ALBANY — The Capital Region will go into Phase 2 of reopening its economy Wednesday as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to subside here and statewide.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday during his daily briefing that the region continues to meet all the metrics and show continued progress in controlling the spread of the virus. He added that experts retained by the state would review the numbers Tuesday and he would review them later that day, apparently having changed his protocol from last week, when upstate Republicans excoriated him for delaying the start of Phase 2 in five regions by a few hours for his international experts’ review.
Later Tuesday, he announced the review was complete and Phase 2 could begin in the eight-county region.
The start of June and the start of Phase 2 finds the Capital Region in far better condition than the start of April.
As of Monday, only 1.4% of diagnostic tests for COVID-19 administered in the region were coming back positive on a seven-day rolling average, compared with a peak of 15.6% on April 2.
Also Monday, 82 COVID patients were hospitalized across the region, compared with a peak of 205 people April 10.
A significant percentage of those 82 people hospitalized Monday were essentially recovered and would be discharged except that they are nursing home residents. In a belated attempt to slow the deadly rampage of the virus through elder-care facilities, Cuomo has forbidden hospitals to discharge patients back to nursing homes if they have any trace of the COVID-19 virus in their systems. Traces of the virus linger after the patient has recovered, and even after the patient is no longer able to transmit the disease to others.
Each phase of reopening in each of New York’s 10 regions lasts a minimum of 14 days. If the expert review of virus activity data in a region and the region’s ability to respond to it reveals no warning signs, the state allows the region to go to the next phase.
Tuesday was the Capital Region’s 14th day in Phase 1.
Monday was the 14th day for the Western New York region, and it entered Phase 2 on Tuesday.
The Mohawk Valley and four other upstate regions entered Phase 2 on Friday.
Statewide, the COVID-19 metrics numbers are down impressively from the single-day peaks reached in early to mid-April: 3,121 were hospitalized Monday vs. 18,825; 58 died vs. 799; 2.5% tested positive vs. as much as 48.6%.
“What we have done with this COVID virus is a really amazing accomplishment,” the governor said during Monday’s briefing. “And it was all done by the people of this state.”
But he added: “Just don’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”
By this, Cuomo referred to police brutality protests scattered across the state, with people gathering in large numbers far less than 6 feet apart. The largest protests have been in New York City, which is also the place hardest-hit by the pandemic and the one region still under full economic lockdown.
“Now we’re seeing these mass gatherings over the past several nights that could exacerbate the COVID-19 spread.”
The protests in some ways are the polar opposite of what New York officials have been asking, ordering and beseeching state residents to do since late March.
But a few factors will help reduce the danger presented by protesters gathering en masse in close quarters, Cuomo said Monday: They’re mostly young, they’re outdoors, many are wearing masks and, most important, the number of COVID carriers in the community is significantly diminished.
With new crises popping up, Cuomo finds himself trying to pull off a trifecta — encourage peaceful protesters so as to build a groundswell for building a more just and equal society while simultaneously cracking down on looters and trying to discourage everybody from laying the way for a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
New York’s official death toll surpassed 24,000 Monday; Cuomo said Tuesday that undercounts the actual number of people killed by the virus. Across the Capital Region, one new death each was reported Tuesday by Rensselaer and Warren counties.
WHAT CAN OPEN?
A significant number of businesses were deemed essential and exempt from the economic shutdown ordered by Cuomo in mid-March to slow the spread of COVID-19. The rest were closed and are reopening their doors after a long hiatus.
- Phase 1 allowed reopening of non-essential construction, manufacturing, pickup/dropoff retail, wholesale trade, agriculture, forestry, hunting and fishing.
- Phase 2 allows reopening of offices, real estate businesses, vehicle sales and leases, rental/repair/cleaning businesses, commercial building management and hair salons/barbershops. In-store retail sales also may resume, except in the interior portions of shopping malls greater than 100,000 square feet. Mall stores that have their own exterior entrances may reopen.
- Looking ahead, restaurants and food service businesses will reopen in Phase 3. Educational institutions and arts/entertainment/recreation businesses will reopen in Phase 4.