ALBANY – The Capital Region and Western New York are now set to begin Phase 1 of reopening post coronavirus closures once the required numbers of contact tracers are in place, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Sunday.
The announcement means the regions have satisfied requirements for hospitalizations and deaths, that had appeared to be days or weeks off.
Cuomo did not address whether whether the metrics for those two categories had changed, but a spokesperson later indicated the change was tied to May 15, the end of the last PAUSE order.
“There’s been a shift in the Capital Region and in Western New York, where on the seven metrics, on the metrics they now qualify for reopening,” Cuomo said near the outset of Sunday’s coronavirus briefing. “There is still a need to increase tracing, the number of people who are prepared to do tracing, and that is a pure administrative function.”
The change means the Capital Region could move to Phase 1 of reopening as soon as the tracers are put in place, spokesman Rich Azzopardi said, provided the other metrics stay in line.
The Capital Region had initially met the hospitalization metric earlier last week, but had fallen back as hospitalizations rose.
To meet that metric, a region had to see a 14-day decline in net hospitalizations or under 15 new hospitalizations in a three-day average.
The Capital Region has seen hospitalizations generally drop since a high of 205 on April 10 to a low of 98 on May 9. But the numbers went back up to 121 on May 12 and stood at 108 Saturday.
To meet the deaths metric, regions had to see a 14-day decline in hospital deaths or fewer than five in a three-day average. The Capital Region had seen a one-day decline and six deaths for the average.
But on Sunday, the governor’s regional monitoring slide showed the Capital Region and Western New York meeting both metrics.
The final metric now is tracing.
Once the tracers are in place, the Capital Region would join most of the rest of Upstate New York in the reopening process. The Mohawk Valley, which includes Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie counties, started Phase 1 Friday.
Phase 1 includes construction industries, agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, retail for curbside or in-store pickup, manufacturing and wholesale trade
“We’ll be working with both the Capital Region and Western New York to get that tracing up,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo said 383 tracers are required for the Capital Region and 166 are still needed.
“We’ll be talking to the regional heads today to find those additional personnel and get them trained and get them ready,” Cuomo said. “But that’s the only function that has to be performed for those regions to open and, again, that’s something that we anticipated and that’s just administrative and working together with the regions, we can get that done. So that’s good news.”
Officials from Albany and Schenectady counties welcomed the news Sunday.
“This is welcome news, especially now that our Reopening Action Plan has been finalized,” Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy wrote on Facebook. “I’ve been loud and clear about the discrepancies that existed between our hospital data and I’m happy to see the situation has been resolved. The Governor has reassured us that the State will be bringing the required contact tracers on board, and I look forward to working with him in any way to make it a speedy process.”
Asked via Facebook what had happened to change the metrics, McCoy cited “Numbers that were in dispute were corrected. More at (Monday’s) briefing.”
Azzopardi, however, said Sunday evening that no numbers had been corrected, just the window of numbers looked at.
In Schenectady County, Anthony Jasenski, Legislature chair, looked forward in his own statement to Phase 1.
“We look forward to beginning the reopening process and returning to some semblance of normalcy, but Schenectady County is committed to reopening in a smart and safe way,” Jasenski said in his statement. “As more industries and people go back to work, we urge residents to continue using face coverings and practice social distancing, to slow the spread of the virus, and ensure the Capital Region can continue to move forward.”
Schenectady County also indicated Phase 1 businesses that need masks can contact the county at [email protected] to get them.
Schenectady County saw 175 new tests performed Saturday that found seven new positives, according to state data reported Sunday. Saratoga County reported 560 tests that found five new positives, while Fulton County reported 110 new tests that found 23 new positives. Montgomery and Schoharie counties reported finding no new positives Saturday.