ALBANY — Drive-in and drive-through high school graduation ceremonies will be allowed this month, Gov. Cuomo said Thursday, but sit-down events are still barred.
While no doubt disappointing to families, the ban on traditional commencements reaffirms what many had expected all along, as the governor both pleaded for and decreed that New Yorkers not gather in large groups, so as to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Many school districts in fact have already planned for ceremonies in an alternate format.
The state will consider socially distanced outdoor commencements at a later time, Cuomo’s office said in a news release.
During his daily briefing Thursday, a reporter pressed Cuomo about the continued ban, asking why patio restaurant dining (which became legal in much of upstate on Thursday) is OK but a treasured ceremony was not. She cited in particular a Schalmont student who is part of an online petition drive to allow in-person ceremonies, which has now surpassed 6,400 signatures.
Cuomo couldn’t immediately find the right words to respond.
“Did you hear anything we’ve been talking about for the past 96 days?” he asked. “You don’t want people sick and dead.
“It’s about death. It’s about balancing the risk vs. the reward, balancing the desires and wants vs. the consequences.”
Cuomo cited nation’s first hotspot for community spread of COVID-19: New Rochelle in Westchester County, where a single sick person at a large religious ceremony spread the virus to many people in the area.
Meanwhile, state officials worry about the spread of the virus at the police brutality protests, where people are standing shoulder-to-shoulder, sometimes by the thousands.
“I'm not a nervous Nelly, I just read the numbers,” Cuomo said. “With the protestors, they could actually compound this situation. Why? You have 30,000 people who have been protesting statewide. You look at videos as I look at the video. Many of them wear masks, thank God, but there's no social distancing. You look at the encounters with the police, the police are right in their face, they're right in the face of the police.”
In light of this, Cuomo ordered that attending a protest be added to the criteria for COVID-19 testing, and he urged all protesters to get tested.
The testing is not a real-time barometer — it lags behind new infections by as much as two weeks, Cuomo said.
“Two weeks is a lifetime in the numbers,” he said. “So if you have a viral spread through these protests we are not going to see it in the numbers for a while.”
So far, however, the Capital Region, the Mohawk Valley and the other eight regions of the state are continuing to show progress on the metrics of infection and illness, with fewer positive tests and fewer hospitalizations.
Fewer people are dying, as well — including in nursing homes, so hard-hit in April and May, although exact and accurate figures are not always available.
Fulton County late Thursday said 24 of its 30 COVID deaths have been in a single facility — the Fulton Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare in Gloversville. As of Thursday, 111 residents and 24 employees had tested positive there, and 24 residents had died.
Similarly, 31 of the 33 Warren County residents dead from COVID infections were residents of nursing homes or adult care facilities, as were at least 27 of the 34 in Columbia County and scores of the 112 Albany County residents.
With 52 COVID patients dead statewide in the preceding 24 hours, New York’s official death toll — which Cuomo has said is incomplete — stood at 24,133 Thursday morning.