What to Know
- Capital Region becomes New York's seventh region to begin Phase III Wednesday, resuming indoor dining and personal care. State daily deaths hit a new low (17) Wednesday; 10 weeks ago, 800 were dying a day
- New York City is in its second week of Phase I; Gov. Andrew Cuomo says it could move to Phase II Monday but Mayor Bill de Blasio says he wants to assess protests' potential impact before committing to a date
- Connecticut took its biggest step yet Wednesday, reopening everything from bowling alleys to outdoor amusement parks, movie theaters and more. New Jersey will reopen personal care services Monday
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that New York City is on track to enter Phase II of reopening on Monday, two weeks after it first ended its months-long shutdown. That was in stark contrast to Mayor Bill de Blasio's words an hour earlier, where he refused to commit to a date despite mounting pressure to do so.
"The same metrics we've used in New York City are the same we've used across the state; they're shown to be accurate and effective. We don't change the rules for New York City, for Long Island -- it's one set of rules for everyone," Cuomo said. "Part of the phasing is allowing local governments to increase capacity and handle additional burden. It only works if business owners are ready."
De Blasio, who himself got tested for COVID Tuesday after feeling under the weather the day before and was negative, has previously said he thought it more likely the city would go to Phase II in early July, despite ongoing good news on the COVID front.
In response to Cuomo's announcement, the mayor's office agreed New York City starting Phase II Monday, two weeks after it entered Phase I, would be consistent with the rest of the state's reopenings to date.
"It's not definitive," a spokesperson said Wednesday afternoon. "We're watching the health indicators very closely to make sure the decision is made smartly."
Earlier in the day, de Blasio said it came down to monitoring the potential impact of the mass protests that overspread all five boroughs for more than two weeks and assessing the potential impact of its Phase I start 10 days ago.
"We're all mindful that we had a very unusual situation with the protests. We're going to see, we believe the fuller impact if any, of the protests in terms of our health indicators around this weekend, maybe into the first few days of next week," the mayor said. "We'll also see the impact of Phase I itself, obviously, which is much bigger than the protests in the sense of several hundred thousand people each day going back to work every day for the full workday."
The city still hasn't said how many people it expects to re-enter the workforce during Phase II, and aside from painting some new bus lanes, it hasn't offered specifics on how people should be getting to and from work. Despite that, the mayor dismissed criticism from City Council members who have said he's unprepared to open the city.
"Politicians do what they do, I think everyday New Yorkers understand job one is fight back this disease," de Blasio said.
New York City is slowly but steadily getting back on track. Apple reopened 10 stores in the five boroughs Wednesday for the first time since they closed in March amid a then ever-worsening pandemic. COVID numbers continue to steadily decline across the board -- and many places are looking to the next step. For example, Mount Sinai's hospital in Nassau County will start allowing visitors once again starting June 19, something unheard of even weeks ago.
Some, especially restaurants, want to see the process move more quickly. A number of them have quietly (and illegally) started outdoor dining, even though that is a step reserved for Phase II. Owners hope they'll be able to legally set up outdoor dining on Monday, but de Blasio's office has yet to give full guidance, with the mayor saying on Wednesday that they are "fine-tuning" plans for the number of tables and seating for the 25,000 restaurants and bars looking to reopen.
Daily Percentage of Positive Tests by New York Region
Gov. Andrew Cuomo breaks the state into 10 regions for testing purposes and tracks positivity rates to identify potential hotspots. Here's the latest tracking data by region and for the five boroughs. For the latest county-level results statewide, click here
De Blasio said playgrounds in the city won't reopen until Phase II; Cuomo initially shut them down but recently said they could return at local governments' discretion. That's also the case with pools. The mayor says the city is working on a plan to safely reopen pools and lifeguards are training with the expectation they'll be needed this summer; he had no timeline.
"The second we open up playgrounds I think it's a safe bet they'll be filled 10 hours every day. You're talking about a huge number of people in close contact every day," de Blasio said Wednesday. "If folks act prematurely and that causes the disease to start spreading again, that the kind of thing that will undermine our ability to get to Phase II and stay in Phase II."
