New Jersey

Long Island to Reopen Weds, Leaving NYC Alone on PAUSE as Daily Deaths Hit New Pandemic Low

With all but one New York region entering the first reopening phase as of Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to shift focus to a 'supercharged' reopening -- one that involves accelerating major infrastructure projects

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What to Know

  • New York City will stand alone on PAUSE by Wednesday; both Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio say NYC is on track to reopen in early June
  • More restrictions are being relaxed daily. On Tuesday, NJ Gov. Phil Murphy announced schools could hold socially distant outdoor graduation ceremonies starting July 6. He also OK'd pro sports' return
  • The welcome developments come amid the pandemic's staggering emotional and economic cost; the tri-state area has confirmed nearly 40,000 virus deaths to date, while the U.S. toll is nearly 100,000

New York's Mid-Hudson region has been cleared to reopen Tuesday, more than two months after a lawyer from New Rochelle spawned the state's first virus cluster, one that would spread to Manhattan and New Jersey and prompt Gov. Andrew Cuomo to deploy the National Guard -- the first containment move in what would be a series of shutdown orders over the next few weeks.

Long Island will enter Phase I Wednesday, Cuomo said, as he announced New York's lowest daily virus death toll (73) since the pandemic hit the Empire State. Now it's time to fully turn the page in the battle against the coronavirus, the governor said. He shifted his focus as of Memorial Day to a two-track plan -- one track is to monitor regional reopenings. The other is to "supercharge" the reopenings, accelerating long-overdue infrastructure programs like rebuilding Penn Station and expanding NYC subway tunnels while ridership is low, as well as kickstarting the LaGuardia AirTrain project.

Cuomo said he would meet with President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., Wednesday to discuss how the U.S. government can help expedite these efforts.

"You have an infrastructure that's crumbling, you need to jumpstart the economy, you need to create jobs, do it now," Cuomo said. "It's just common sense."

At the same time, he is zeroing his focus on New York City, which will be the state's only region still on PAUSE by Wednesday. Cuomo plans to target resources to the city's highest-impact ZIP codes, which are the prime sources of new infections and hospitalizations, state data shows. In some of those communities, the infection rate is double the citywide average, the governor said.

"We're going to attack the virus at its source. That will really bring the numbers down in New York City," Cuomo said Tuesday. The state began its hyper-targeted effort last week but will "bring it to a new level this week," he added.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the state will target resources to NYC's most-affected communities.

Both Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have said New York City is currently on track to reopen in the first or second week of June. In preparation for Phase I, the city is assessing the needs of each industry, including enforcement, support and regulations for businesses that will be eligible to open at that point, de Blasio said Tuesday. His administration is also studying transit patterns to ensure safety once people start going back to work.

"We're having that conversation with the state and MTA right now," de Blasio said. "We anticipate, just Phase One, is easily hundreds of thousands more people going to work, and then Phase Two even more so. What we can say with assurance is, due to the plan to have subways shut at night for cleaning, (subway cars) are obviously a lot cleaner. That's great news."

The MTA is preparing to add more service to accommodate the added commuters, increasing both subway service and service for Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road starting Wednesday as most areas of the tri-state enter Phase One of reopening.

Two criteria currently block New York City from taking that first step. It needs to make (and keep) 2 percent more of its hospital beds available than it currently has open (28 percent) to ensure potential resurgence won't overwhelm the system again. The city met the ICU capacity threshold of 30 percent availability overnight, though with more than 400 patients still in intensive care as of Tuesday, that remains a tenuous grip at best.

The city also needs to meet the contract tracing goal, which requires 30 tracers per 100,000 residents. In the cases of the other nine regions entering or about to enter Phase I, that's been the last box checked -- and typically within 24 hours of reopening.

De Blasio said Tuesday the city had so far hired more than 1,700 contact tracers, both case investigators and monitors, who will be trained and deployed by June 1, well over its goal of 1,000 tracers by that time. Dr. Ted Long, of NYC Health + Hospitals, said that among the hired case investigators, more than 400 are from the hardest hit communities and more than 40 languages are spoken. More than 40 percent of the monitors speak Spanish. The mayor still needs to hire 800 more tracers overall.

The mayor also signed into law legislation aimed at providing relief for tenants, commercial establishments and restaurants that have fallen on hard times amid the pandemic. Part of the new laws impose limits on third-party food delivery services that restaurants throughout the country have complained about eating into any possible revenue coming in.

