Start of Westchester, Putnam Reopening Likely to Be Delayed

Three upstate regions are in line to begin the first phase of the state’s reopening plan later this week, but it appears that Westchester and Putnam counties may have to wait longer.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that as of Monday morning the Finger Lakes, Mohawk Valley and Southern Tier regions have met all seven metrics established by the state last week. If they maintain that standing, they would be the first three areas that begin to emerge from the statewide stay-at-home order that is due to expire on Friday.

Six of the seven remaining regions have either hit five or six of the benchmarks while New York City is in compliance in four categories. The Mid-Hudson Valley region, which includes Westchester and Putnam, complied with five metrics. Rockland, Dutchess, Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties are also in the region.

“It’s an exciting new phase,” Cuomo said “We want to get back to work. We want to do it smartly, intelligently, but we want to do it. That’s what this week is going to be all about.”

A Phase I reopening would allow for the resumption of construction, manufacturing and select retail for curbside pickup only. Several low-risk activities are expected to be lifted statewide on Friday, such as landscaping and gardening, drive-in movie theaters and certain outdoor recreational activities, including tennis.

Cuomo said businesses that do reopen must prepare a plan outlining safety precautions for its employees, such as adherence to social distancing, providing personal protection equipment and possibly reconfiguring workspaces.

There would be a regional control room comprised of an elected official from each of the seven counties as well as health officials and representatives from academia who would regularly monitor the metrics. County executives George Latimer of Westchester and MaryEllen Odell of Putnam are the government officials from their respective counties.

The criteria requires at least 14 days of declines in total hospitalizations and deaths on a 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 in hospitals per 100,000 residents and a region’s hospitals must have at least a 30 percent vacancy in total hospital beds and ICU beds

Two other requirements are related to 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 must be maintained.

Hospitals also must have a 90-day supply of personal protection equipment at the rate it was being used during the height of the crisis

Currently, the Mid-Hudson region is not meeting the 14-day decline in hospital deaths and exceeds the threshold of two new hospitalizations per 1,000 residents. On Monday, it stood at 2.79.

Latimer said that only regions would open, not individual counties. He said Monday that he was hopeful that by early next week the Mid-Hudson region will be looking to enter the first phase.

“I think we’re close, we’re not there yet, we have work to do and that’s what we’re going to try to do,” Latimer said. “We’re going to try and get our work done so that by the end of this week, beginning of next week at the latest, we’ll be able to report to the state we’ve met the goals that you’ve set for us.”

The state Department of Health has posted a dashboard outlining where each region stands on its metrics and will be updating it daily.

Cuomo said with the ongoing monitoring, if a region regresses it will have to slow down and potentially shut down again.

“If it does not go well and you see that infection rate moving because the hospitals will tell you they see an increase or your testing rate shows an increase, you have to be able to pull the plug,” Cuomo said.

Last week, the governor said that each region must maintain the qualifying metrics for two weeks before it can progress to the next phase. The state’s guidelines, which follow the CDC’s standards, calls for professional services, finance and insurance, retail, administrative support and real estate and rental leasing in the second phase.

Phase III calls for restaurants, food services and hotels to reopen while the fourth phase includes arts, entertainment, recreation and education.

Cuomo applauded the efforts of New York residents who listened to officials’ appeals.

“What we have done, thus far, is really amazing and it was because we were smart and because we were unified and because of that we averted tragedy,” he said.

Statewide, the number of COVID-19-related deaths dropped Sunday to 166 and new virus hospitalizations fell to 488, the lowest levels since the early days of the crisis in mid-March.

In Westchester, there were nine additional deaths on Sunday, raising the number to 1,227. The number of active cases continued to fall to 3,377. In Putnam County, 56 residents have died from the virus.