Once the epicenter of the national COVID epidemic with more than 20,000 virus deaths, New York City now has one of the country's lowest infection rates. A wrong move could have devastating effects; that's already happening elsewhere across the country. Cuomo urges New Yorkers to stay smart, citing data that shows COVID is raging anew in nearly half of America's states, most of which have had much looser reopenings than the one underway in New York.
Right now, the percentage of New York City residents testing positive over a seven-day rolling average is just 1 percent. That's a far cry from the 59 percent it experienced at the peak of the crisis earlier this spring. Statewide, that seven-day rolling average is also 1 percent.
Just 17 new daily deaths were reported overnight, Cuomo said in his daily briefing — an everyday event since March 1 he said he will be stopping come Friday thanks to the dramatic progress made. Ten weeks ago, New York was losing nearly 800 people a day.
Seven of New York's 10 regions are now in Phase III of the reopening process, with the Capital Region becoming the latest to take that step on Wednesday. The Mid-Hudson region is expected to join the others in Phase III on Tuesday, June 23, while Long Island looks to take that step the following day. Infection rates haven't seen a statistically significant uptick in the regions that have moved on to reopening indoor dining and personal care services, Cuomo says.
Will there be a second wave locally? The governor says it could happen -- and it could also not be the fault of New Yorkers. That keeps him up at night.
"You look at what’s going on around the country now with the spike and the number of viral transmissions. That is frightening," he told "Good Morning America" Wednesday. "New York is not an island. We can be doing a great job and getting the spread down and the rate of transmission down, but people travel here from other states."
Cuomo accused the federal government of making a "historic" mistake on its handling of the COVID crisis and the guidelines it's issuing to states. He didn't mention by name President Donald Trump, who will hold his first large-scale campaign rally since the pandemic hit in Tulsa, Oklahoma this weekend. Asked if he would attend one of the events, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said "of course not" because coronavirus is still spreading.
"These policies have huge consequences. There's going to be real life-and-death consequences to this," Cuomo said Wednesday, citing new, higher death projections from the Fauci-backed IHME virus model. "This policy has increased the number of people they project to die by almost 90,000."
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is equally as conscious of the need to proceed with caution. The state just entered Stage 2 of Murphy's reopening roadmap two days ago, resuming outdoor dining, child care, in-person retail and library pickup, among other services. Some towns threatened to defy Murphy's orders, saying the reopening needs to move more quickly for businesses to survive.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
Murphy says he's comfortable with the state's reopening timeline and doesn't want to rush it for fear of inciting a viral resurgence he fears could happen at some point anyway. He's particularly concerned about indoor businesses. Some of those -- barbershops, nail salons and massage parlors -- are slated to open on Monday, June 22. The health department has released new safety guidelines.
On Wednesday, state education officials released guidance for colleges and universities later in the day laying out the framework as they prepare for upcoming summer sessions and the start of the Fall 2020 semester. Those institutions must submit their restart plans to the state at least 14 days before any staff or students return to campus for health department review.
Once they've submitted those plans, they'd be eligible to resume in-person clinical, lab, and hands-on programming on July 1, Murphy said. Career and training schools can also reopen at that time, subject to health and safety protocols from their respective oversight agencies.
New Jersey has struggled on some core metrics over the last month. After reclaiming the dubious distinction of the state with the most daily deaths per 100,000 residents Tuesday it fell back to No. 2 on Wednesday, Murphy said. It ranks fifth among U.S. states in total hospitalizations per 100,000 residents but has fallen to 34th on new cases.
"We still aren’t where we need to be in the national rankings. This is why we all must keep up with social distancing – the only thing that will keep pushing our numbers down," Murphy said. "COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere yet, but we’re in a much better and strong position today to beat back those challenges."
Connecticut, the least hard-hit of the tri-states amid the COVID outbreak and the most aggressive of the three on reopening, takes its biggest step yet Wednesday as it moves into a phase that allows 95 percent of its economy to restart.
Gov. Ned Lamont said the state's rate of COVID-19 infection is among the “best five or six states in the country," signaling that the state was ready to reopen indoor dining, outdoor amusement parks, libraries, tattoo parlors, nail salons, gyms, pools, bowling alleys, museums, zoos, aquariums and movie theaters. Most of those reopen at 50 percent capacity with mask and social distancing mandates.