Lawmakers on Staten Island say that borough has already checked all seven boxes and asked Cuomo to let it open ahead of the rest of New York City. The governor shot down that request, pointing out that people who live on Staten Island may work in Manhattan or at least travel in other boroughs.

Meanwhile, some of the first reopened regions, the five that began their reboots as the statewide shutdown order ended at 12:01 a.m. on May 15, are eyeing the next step of the reopening process, which involves retail, finance and professional services. Phase III reopens food and hospitality businesses. Education and entertainment are slated for Phase IV, the final reopening stage.

Region by Region Status

Source: New York State; Report as of May 18

Initially, the governor had mandated a two-week monitoring period between phases to assess potential increases in infection rates. He recently indicated the two-week window could flex a bit. Either way, that window would end Friday for the five regions that reopened May 15, positioning them to take the next step. Here's a breakdown of all the businesses that will be allowed to reopen.

Grieving Tri-State Begins to Look Forward

New York has been on the downhill slope of the COVID-19 curve for some time, yet the journey to get here featured such a rapid whirlwind of emotional and economic pain that some may look back and find their heads still spinning.

The state reported its first COVID case on March 1, its first virus death on March 14. Less than three months later, it has more than 363,000 confirmed COVID cases, nearly 200,000 of those in New York City, though the actual number is likely higher. It has confirmed 23,564 virus deaths, though that number likely doesn't capture the full scope either.

The five boroughs account for two-thirds of the state's confirmed virus deaths. The city reports another 4,749 probable fatalities, bringing its tragic toll above 20,000. Even then, the CDC says there are thousands of deaths that have not been linked probably or definitively to COVID-19 that could still be connected.

Still, amid the darkness, New Yorkers are finally able to see some light for the first time in what feels like an eternity. Streets and beaches were inundated over the long Memorial Day weekend by (mostly) mask-wearing pedestrians. The NYPD and Parks Department were out in force to remind them of social distancing guidelines and offering up facial coverings free to anyone in need.

Late Friday, Cuomo lifted the nonessential gathering restriction to allow groups of 10 people or less to gather for any reason. It wasn't so long ago that gatherings of any number, for any nonessential purpose, were strictly prohibited.

New Jersey similarly loosened some crowding restrictions late last week, allowing outdoor gatherings of up to 25 people and authorizing in-person sales at auto dealerships and bike shops to resume. It is still in Stage 1 of what Gov. Phil Murphy has described as a three-stage process to reopening and recovery. Murphy said Tuesday New Jersey is close to moving to the next phase but will do so only when the data indicates it is appropriate. The state isn't there yet.

Murphy said Sunday he thinks daycares and camps will reopen sooner rather than later, telling CNN the economy can't successfully reopen without giving working parents “an opportunity to have their kids properly looked after.” He also still hopes to have schools reopen for in-person learning in September.

As for the 2020 graduating class, Murphy said Tuesday that schools will be allowed to hold outdoor, socially-distant compliant graduation ceremonies starting July 6. Additional guidance on capacity and precautions is expected Wednesday. New York City has said it is planning a citywide virtual celebration.

Murphy also authorized professional sports teams in New Jersey to return to training and competition on Tuesday, paving the way for the Jets and Giants to get back in action at MetLife Stadium. The Giants said they have been working closely with Murphy administration and are finalizing their plans to reopen their training facility. The Jets say they're developing a phased approach to the same.

It's easier for pro sports teams to get back because they have the resources to accommodate whatever changes may be needed within their facilities to protect players and staff against infection, Murphy said. Youth leagues are a separate issue, though he says he hopes those will be able to resume in the near future.

The Garden State has lagged New York a bit on the virus curve. It is seeing higher daily death tolls than New York almost daily now, though those numbers are also slowly coming down. New Jersey no longer leads the nation in deaths and cases per 100,000 residents -- it's No. 2 behind Connecticut, Murphy said Tuesday.

To date, New Jersey has lost at least 11,191 people to COVID, while Connecticut, which took its first big statewide reopening steps last week, reports 3,742 deaths. By executive order, flags are flying at half-staff tri-state-wide indefinitely in tribute to the lives lost and those that will be lost to the virus.

The national death toll will likely eclipse a grim 100,000 milestone in the next day, by NBC News estimates. It now stands at more than 99,600, and multiple diverse virus models project many more thousands will die in the next few weeks.

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