ALBANY -- The state has reached a new positive milestone in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the daily death toll falling below 100 people for the first time since the novel coronavirus began felling New Yorkers in March, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Saturday.
The death toll, which has ranged between 105 and 112 over the last six days, was just 84 people on Friday, the governor said during his daily COVID-19 briefing, during which he appeared from the Governor's Mansion in Albany.
"Eight-four is still a tragedy, no doubt. But the fact that it's down as low as it is, really overall good news," Cuomo said.
On April 8, at the height of the pandemic, 799 New Yorkers died. It has hit the New York City area the hardest of anywhere in the nation, and both its hospital system and funeral parlors were being overwhelmed.
Around that time, Cuomo said a health care professional whom he didn't name told him that getting the number down to 100 deaths per day would be an indication the pandemic was being brought under control.
"When he said this to me, we were in the hundreds and hundreds and getting below 100 was almost impossible," Cuomo recounted. "But I made a little note. You need something in life to shoot for. You need something to aim for... . In my head I was always looking to get under 100. And under 100 doesn't do any good for those 84 families that are feeling the pain. But for me it's just a sign that we're making real progress and I feel good about that."
The state's death total is now 23,282, with about two-thirds of those deaths in occurring New York City. It does not appear there were any new deaths in the Capital Region on Friday.
Also on Saturday, Cuomo announced that an eighth region -- the Mid-Hudson -- can enter Phase I or re-opening, when manufacturing and construction can resume. The region includes Westchester, Rockland, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Sullivan, and Ulster counties.
That region will re-open Tuesday, leaving only Long Island and New York City under stay-at-home orders. The rest of the state is in Phase I, and hoping to reach Phase II -- when most retail and professional offices can re-open, within the next week or two. But there are no guarantees.
"Phase II is more a judgment call, have the numbers stabilized and if there is an increase [in positive cases], can the increase be explained," Cuomo said.
Cuomo and his staff also defended the state policy of discharging nursing home patients who had COVID-19 from hospitals back to nursing homes if they were recovering.
The policy has come under growing attack from both state and national Republicans who contend it led to the spread of COVID-19 inside nursing homes, where residents are among the most-vulnerable. While there have been COVID-19 outbreaks at many nursing homes, it is not clear whether discharged patients caused any of them.
Cuomo contends the state was following guidelines issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "What New York did was follow what the Republican administration said to do," Cuomo said.
The Associated Press reported that 4,900 nursing home residents were discharged from hospitals under the policy, out of 69,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations since the pandemic began.
At the time, state officials were concerned about preserving capacity in hospitals that were being overwhelmed, and chose to discharge those who had recovered. "At the time, there was a lot of concern about hospital capacity," said Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor.
Late Friday night, Cuomo signed an executive order allowing gatherings of up to 10 people for any reason following a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, fighting a policy announced Thursday that groups of 10 could gather for religious worship, but not for other purposes.
The governor said groups still need to wear face masks and take other measures to reduce virus risk. "It depends on how many act," he said. "You can have a safe gathering of 10 people, you can have an unsafe gathering of 10 people... It doesn't mean, let's have a party of 10 people."