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4th NY Region Meets Criteria to Reopen When ‘PAUSE’ Lifts Friday; NJ Relaxes Restrictions

Four New York regions meet the criteria to begin reopening on Friday. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order allowing nonessential construction, drive-ins and drive-thrus and curbside retail store pickup to resume

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What to Know

  • Nearly 35,000 people in the tri-state area have died because of COVID-19, though officials admit the real toll is likely higher; a new composite projection model predicts the virus could kill up to 14,000 more by June 6
  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's "PAUSE" order expires Friday; four regions -- Mohawk Valley, North Country, Southern Tier and Finger Lakes -- meet his criteria to begin reopening. NYC appears the furthest region away
  • New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order Wednesday allowing retail stores to reopen for curbside pickup next week. Nonessential construction and drive-ins and drive-thrus can also resume

With two days left before Gov. Andrew Cuomo's "PAUSE" order lifts in New York, and two days before New Jersey's shutdown order is set to expire, people are beginning to see what the start of the "new normal" will look like -- and tentatively imagining what it may mean for their daily lives.

They're also wary, conscious of the acute warning Dr. Anthony Fauci delivered to Capitol Hill this week: States that open too aggressively, without meeting proper benchmarks, may cause "suffering and death" that could otherwise be avoided. Not only do they risk losing their own people, they risk triggering an outbreak that could spiral out of control -- and spin elsewhere.

Painfully aware of the sacrifice it has taken to emerge on the other side of the crisis' apex, and equally are of the pandemic's catastrophic costs, tri-state governors have unveiled clearly defined, data-driven plans to get their states back on track. They're established new regionally coordinated programs that tap their collective power to best protect them going forward.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy made a critical move toward reopening on Wednesday, signing an executive order to allow nonessential construction and drive-thru and drive-in events to resume under social distancing guidelines. Non-essential retail stores will be able to open for curbside pickup only as of 6 a.m. Monday. Customers will not be permitted inside stores.

"Over the coming days we will be able to take more steps," Murphy said, adding elective surgery facilities may be allowed to reopen soon. "We're moving slowly and deliberately because any misstep risks further outbreaks. The success we've had flattening the curve gives us confidence that we'll be able to announce the end of more restrictions in the days and weeks ahead so stay tuned."

Murphy later told Anderson Cooper during an interview that a plan regarding the summer along the Jersey Shore would be coming on Thursday.

In New York, another region has met Cuomo's criteria for beginning the reopening process on Friday, bringing the number of eligible regions to four as of Wednesday. Of the state's 10 regions, Mohawk Valley, the North Country, Southern Tier and the Finger Lakes meet all seven metrics required to enter Phase I — meaning places like Binghamton and Watertown would be allowed to reopen Saturday (the executive order expires at 11:59 p.m. Friday, the governor's office clarified). Central New York checks six of the seven boxes and could hit the last benchmark soon.

The Capital Region had been on the same standing but saw a setback on hospitalizations in the last 48 hours and lost that metric -- a sign of how vulnerable regions are to even minor setbacks at any given time. It remains the next closest region to reopening. New York City, meeting four of the seven benchmarks as of Wednesday, appears to be the furthest away at this point.

"Our decisions are based on science. Watch the measures. Watch the numbers," Cuomo said Wednesday, as he announced elective surgeries could resume in 12 more counties. "But the rate of transmission is based on the actions of all of us. You tell me what New Yorkers do today, and I'll tell you what the transmission rate will be tomorrow."

Region by Region Status

Source: New York State; Report as of May 18

NYC on Brink of Another Grim Milestone as Tragic Scope of Pandemic Weighs

With the clock ticking on states' shutdown orders, people are cautiously allowing themselves to think about a post-crisis world. They're remembering their summers on beaches, the smiling family photos in pools, the happy hour grins with co-workers and friends splattered on social media.

At the same time, other, far more nightmarish images have been seared in our collective minds over the last two months: Makeshift morgues erected outside hospitals. Refrigerated U-Haul trucks stationed at funeral homes. Nurses' faces imprinted with mask bands long after they take them off. A last look at loved ones through a virtual lens, a stranger holding their hands until they pass away. Across the tri-state area, flags have been ordered flown at half-staff indefinitely -- a somber tribute to the lives the virus has taken and the ones it will take.

In the last two months, New York state has confirmed 22,001 virus deaths, with Cuomo adding another 166 names Wednesday. The state has averaged roughly 358 deaths a day since reporting its first on March 14, though the daily tolls this week have fallen below 200. New York City reports another 5,083 probable virus deaths on top of the 14,881 confirmed by the state; combined, those tallies bring the city's tragic toll to 19,964. It could top 20,000 in the next 48 hours.

