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Shutdown Extended in NYC, Suburbs as 5 Regions Reopen Friday; NJ Deaths Top 10,000

Gov. Andrew Cuomo lifted "PAUSE" for half of New York's 10 regions as of 12:01 a.m. Friday. Meanwhile, all beaches in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware will be open for Memorial Day weekend

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What to Know

  • More than 40,000 people in the tri-state area have died because of COVID-19, including NYC's probable fatalities. NJ's death toll eclipsed 10,000 on Friday, while NYC's topped 20,000 a day earlier
  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo lifted "PAUSE" for New York's Mohawk Valley, North Country, Southern Tier, Central New York and Finger Lakes regions as of 12:01 a.m. Friday. NYC has met 4 of 7 benchmarks
  • All state beaches in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware can reopen May 22. Separately, NJ will open a limited number of in-person polling places for its July 7 primary, Gov. Phil Murphy said

Starting Friday, for the first time in two months, parts of New York are eligible to reopen for business — a beacon of hope amid the dark tragedy that continues to shroud the virus-ravaged tri-state area and much of the nation. Another positive sign: all state beaches in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut will reopen for Memorial Day weekend, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

These encouraging milestones come in the face of far more grim ones: 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.

Still, the three governors say their states have flattened the curve to a degree that they feel comfortable taking initial, calculated steps in reopening.

Five of 10 New York regions now meet Cuomo's criteria to do so, and the governor signed an executive order lifting their "stay-at-home" directives as of 12:01 a.m. Friday. 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.

"They are the regions that meet the criteria. There's no politics to this judgment, it's all based on the numbers," Cuomo said Friday.

Masks are required for indoor/outdoor construction, as well as for curbside pickup at retail stores. Social distancing mandates apply. In-store pickup is permissible where curbside pickup isn't practical, but advance ordering is required. Patrons and store employees must all wear masks and occupancy is limited to 50 percent of each store's capacity, Cuomo said. Each region's control center is responsible for enforcing business compliance and social distancing. They'll also have daily meetings to review infection and hospitalization rates.

"We expect to see an increase, but that increase has to be monitored and controlled," Cuomo said. "When the rate of transmission hits 1 to 1 you are headed to a bad place."

The governor extended his "PAUSE" order through May 28 for New York City and Long Island, which have respectively met four and five of the metrics required to start reopening. That is the new target date for all "PAUSE" orders including "stay-at-home" to end across the state, including the city. NYC has been struggling to sustain a downward trend in new daily hospital admissions. As of Friday's report, the number climbed by nearly 20 over the prior day, to 78, while the number of ICU patients declined.

The PAUSE extension also applies to three other New York regions -- Capital, Mid-Hudson and Western New York -- that have yet to check all seven boxes as well. Cuomo says they can be "UN-PAUSED" the moment they do, even if it's before May 28. He has also relaxed certain restrictions statewide, allowing gardening and landscaping businesses to resume along with drive-in theaters. Outdoor activities conducive to social distancing, like tennis, are also permitted.

All enforcement mechanisms "shall continue to be in full force" until June 13 unless extended or amended by a future executive order. The emergency disaster declaration that allowed "PAUSE" has also been extended until that time.

The NYPD will continue to enforce Cuomo's ban on gatherings, focusing on groups of more than six adults, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday. Each NYPD precinct has a dedicated car to respond to social distancing complaints. Given crowding concerns, police are limiting access to Central Park's Sheep Meadow, along with Hudson River Park Piers 45 and 46. Nearly 2,300 social distancing ambassadors and supervisors have been deployed.

In a policy reversal, police will no longer take enforcement action against those who fail to wear face coverings absent a serious public danger, the mayor said. Video of a mother's arrest for refusing to do so in the subway system prompted new criticism this week against the NYPD, already under fire for tactics used in some cases. While de Blasio has taken issue with its methods in isolated cases, he says masks and social distancing are proven infection mitigators. Continued enforcement is necessary to push the infection rate down and move closer to reopening.

“We’re going to focus on when it starts to be more than a handful of people. And we’re not going to be having the NYPD enforcing on face coverings," de Blasio explained Friday. "(Police)'s role will be focused on the positives ... we do not want to revive mistakes of the past."

However he did say images like the group of men seen clumped together, not wearing masks outside a homeless shelter in Manhattan or lying on the floors "is not something we are going to tallow. That is clearly not acceptable."

Region by Region Status

Source: New York State; Report as of May 18

Once infections are contained, Cuomo wants each region to ensure it has the mechanisms in place to prevent resurgence. That means keeping nearly a third of hospital and ICU beds available and implementing robust testing and contract tracing infrastructures. It means establishing regional control rooms that can monitor developments and literally act as circuit breakers, immediately pausing reopening if any given region slips on a benchmark at any given time.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is equally as conscious of the need to move meticulously and cautiously. His state now reports more deaths and cases per 100,000 residents than any in the country, yet Murphy says New Jersey is ready to take its next small steps in the reopening process.

The governor made another move Friday, signing an executive order allowing elective surgical and other invasive procedures to resume May 26. He also announced a limited number of in-person polling places would open in each county for the state's July 7 primary, though noted it'll mainly be a vote-by-mail election.

"Every vote will be counted," Murphy vowed Friday. "Our goals are two-fold -- to maximize our democracy while minimizing the risk of illness."

A day earlier, he announced New Jersey's beaches would reopen in time for Memorial Day weekend. Cuomo followed up on that Friday.

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 inhte 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 22,304 virus deaths since reporting its first virus death on March 14, with Cuomo adding another 132 names Friday. 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 100 cases of a new pediatric inflammatory syndrome possibly linked to COVID-19 have been identified in New York, and another 17 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 -- 345,813 in New York (190,000-plus of those in NYC), 143,905 in New Jersey, 35,464 -- though actual infections are likely far more widespread. Nationally, the virus has killed more than 87,000 people and sickened nearly 1.5 million. Deaths worldwide topped 300,000 this week, according to Johns Hopkins.

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