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5 NY Regions Start Phase III Friday, Opening Indoor Dining; Cuomo Leaves Pool Call to Locals

With all New York regions in some phase of reopening, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has shifted his focus to testing and tracing, meticulously monitoring infection rates and identifying potential clusters early

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What to Know

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo said five New York regions will enter Phase III of reopening on Friday, opening up indoor dining and other services; he also said pools and playgrounds could reopen at local governments' discretion
  • New York City hopes to be able to reach Phase II by early July; the mayor's office has already released a comprehensive outdoor dining plan to help provide restaurants with more temporary al fresco space
  • New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy says his state will enter Stage 2 on Monday, opening up outdoor dining and in-person retail. He lifted the stay-at-home order in place since March on Tuesday

Five New York regions will enter Phase III of reopening Friday, opening up indoor dining at half capacity and personal care services like nail salons and tattoo parlors for the first time in months, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday. Social distancing and masks are required.

The five regions that will take the next step Friday were the first to reopen when Cuomo's statewide shutdown ended on May 15: the Finger Lakes, Mohawk Valley, Southern Tier, North Country and Central New York regions. (Check the latest on what's open and reopening across the tri-state area here).

After shutting NYC playgrounds down more than a month ago, Cuomo also OK'd their immediate reopening, so long as the city believes it would be fine. Pools can also open at local governments' discretion, the governor said. He urged officials to make the moves only if the data supports the changes.

 "They have to use their judgment here. They should be looking at the positives, see where those positives are coming from," Cuomo said. "Everybody wants to swim, I understand. Everybody doesn't want to see a spike in COVID again. Sometimes 'yes' is not the right answer."

Mayor Bill de Blasio has said New York City isn't ready to open pools quite yet; he wants to try to open more social distancing-friendly summer venues like beaches first before he tackles how to maintain public health in the pool.

But pools aren't out of the question later this summer, de Blasio said. Lifeguards have been trained under the expectation they'll be needed there and on beaches. In the meantime, the city is looking to alternate means like park sprinklers and cooling stations to initially help keep people cool.

Playgrounds aren't immediately in the cards for the five boroughs either. A de Blasio spokeswoman said Thursday that the city is closely watching health indicators and simultaneously working on a plan "so when it’s safe to open playgrounds, we can. “

Phase I only started in New York City three days ago, the mayor reminded New Yorkers Thursday. Some of the biggest names in luxury retail along Manhattan's iconic Fifth Avenue delayed their starts for a few days to pull plywood off storefronts hit by looting last week.

Saks, Wempe, Tiffany & Co. and Louis Vuitton reopened for pickup Thursday, joining Cartier and Valentino, which reopened a day earlier. A number of stores within the busy Fifth Avenue Association district, which covers 46th to 61st streets on Fifth and 57th Street from Sixth to Madison avenues, remain shut down, concerned about paying rent while customer volume is low.

"We're in a great place to lead the recover for the city," said Jerome Barth, president of the association. "In a way, being able to start at a slower pace might not be bad, to get all these things right as we get ready for phase II."

But he conceded that in their current financial state, the stores are suffering. "To see it devoid of life and activity was just heartbreaking," he said.

One of New York City's iconic stores, Saks 5th Avenue, as well as other stores have begun providing curbside pickup. Katherine Creag reports.

De Blasio said earlier this week he understood that some stores didn't find Phase I to be the optimal time to reopen. He said many are looking to Phase II, which is when he says he thinks "retail will really come alive in New York City."

Phase II opens up in-person shopping with restrictions like social distancing and facial covering mandates. De Blasio says the city could get there in early July. It also opens up outdoor dining, which hundreds of restaurants did when Long Island took that next step earlier this week.

But there are still some hoping the governor will allow some more measures to be loosened sooner. On Long Island, some gathered on Thursday to urge Cuomo to lift the 150-person cap on graduations — hoping to give students something to cherish after coronavirus took away the end of their senior year, their final sports seasons, trips and prom. Cuomo hasn't shown signs of relenting on that cap, however, saying of the shutdown and the measures: "It's better than death."

Back in the city, as some stores appear hesitant to open shop, others have grown impatient to get back to business — jumping ahead a bit of what is supposed to be a methodical emergence from the shutdown, after some have lost millions due to the shutdown.

At least a dozen customers were seen perusing racks of women’s clothing inside Mini-Max in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood on Wednesday. Shoppers mostly self-policed for social distancing, which wasn’t difficult given the store’s size, but the only restriction applied by owner, Albert Abeal, was that customers must wear masks.

