ALBANY — The Capital Region on Wednesday will enter Phase 3 of restarting its economy from the COVID-19 shutdown, with restaurants and personal care businesses allowed to reopen.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday that hospitals are now allowed to admit visitors to see patients, with precautions and time limits.
He also announced that group homes could, at their discretion, allow family visits starting Friday, ending a mandatory lockdown that has come under increasing criticism by advocates for the developmentally disabled.
The governor did not, however, yield on the subject of malls reopening.
Malls initially were scheduled to reopen in Phase 2 with other retail locations, but shortly before the first regions of the state entered Phase 2, the state excluded malls. Interior spaces must remain closed to the public in malls larger than 100,000 square feet, though mall stores with their own exterior entrances may open with precautions.
Crossgates mall, the largest shopping center in the Capital Region, hosted a news conference last week pushing for permission to reopen and sent out a critical message Tuesday about “New York Backward,” a swipe at Cuomo’s “New York Forward” initiative to reopen the state’s economy.
Restaurants across most of upstate New York are able to reopen in Phase 3 but the 30 places where mall patrons can get something to eat remain closed, Crossgates said.
Asked about this during his daily briefing Tuesday, Cuomo said, “I get their point and we’re looking at that.”
It’s theoretically possible for a mall to open with safe social distancing and hygiene measures — Crossgates has prepared a 16-page protocol for doing just that — but theory and reality don’t always match, Cuomo said.
The governor was criticized as either too drastic or not drastic enough in his response to the pandemic as New York quickly tallied the most infections and the most deaths of any state in the nation.
Now that the state has seen its metrics plunge — 25 dead Monday and a positive test rate of just 1% — he’s fending off suggestions that he’s keeping the restrictions in place too long. (Even as he allowed visits to resume at hospitals and group homes, he said Tuesday the lockdown will remain in effect for now at nursing homes, where the virus has killed thousands.)
New York state’s continued decline in COVID activity as it gradually reopens stands in direct contrast to the resurgence of COVID in states that have reopened more quickly than New York has, Cuomo said. This suggests New York has the right approach, he said: “At one point you can’t argue with the results.”
Cuomo added that he’s every bit as motivated to reopen the economy as those who are second-guessing him, because doing so will generate tax revenue that’s needed to pay the state’s bills.
“I would like it to open faster than they would like it to open,” he said.
The 3 millionth New Yorker was tested for COVID on Monday. On Tuesday morning, the cumulative total through the pandemic stood at 3,051,778 tested, 384,575 confirmed infected and 24,608 dead. Statewide, 1,538 people were hospitalized with the virus, 449 of them in intensive care. The number of dead is suspected to be higher than the official tally.
PHASE THREE DETAILS
The Capital Region (Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren and Washington counties) will enter Phase 3 of restarting their economies Wednesday.
The Mohawk Valley region (which includes Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie counties) entered Phase 3 last week. Five other upstate regions also are now in Phase 3.
Phase 3 allows reopening of food services and interior sit-down restaurant dining; exterior dining was allowed to resume in Phase 2.
Phase 3 also allows reopening of businesses that offer personal care services such as tattooing, piercing, massage, manicure, tanning and waxing.
Clearance to reopen comes with significant requirements for infection control and restrictions on customer density.
Cuomo on Monday boosted the maximum size for gatherings in Phase 3 regions from 10 people to 25.
The final phase of reopening — Phase 4, arts/entertainment/recreation/education — is rated as the riskiest piece of the process, involving enterprises that traditionally bring large numbers of people together in close proximity, exactly the scenario the state has been working to discourage.
Cuomo has said the progression through phases will be slowed or stopped in a particular region if there is an increase in COVID illness in the region’s residents or a decrease in the region’s ability to respond to an actual or potential resurgence.