as it began reopening. He said a local control board has been created in each region to keep very close tabs on that region’s metrics and to slow down the reopening if needed.
This arrangement should prevent the situation from backsliding to the point that reopening needs to be halted or reversed, Cuomo said, but health will remain the priority over the economy.
“You can’t overwhelm your hospitals. Period,” he said.
Regional cooperation is crucial, Cuomo added, because the virus doesn’t recognize county borders.
“So those regional control groups are very important,” he said. “They have to be in place, they have to communicate, everyone has to know what each other’s responsibilities are going forward.”
The seven criteria that a region must meet to reopen are:
- A 14-day decline in net COVID hospitalizations or fewer than 15 new hospitalizations per day on a three-day average;
- A 14-day decline in hospital deaths or fewer than five deaths per day on a three day average;
- Fewer than two new hospitalizations per 100,000 residents per day;
- At least 30% of hospital beds must be vacant;
- At least 30% of ICU beds must be vacant;
- At least 30 out of each 1,000 residents must be tested each month;
- At least 30 infection contract tracers must be hired per 100,000 residents.
The state previously was organized into 10 regional economic development zones; this structure is being used for determining the sequence of reopening statewide.
The Capital Region is defined as Albany, Columbia, Greene Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren and Washington counties.
The Mohawk Valley is defined as Fulton, Herkimer, Montgomery, Oneida, Otsego and Schoharie counties.
Here’s how the 10 regions stacked up as of Sunday:
- The Finger Lakes, Mohawk Valley and Southern Tier regions met or exceeded all seven of the metrics.
- The Central New York and the North Country regions met six metrics.
- The Capital Region, Long Island, Mid-Hudson and Western N.Y. regions met five metrics. (The Capital Region fell short on hospitalizations and hospital deaths.)
- New York City met only four of the metrics.
Each region has a “control room,” a group of leaders from that area who will assess the situation continually and control the speed at which that region reopens.
In the Capital Region, they are:
- Major Gen. Patrick A. Murphy, state commissioner of homeland security and emergency services
- Ruth Mahoney, REDC co-chair
- Mike Blue, president, Capital District Area Labor Federation
- Albany County Executive Dan McCoy
- Rensselaer County Executive Steven McLaughlin
- Schenectady County Manager Rory Fluman
- Saratoga County Administrator Spencer Hellwig
- Washington County Board of Administrators Vice Chair Robert Henke
- Warren County Administrator Ryan Moore
- Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden
- Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chair Matt Murell
- Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan
In the Mohawk Valley, the control room comprises:
- RoAnn Destito, state commissioner of general services
- Steve DiMeo, former REDC co-chair
- Sam DeRiso, president of the Central New York Labor Council
- Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr.
- Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort
- Fulton County Administrator John Stead
- Herkimer County Legislature Chair Jim Bono
- Otsego County Board Chair Dave Bliss
- Schoharie County Board of Supervisors Chair William Federice
- Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri
- Rome Mayor Jackie Izzo
When a region meets all the metrics, the nonessential businesses that had been closed there can reopen in phases.
- Phase 1: Construction, manufacturing, retail with curbside pickup, wholesale trade, agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting.
- Phase 2: Professional services, retail, administrative support, real estate/rental and leasing.
- Phase 3: Restaurants and food services
- Phase 4: Arts, entertainment, recreation and entertainment.
To reopen, businesses and industries must have a plan in place to project employees and consumers, make the work space safe, and take steps to reduce infection risks.
The state Department of Health provided the following numbers:
As of Monday morning, 1,204,650 people had been tested for COVID-19 infections statewide, 337,055 were confirmed infected, and 21,640 had died.
Across the eight-county Capital Region, home to 1.08 million people, 3,792 have been confirmed infected and 228 have died. There were five new deaths reported Monday within the Capital Region: two each in Albany and Columbia counties and one in Warren County.
Across the six-county Mohawk Valley region, home to 485,302 people, 1,039 have ben confirmed infected and 41 have died.
The death data can be inaccurate because it does not include some deaths at nursing homes or private residences, and it counts non-resident deaths. Albany County, for example, site of a major regional medical center, has seen 75 deaths of county residents and 112 deaths within its borders. By contrast, 13 Saratoga County residents have died of COVID but only three people have died within county borders.
Deaths of residents of nursing homes and adult care facilities continue to boost the Capital Region’s death toll. Some counties refuse to provide a tally of nursing home deaths, but in those that do, nursing homes/adult care residents make up a substantial percentage of total reported COVID deaths: 17 of 22 in Columbia County, 17 of 25 in Rensselaer County, 19 of 25 in Warren County.