CAPITAL REGION — The eight counties in the Capital Region can enter Phase 3 of re-opening on Wednesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo affirmed on Saturday.
During his daily news briefing in Manhattan, the governor also noted that the state had its lowest death toll Friday since the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic — 32 people. It was 42 the day before. The pandemic death toll in the state peaked at 799 on April 8.
With total hospitalizations for COVID down to 1,734 statewide, Cuomo praised New Yorkers for having the discipline to beat the virus. “We’ve done it,” he said. “We have tamed the beast. We are now on the other side.”
Cuomo said western New York would enter Phase 3 on Tuesday, and the Capital Region on Wednesday — the soonest both regions could go to that phase under the guidelines set by the state. At that point, all of upstate New York above the mid-Hudson Valley will be in Phase 3 of re-opening.
Phase 3 will not only allow struggling restaurants to have limited indoor seating, but also permit additional personal care service businesses to re-open with proper precautions. While local government and business leaders have been clamoring for the Capital Region to enter the phase sooner, Cuomo is sticking by his original timeline.
Just over a week ago, Cuomo said that restaurants in regions that were in Phase 2 of re-opening could offer outdoor dining, and since then a number of restaurants in Capital Region have created or expanded their outdoor dining. That is in addition to the takeout service they’ve been allowed to offer throughout the pandemic period.
Montgomery, Fulton and Schoharie counties, which are in the Mohawk Valley region, entered Phase 3 on Friday, and restaurants in those counties are starting to re-open their dining rooms. Under state guidelines, restaurant staff are required to wear masks, as are patrons, until they are seated at their tables or if they leave the table. The restaurants are limited to filling just half their maximum indoor seating capacity, to maintain social distance.
The state’s four-phase reopening plan requires at least two weeks between phases, to judge whether that stage of re-opening has caused a serious uptick in COVID-19 cases. The Capital Region entered Phase 2 on June 3, and Wednesday is the soonest the Capital Region could enter Phase 3.
Phase 4 could come July 1, at the earliest. While Phase 4 will allow arts, entertainment, recreation and education to resume, facilities that could attract large audiences — like Saratoga Race Course — are not expected to be able to allow fans this year.
Still unaddressed, as a group of Albany-area state legislators noted last week, are when enclosed shopping malls like Crossgates Mall in Guilderland will be able to re-open.
Cuomo warned that other states that have reopened around the country only to see their infection rates sharply increase, and then had to stop their re-openings. About half the states are currently seeing their infection rates rise, he said, and New York can only avoid that happening by “being smart.”
“Be careful,” Cuomo said he warned local officials, who are in charge of enforcing the economic and public health restrictions. “New York is the anomaly. New York is the exact opposite. Virtually all the states reopened and the number goes up.”
The burden of enforcing restrictions is on local governments, even if the restrictions are unpopular, Cuomo said — something he said he emphasized during a conference call with local officials on Friday.
“If they don’t do their job, then they’re going to have a really unpopular task, which is explaining to their local community why they have to slow or stop the reopening,” he said.
In the Capital Region, among all those tested for COVID-19 in the last week, the number of positive results has been below one percent, according to state figures. In the Mohawk Valley, the positive rate was one percent on Friday, but has been below that most days last week.
Among Capital Region counties, Albany County reported seven new cases on Friday, Schenectady four new cases, Fulton and Rensselaer counties reported one new case each, and Saratoga, Montgomery and Schoharie counties reported no new cases.
Correction 10:01 a.m.: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the date COVID-19 deaths peaked in New York at 799. COVID-19 deaths in New York peaked April 8.