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Cuomo Talks Reopening Gyms as Schools Fate Looms; NYC Launches More COVID Checkpoints

Over the last seven days, one person has died every 80 seconds from COVID in America. And the pace at which those 7,486 people died appears to be accelerating, NBC News reports

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What to Know

  • Mayor Bill de Blasio says NYC has started to implement checkpoints to help enforce the state's 14-day quarantine order for hotspot travelers; a soft launch Wednesday involved 47 stops, but numbers will rise
  • Nationally, the U.S. death toll has topped 157,000 and diagnosed COVID cases are approaching 5 million, by NBC News estimates; latest virus projections expect up to 7,500 deaths each week for the next 4 weeks
  • A growing number of major school districts, including Chicago, are now opting to start the school year fully remotely; Cuomo is expected to make a region-by-region decision on New York schools this week

Five months after gyms were shut down in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo still has no timeline for when he might allow them to reopen in the state's 10 regions, citing glaring evidence from other states about heightened risk.

Asked on a conference call with reporters Thursday when he might lift the restrictions on health clubs, Cuomo pointed to the record COVID surges sweeping more than half of America and said simply "now is not the time."

"We know gyms are highly problematic from the other states. They opened them and they had to close them," Cuomo said. "We're here, poised delicately on this island of New York state with this sea of spread all around us so we know we have this storm and we have to be very very careful."

"It almost defies common sense that we could be maintaining our low numbers in the midst of what's going on," he added. "We're precariously perched."

State officials say they've been looking at various plans from gyms around the state and are reviewing them to see if there's an opportunity to reduce risk with limited activity. In the meantime, they remain closed, both in New York and in neighboring New Jersey, which also has yet to resume indoor dining.

New York City also shelved indoor dining indefinitely shortly before it was set to resume last month. Asked this week when he thought that, along with gyms, might return to the five boroughs, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he didn't anticipate it happening until after Labor Day. He also cited the alarming national climate, which compounds the issue of slipping compliance at home.

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

NYC Starts COVID-19 Checkpoints to Enforce Cuomo Quarantine Order

That national climate spurred de Blasio this week to implement COVID-19 checkpoints at key entries across the city to help enforce Cuomo's travel order. Under that travel order, travelers from viral hotspots -- currently 34 states and Puerto Rico -- must self-isolate for 14 days before entering the tri-state area.

They're also supposed to submit health forms with contact information, but travelers who come via other means than airports tend to slip through the cracks. Mayor de Blasio announced the new plan, which puts checkpoints at sites like Penn Station, Port Authority, major bridges and the two big tunnels, to help that.

The city sheriff's office initiated a small scale operation at the Goethals Bridge Wednesday as a test. It stopped 47 vehicles in a three-hour span and officials say drivers were cooperative. The city expects a larger number of daily stops soon.

Fuller teams began stopping travelers arriving in the city by train Thursday, requiring they complete a state Department of Health traveler form and warning they could face civil fines as high as $10,000 for failing to quarantine. The random checks are similar to an effort already in place at airports and includes offers of free food delivery and in some cases even hotel stays for people who must quarantine.

Welcome to New York: now please fill out this quarantine form. Gilma Avalos reports on new checkpoints to make sure everyone complies with the state's quarantine orders.

While the mayor says he doesn't want to penalize people, he wants to "send a message" that the quarantine order is "serious." He doesn't want the latest COVID scourage afflicting most of the rest of the country to trigger a new surge at home. To that end, the mayor extended NYC's state of emergency over the coronavirus for another 30 days on Thursday.

Authorities said this week a fifth of all new coronavirus cases in New York City have come from travelers entering the city from other states.

Essentially, people will be stopped randomly and asked if they have spent at least 24 hours in one of the dozens of restricted localities in the last 14 days. If the answer is yes, they'll have to submit the contact information form. That applies both to New Yorkers returning home from viral hotspots and to people just passing through New York City on their way somewhere else. The entire process should just take a few minutes and no major traffic impacts are expected.

De Blasio didn't answer a direct question Thursday about whether the city planned to try to track people using cellphones or some other electronic means to ensure compliance with quarantine rules. He doubled down on the importance of the message itself, then said, "we can follow up with people." It wasn't clear how.

Despite the specter of fines, the checkpoints are more educational than punitive, and officials acknowledged the effort relies on voluntary compliance.

“We’re not going to be in everyone’s apartment monitoring them,” de Blasio said. “Even if we’re not going to be able to reach every single person with a checkpoint, I think it’s going to help really get the message across."

It wasn't immediately clear how Cuomo felt about the mayor's plan. While he opposed a similar measure Rhode Island tried to introduce against New York back in March, he has asked local governments repeatedly to step up enforcement of local business compliance as well as the quarantine order.

That's with good reason. The list of quarantine states has grown each week since the travel restriction was announced in late June, reflecting the heightened urgency around the national COVID climate. Over the last seven days, one person has died every 80 seconds from COVID in America. And the pace at which those 7,486 people died appears to be accelerating, NBC News reports.

The national death toll to date has topped 159,000, by NBC News estimates. The latest prediction from an ensemble virus forecast model anticipates more than 180,000 total deaths in the U.S. by the end of August, with up to 7,500 new fatalities each week for the next four weeks.

Despite the ominous statistics in the country, many countries around the globe find themselves in better positions than a few months ago, and the far lower rates of infection have allowed them to reopen. To that end, the State Department on Thursday lifted the "Do Not Travel" advisory it put in place back in March for Americans seeking to venture internationally. It now has country-specific conditions — although those may be moot anyways, as many countries aren't allowing travel from the U.S. at this time due to COVID levels here.

New York Schools Decision Looms

A growing number of major school districts, including Chicago, have opted to start the school year fully remotely amid the national concerns. The plan New York City, home to the largest public school district in the nation with more than 1.1 million students, submitted to the state calls for no more than three days of in-person learning for most students and has strict protocol on school shutdowns.

If two students in different classrooms test positive for COVID, for example, the entire school must be shut down for 14 days. New York City says it won't open schools if its rolling seven-day positivity rate hits 3 percent. Cuomo has a higher threshold for the state (5 percent). The actual numbers for both city and state are well within those parameters, though infection resurgence can trigger re-closing.

New York state and city teachers' unions want stricter rules from the state -- like one new confirmed COVID case triggering an immediate school closure. Ultimately, it's Cuomo's call. He has pledged to make an overarching decision on regional school reopenings this week, though stresses the true decision-makers will be parents and teachers in each district. If they don't feel comfortable with the plan, they won't show up -- and right now, he says many have significant doubts.

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