New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state would resume elective surgeries in two counties and by June 1 race tracks could reopen without fans. The two measures mark another step in the state's reopening effort one day after half of New York's 10 regions designated by the governor were allowed to begin Phase 1 of his reopening plan.
The Central New York, Mohawk Valley, North Country, Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions hit all seven benchmarks required to enter Phase I and were allowed to have some more businesses reopen, with caution, Cuomo said.
Cuomo said Saturday horse racing tracks, 11 in total including Aqueduct Racetrack and Belmont Park, would join Watkins Glen International reopening next month without fans present for their racing events. He also said elective surgeries and ambulatory care would resume in 49 of New York's 62 counties, including Saturday's addition of Westchester and Suffolk, two counties hit hard by the pandemic.
“There was a period where hospitals were dealing basically with COVID patients,” he said. “We are past that period. If you need medical attention, if you need a medical procedure, you should get it.”
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy followed Cuomo's announcement with reopening news of his own, declaring fishing and chartered boats could resume operations Sunday at 6 a.m.
Murphy said those companies will be required to adhere to social distancing and sanitation guidelines, and must maintain detailed customer logs in case people come into contact with an individual who has coronavirus and contact tracing is subsequently needed.
Murphy insists reopening efforts in the Garden State move forward with the support of data. As he reported Saturday, hospitalizations, patients in intensive care units, and ventilator use is down across New Jersey.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
These steps toward returning workforces and activities back to pre-pandemic operations come in the face of grim milestones: New Jersey topped 10,000 deaths Friday, and then some (10,138) while New York City eclipsed 20,000, including its probable fatalities, a day earlier. At the same time, the number of tri-state lives lost rose to more than 40,000 -- accounting for almost half of U.S. deaths and about one of every eight worldwide.
Governors Cuomo and Murphy called on the U.S. Senate to approve the House's latest coronavirus relief bill passed late Friday evening. The bill includes funding to cover rent payments and utility bills, “hazard pay" for essential workers, and grants to thousands of municipal governments grappling with sagging revenues.
"[The federal government] funded businesses, they funded millionaires, they funded corporations. Who did they forget? They forgot the police, the firefighters, the working Americans," Cuomo said.
"Don't give corporations money so they can then lay off workers in their restructuring to get lean," Cuomo added. "Then the American taxpayer is going to have to pay for the people who are laid off. I'm afraid if this isn't raised sooner rather than later that's exactly what these corporations are going to do."
Virus Uncertainty Means No Summer as Usual -- But Tri-State Beaches Will Open
Cuomo announced all state beaches in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware would reopen May 22, part of the coordinated multi-state effort Murphy had described earlier in the week.
The reopenings come with a number of restrictions. Should people not adhere to the rules, the beaches will shut down again, Cuomo warned.
City, town and county beaches can also reopen May 22, at their local governments' discretion. Governments that plan to permit reopening must notify the states two days before the start date. New York City won't be among those.
De Blasio says the city isn't yet ready to allow usual activities like barbecues and concerts in the parks -- or to open public beaches and pools.
New York City beaches will remain closed for at least the near future, although as of Friday there was no official word on how they were going to keep people off the sand, as none have been roped or blocked off (and scores of people were seen on spending time at places like Orchard Beach in the Bronx on Friday)
The mayor said the beaches were remaining closed mostly due to the means in which people get there: public transportation, where social distancing is impossible. MTA Chairman Pat Foye said transit agencies are asking the CDC to revise its guidelines on buses and subways because "the six-foot requirement doesn't work — not for customers, not for employers."
He outlined initial steps Friday to protect the most vulnerable, including a $55 million investment to purchase more than 74,000 air conditions for low-income seniors, 22,000 of which will go to NYCHA residents. Installations begin next week. Four hundred fifty thousand New Yorkers will receive subsidies on their utility bills, which are typically up to 30 percent higher in summer.
The city is identifying cooling centers in high-risk communities; those sites will operate under social distancing and PPE guidelines. More outdoor cooling and hydration, like misting "oases" in park seating areas, spray showers for kids and hydrant openings, are also planned.
"The beaches and the pools are not in the cards right now. What we can guarantee is the heat is coming no matter what," de Blasio said, noting last year was the city's 10th hottest July on record. "We understand lives are on the line."
However one lawmaker said that the city keeping beaches closed won't protect anyone — because city residents will just head to other state beaches that are open. State Sen. Todd Kaminsky said beaches on Long Island will get filled with people from NYC, and that the limits on how many are allowed at each beach will therefore hurt as well.
"Fifty percent capacity won't work. You're gonna have to leave at 5 in the morning to wait in line to go to the beach," Kaminsky said.
New York can't afford to lose any more. The state has confirmed 22,478 virus deaths since reporting its first virus death on March 14, with Cuomo adding another 157 names Saturday. More than 15,000 of those fatalities are in New York City. The city's health department reports another 5,054 probable virus deaths, bringing its toll above 20,000. Even that may not fully capture the scope of the tragedy.
To some degree, the mystery of this highly adaptable virus has clouded the beginning of the path forward. Experts urge states to proceed with caution. Some Democratic senators called Thursday for Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont to delay his partial reopening plan, taking issue with some of the sectors slated to resume first. There's just so much uncertainty around this coronavirus.
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 120 cases of a new pediatric inflammatory syndrome possibly linked to COVID-19 have been identified in New York, and another 7 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.
The tri-state area has confirmed well over a half-million COVID-19 cases to date -- 348,232 in New York (190,000-plus of those in NYC), 145,089 in New Jersey, 36,703 in Connecticut -- though actual infections are likely far more widespread. Nationally, the virus has killed more than 88,000 people and sickened nearly 1.5 million. Deaths worldwide topped 300,000 this week, according to Johns Hopkins.