Even that may not fully capture the scope of the pandemic's tragedy in New York City. A new CDC reports finds 5,293 additional "excess" New York City fatalities not categorized as confirmed or probable COVID-19, but still possibly attributable to it in some way.

As part of the measures to potentially fight further spread, Mayor Bill de Blasio turned over the responsibility on contract tracing to Health and Hospitals, rather than the city's Department of Health — a decision that was not welcome to some, including former NYC Health Commissioner and CDC Chairman Dr. Tom Frieden, who called it a "mistake" that will only hinder the effort.

"The Health Department has decades of experience with this. It has contacts with every lab, every facility in New York City. It has deep and wide experience. It involves many different parts of the Health Department," Frieden said. "And doing this, moving the function to the hospitals corporation, takes something that was already going to be very, very hard and makes it even harder."

The agency's report highlights the jarring sense of uncertainty that has millions of New Yorkers as fearful as they are eager to resume more normal daily lives. This virus has proven mysteriously adaptable, stumping even the globe's top scientists and health experts. To some degree, Cuomo says that uncertainty has slowed progress. There's so much we don't know, he says.

Asymptomatic people can transmit it. Antibody immunity is not proven. The virus may not largely spare children, as was previously believed. Instead, it may manifest in a far more inconspicuous and potentially deadly way. More than 100 cases of a new pediatric inflammatory syndrome possibly linked to COVID-19 have been identified in New York, and another 18 in New Jersey. Most of the cases involve children younger than 9, and the vast majority are ending up in the ICU; at least three kids have died, two more deaths are under investigation.

For months, New York has been America's hardest-hit state, losing one person every few minutes to the virus. Murphy says sobering trends indicate his state may now be the most impacted, reporting more new deaths and cases per 100,000 residents than anywhere in the country. New Jersey has lost 9,702 people to the virus, more than 5,000 of its fatalities coming from long-term care facilities. Connecticut's toll stands at 3,125 as of last report.

The Uncertainty Problem: How Many Are Really Infected?

Simon Property Group, the nation's biggest mall owner, says it plans to reopen half of its national retail outlets by June. Nearly a dozen in the tri-state area, mainly New York, could see limited reopenings in the coming weeks. It's one thing to reopen. Getting people to walk in the door in these uncertain times is another challenge entirely.

More than a half-million infections have been confirmed in the tri-state area, though the virus has likely sickened far more who never were tested. New York state has reported 340,661 virus cases to date. New Jersey and Connecticut respectively had 141,560 and 34,855 cases as of their governors' last reports.

New York City alone has reported nearly 190,000 cases. But with nearly 1 in 5 New York City residents testing positive for virus antibodies in a limited state survey, the actual number infected at some point likely topped 1.6 million -- at least. First responders and healthcare staff have tested for antibodies at a lower rate than the general public, proof that personal protective equipment works.

Nationally, the virus has killed more than 83,000 people and infected nearly 1.4 million. How many lives could it ultimately claim?

Virus projection models abound -- and are as variant as they are plentiful. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have developed a composite model of sorts that incorporates 36 different models from 20 teams. That model, called the COVID-19 forecast hub, projects New York will ultimately lose 31,740 to the virus by June 6.

New Jersey could see up to 12,420 total fatalities by that time, while Connecticut could lose 4,212. With the tri-state toll now on the verge of 35,000, the forecast hub projects the three states could see nearly 14,000 more deaths over the next four weeks alone.

The latest projections, published Tuesday, suggest the U.S. death toll will ultimately reach 112,647 by June 6, with a 10 percent chance the toll could top 123,000 and a 10 percent chance it could fall below 104,167.

“The ensemble model is now 85-90% certain that we will reach 100,000 deaths in the U.S. by May 30. This represents a slight increase and tightening in certainty compared with what the forecast said last week," the project's leader, Nicholas Reich, director of the UMass Influenza Forecasting Center of Excellence and associate professor of biostatistics and epidemiology in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, said in a statement.

“We continue to see increasing consensus among the models, which are showing similar upward trends, but there is still quite a bit of uncertainty about what will happen four weeks from now," Reich added. "Among seven models, the spread of best-guess predictions for deaths in the U.S. by early June ranges from around 103,000 to 120,000. This range covers 17,000 deaths, which is still sometimes more than the number of people who die in a flu season. Two weeks ago, the spread between models was almost twice as high, around 35,000.”

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