What to Know
- More than 33,000 people in the tri-state have died because of COVID-19, though officials acknowledge the real toll is likely higher; other indicators like infection rate and total hospitalizations continue to slowly decline
- NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order extending his legal authority to push back the current May 15 deadline as part of the "NY ON PAUSE" order
- NJ Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday the state's two major testing sites will now provide testing to asymptomatic residents; the death toll climbed to 8,952, including a 4-year-old child, the state's youngest COVID victim
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order this week extending his legal authority to push back the state's May 15 "NY ON PAUSE" deadline but stopped short of moving the date, according to his top deputy Melissa DeRosa.
The directive that closed non-essential businesses in March is set to expire Friday unless delayed by Gov. Cuomo. Regions of the state that meet the governor's key benchmarks in restricting the spread of the virus will be allowed to start the reopening process by May 15; the first phase includes businesses in construction, manufacturing and retail with curb-side pickup.
Cuomo's spokesperson says he "gave less than accurate information" when he told NBC New York on Saturday the new order extended the "PAUSE" deadline from May 15 to June 7.
The governor had said for weeks he expected to allow his shutdown directive to expire after May 15 in some lesser-impacted parts of the state while extending it in others. In an interview on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" Thursday night, he indicated some regions would start to reopen "in about a week," but didn't offer any additional detail in his daily briefing the next day.
"When we get to May 15, I'll lay out the numbers and we'll say, 'This is what the numbers say,'" Cuomo said when asked about the directive Friday. "There's no doubt that this is a terrible period, but we have to get through it. If we make a mistake and we act too quickly the situation is only going to get worse and it's only going to get longer."
It seems likely that some northern and western parts of the state are ready to reopen, but there are still 21 New York zip codes whose COVID-19 numbers are still too high where the bulk of cases are located (and are disproportionately impacting communities of color).
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
"Upstate New York is dramatically different. We will talk about construction and manufacturing reopening upstate. Downstate I don't see those numbers dramatically enough," Cuomo said.
New York State reported 572 new hospitalizations on Saturday, the lowest number since mid-March, a sign of the state's progress since flattening the curve. Total hospitalizations and intubations are steadily but slowly declining.
Despite the good news, Cuomo said the addition of 226 COVID-related deaths highlighted the state's "infuriatingly constant" death toll. Saturday's number of deaths reflected an average from the previous five days and matched the number reported back on May 3.
As of Saturday, New York state had confirmed 21,271 virus deaths, with Cuomo adding another 226 to the toll. New York City reports another 5,327 probable COVID-19 fatalities; those combined with the state's 14,505 confirmed deaths in the five boroughs bring the city's toll to nearly 20,000.
Testing Expands in Minority Communities
Gov. Cuomo launched a new tactic to expand COVID-19 testing in areas most impacted by the novel coronavirus by partnering with churches in hard-hit communities.
The governor announced Saturday that Northwell Health will facilitate testing in 24 churches in predominately minority communities in downstate New York.
“When you put the church based sites together with the drive-thru sites, together with the walk-in testing sites, and our sites at public housing, the coverage will be extensive,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo said the decision to expand community testing in minority communities came after the state’s antibody testing showed that 20 of the 21 zip codes with the most new COVID-19 hospitalizations have greater than average black and/or Latino populations.
“We saw the same thing in Hurricane Katrina. Those people who are on rooftops were not the wealthy white part of the community. They were predominately minority, they were predominantly low-income, those rooftops very often were public housing. So, this has been the pattern,” Cuomo said. “We get it, but we have to break the cycle.”
Northwell Health and Cuomo’s office have partnered with 24 churches, 11 of which will open the week of May 12 while the remainder set for the week after.
In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy said two sites will open shortly to collect blood plasma to provide potentially life-saving treatment to those with the disease. The governor said plasma donations will begin on Monday in Newark at the University Hospital and in Fairfield at the Red Cross blood center.
People who have recovered from COVID-19 can donate blood plasma to help those still sick, Murphy said. The plasma holds antibodies that may help seriously ill patients fight COVID-19.
New Jersey's toll hit 9,116 Saturday. Overall, the Garden State is seeing improvement on core metrics like hospitalization and infection rates. Murphy reopened state parks and golf courses last weekend and says he saw overwhelming compliance with social distancing and face-covering protocol.
The numbers “are absolutely going in the right direction,” Murphy said at a news conference, and must continue that trend as a big decision looms: when, and how, to reopen beaches as summer approaches. He said the reopening of beaches would proceed like the reopening of parks in many respects, adding that he expected to give guidance on early steps by next week.
That means the state probably will limit parking and seek to enforce social distancing and other measures, though Murphy said it would be difficult to enforce masks on the beach.
Expanded access to testing is key to one of Murphy's principles for getting New Jersey on the road to recovery. On Friday, he announced the state's testing sites at Bergen Community College and PNC Banks Art Center will start providing tests to asymptomatic residents.
While New York and New Jersey concentrate on bringing numbers further down, Connecticut has its eyes set toward a modified reopening in the coming weeks. While social distancing rules like requiring face masks in public will still be in place, some will be altered slightly. Gatherings will be allowed, but limited to five people. And residents over 65 are still encouraged to stay home.
As for the soft-reopening of the state, restaurants can serve diners as long as they have outdoor areas and operate at 50 percent capacity or less; bars will remain closed. Menus will be disposable, digital or written on a board. Offices, retail stores and hair salons will also reopen with strict limits on staffing, spacing and customers.
Infections have been confirmed in more than 503,000 people locally -- 333,122 in New York, 137,085 in New Jersey and 32,984 in Connecticut, though experts acknowledge the virus is likely far more widespread. New York City has more than 183,000 confirmed cases, but early antibody testing suggests up to 2.1 million may have been infected at some point.
Nationally, nearly 1.3 million people have been diagnosed with COVID-19. More than 78,000 have died.