“We just opened. Everybody’s hungry for merchandise,” said Abeal, who has owned the store for about 20 years. He said business this week had essentially returned to normal, although he didn’t expect that to last. “They didn’t buy clothes for so long. It’s going to slow down in a week.”

Mutali Sing, owner of J&M Sneaker, stood at his shop’s door and encouraged customers to call ahead for curbside pickup, but said he’s had trouble enforcing the policy. “Once they see you are open, they think you are open like normal, like you can walk in and do the browsing,” he said.

He’s hardly in a position to turn them away -- not with his landlord demanding he keep paying his $8,000 monthly rent. The city has launched new small business initiatives amid the pandemic to help struggling shop and restaurant owners survive, but for some, the help may come too late.

Eddie Zahoor, owner of Cap & Clothing Sports Inc., is letting a maximum of two customers into his small sports apparel shop, also in Sunset Park. He’s giving away masks to customers if they don’t have them and has a bottle of hand sanitizer next to the front door.

Zahoor had hoped for a rush of shoppers when he opened Monday for the first time since March 20 but said business has been slow. He applied for three government grants but was denied for all of them — something that stays top of mind for him as he considers how to follow government guidelines for reopening.

The cautious return to business is intended to prevent a resurgence of the coronavirus, which has killed at least 22,000 people in the city. While the number of new infections has plunged, the spread has not stopped entirely. Through the end of last week, hundreds of people were continuing to test positive each day.

Cuomo has relied upon individual business owners to enforce the state mandates and reopen under strict adherence to his phased plan, which was developed to conform with federal and state public health guidelines. Reopening by that book will make New York's process run safely, Cuomo says.

"This is not a reckless reopening," the governor said this week. "This is not opinion. This is not politics. We've had the most informed, science-based reopening approach in the country."

With all 10 New York regions in some phase of reopening, Cuomo has shifted his focus to testing and tracing, meticulously monitoring infection rates, targeting viral hotspots and identifying potential clusters before they emerge.

This week, the state launched a new dashboard that tracks the number of tests conducted and the percentage of positive results across the 10 regions on a day-to-day basis. It also breaks down those metrics by county, helping the state hone in on continuing viral hotspots like the 10 recently identified in New York City.

According to that dashboard, 1.7 percent of 23,521 people in New York City tested Wednesday, which reflects the state's latest data, were positive, though the Bronx (2.4 percent) and Brooklyn (1.9 percent) had higher positivity rates compared with the other boroughs. That compares with a 59 percent positivity rate at the peak of the crisis. De Blasio still considers New York City to be in a moderate state of virus transmission with hundreds of new cases each day. He expects it to lower by fall, if New Yorkers continue to be smart and get tested.

De Blasio has rolled out mobile testing trucks in the hardest-hit communities and the state has added nearly a dozen new testing sites in those neighborhoods recently. More than 240 free testing sites are open across the five boroughs.

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

Source: ny.gov

It's too early to tell if the citywide protests over the death of George Floyd, now ongoing for nearly two full weeks, have contributed to an increase in COVID cases. Cuomo has repeatedly urged any protest attendees to take advantage of one of the more than 240 testing sites now available across the five boroughs.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy also urged protest attendees to get tested. He himself did so for the second time this week after attending a rally for justice in his state on Sunday. New Jersey is set to enter its Stage 2 Monday, opening up outdoor dining and in-person retail. One Jersey Shore town has said it will allow limited indoor dining in defiance of the governor's reopening guidelines.

Murphy didn't immediately address that controversy in his Thursday briefing, instead taking a moment to note New Jersey's progress exactly 100 days since its first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus.

"At 100 days, I want to say thank you to the millions of New Jerseyans who understood why we took the actions we did, and who remain understanding of the need for us to remain vigilant," Murphy said. "Because of you, we can enter Stage 2 of our restart and recovery on Monday."

Connecticut, meanwhile, takes its next major steps just before Father's Day weekend.

It's now been 100 days since the first case of the coronavirus was confirmed in the tri-state area. News 4 looks back at the battle against the pandemic and revisits some of the people affected by the crisis. (Written, edited and produced by Linda Gaudino)

All of the reopenings around the tri-state come amid a local fight against COVID-19 that has lasted longer than 100 days. It may seem like a long time, especially to many residents who were or continue to be stuck primarily inside. But it's also a sobering reminder of how little time it has taken to lose tens of thousands of lives. The tri-state area has confirmed nearly 41,000 virus deaths since New York reported its first on March 14. The actual toll is likely much higher.

Nationally, more than 113,000 people have died from COVID-19. The United States topped a 2 million case milestone on Wednesday.

Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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