Cuomo Unveils Methodical, Data-Driven Plan to Reopen State

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo laid out a detailed plan Monday to allow portions of New York State to enter the first reopening phase if a region meets a series of benchmarks on a multistep data-driven metric.

Cuomo said under guidelines released from the Centers for Disease Control, the goal is to diminish the rate of new infections while increasing the rate of diagnostic testing and contact tracing to specific levels for a reopening to take place.

Cuomo said the factors will be driven by hard data, not based on whim or anecdotal reporting. Any reopening will not occur statewide, with upstate New York a virtual certainty to move forward before New York City, Long Island and other downstate areas, including Westchester, he said. The state has been divided into 10 regions.

“This is what local leaders, this is what a community has to deal with to reopen safely and intelligently in my opinion,” Cuomo said. “This can’t be we want to get out of the house, we’re going.”

New York PAUSE has shut down the state except for essential operations until May 15.

For a region to reach a Phase I reopening, it must have at least 14 days of declines in total hospitalizations and deaths on its three-day rolling average; it cannot exceed 15 new cases or five new deaths on a three-day average; there must be less than two new COVID patients per 100,000 residents; a region’s hospitals must have at least a 30 percent vacancy in total hospital beds and ICU beds; and every hospital must have at least a 90-day supply of personal protection equipment (PPE), measured at the rate the equipment was being used during the height of the crisis.

Two other requirements revolve around testing. There must be 30 tests available for every 1,000 residents per month and a baseline of 30 contact tracers for every 100,000 residents. On Apr. 25, Cuomo tabbed former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to help lead the recruitment of tracers statewide.

“May 15 regions can start to reopen and do their own analysis, but these are the facts that they have to have in place,” Cuomo said. “Start now, don’t wait to May 15.”

If the infection rate at any time exceeds 1.1 transmissions per infected person in a region, the reopening processes would be stopped, he said.

As of Monday, five regions – Central New York, Finger Lakes, the North Country, the Southern Tier and the Mohawk Valley – meet five of the seven benchmarks to reopen. The Capital region and the Mid-Hudson Valley, which includes Westchester and Putnam counties, currently reach four of the seven. Meanwhile, New York City and Western New York, which includes Buffalo, meet three of the standards while Long Island meets only two.

Under the state’s blueprint, any region that meets the benchmarks will be able to enter the first of a four-phase reopening that is designed to balance the most important services and products with risk. Phase I includes construction, manufacturing and select retail for curbside pickup only.

Phase II takes in professional services, finance and insurance, retail, administrative support and real estate and rental leasing.

The third phase would bring restaurants and food services along with hotels on board while the fourth phase includes arts, entertainment, recreation and education.

Previously, Cuomo said there would have to be at least two weeks between the start of each phase in a region.

Along with all regions meeting these benchmarks, individual businesses would have to devise a safety plan before reopening, demonstrating how employees and the public are protected, Cuomo said.

The governor said the methodical approach is crucial to follow because he doesn’t want to see a repeat of what the state has endured over the past two months.

“Nobody wants to have gone through all of this and then start and have to stop again,” Cuomo said.

On Sunday, New York and six other Northeast states announced it would establish a consortium to buy (PPE) and other medical supplies.

New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Delaware will join New York to leverage their collective purchasing power to get a more competitive price for gowns, masks, gloves, ventilators and other items along with keeping each state’s hospitals properly outfitted with supplies, Cuomo said.

It is the same seven-state partnership that was established last month to coordinate a regional reopening plan.

For much of the coronavirus crisis, governors have been left to their own devices, with some partnering with neighboring states because of the lack of basic medical equipment through the height of the crisis.

Last Saturday, the state released updated antibody testing figures, showing just over 15,000 tests had been administered. The latest statistics show that 12.3 percent of those tested statewide have the COVID-19 antibodies, meaning that they had been infected with the virus and have recovered, which means they likely have some level of immunity.