MANHATTAN (CN) — Some regions of New York state can begin their reopening process as early as Friday morning after nearly two months in lockdown through what has been a devastating wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The North County, Finger Lakes, Southern Tier and Mohawk Valley regions have met all seven data-driven metrics required by the state to enter Phase 1 of the regional reopening plan when the order “New York on pause” expires on May 15.
“The big responsibility is now going to fall to local government to manage the situation,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said at his press conference Thursday afternoon, emphasizing a need to focus on the data.
“My advice to local governments are, in terms of priority: Daily monitoring of numbers, daily monitoring of numbers, and daily monitoring of numbers,” he continued. “Know the facts, know what you’re dealing with … make sure you monitor it every morning.”
Statewide as of Thursday, the virus had sickened 343,051 and killed 22,170, according to state numbers.
Phase 1 of reopening encompasses the industries construction, agriculture, retail, manufacturing and wholesale trade, according to state guidelines.
“Phased reopening does not mean the problem has gone away. It means we have controlled the problem because of what we did, and because of our individual responsibility and individual actions. And that has to be maintained,” Cuomo said Thursday, urging local governments to remain diligent.
“The virus has been ahead of us every step of the way,” Cuomo said. Later, to illustrate his point that caution is key, he noted that he and other leaders, repeating what they heard from top health experts, had previously emphasized children were not at risk for the virus. Now New York state has more than 100 cases of children sickened with mysterious symptoms thought to be related to Covid-19.
Asked by a reporter about the social, rather than business, aspect of reopening — whether people can see friends or family they don’t live with, for example — Cuomo said it’s not up to the government to dictate people’s decisions about their personal lives.
“This is your relationship, it’s your interaction, it’s your family, it’s your friend,” Cuomo said. “You know, we have guidelines, we have best practices, we can tell you what we think is smart. But that’s up to individuals … inform yourself. I suggest caution again, because this virus has only gotten worse … But there’s no law or regulation that tells you how to interact with your personal relationships — that’s up to you.”
John Torpey, a sociologist and professor at the City University of New York, didn’t seem surprised by Cuomo’s instructions — or lack thereof — for social interaction.
“I think there is this kind of sense that public officials have in the United States that you can’t demand that people do things or not,” Torpey said in a phone interview Thursday.
“Cuomo has said repeatedly, ‘It’s not me doing this, it’s you’re doing this.’ On some level, you know, I guess that’s right. People have to figure out how to do this on their own. The social distancing, 6 feet, you know, people can take that more or less seriously.”
Without a vaccine, added Torpey, decision-making will revolve primarily around living with the virus.
“I think this is where everything is going to go — you know, how to accommodate this virus, which is not going anywhere,” Torpey said. “They’ve got to figure out some way to accommodate the presence of the virus.”
Harder-hit areas of the state, such as New York City and its suburbs, are not likely to begin reopening for some time.
Meanwhile in Manhattan Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city is expanding its criteria for testing. Previously only the seriously ill or those with vulnerabilities were tested, due to a shortage.
Now, the city urges residents to seek testing if they have symptoms, regardless of their age; if they have come in close contact with a confirmed Covid-19 patient; or if they work in a congregate residential setting such as a nursing home or homeless shelter.
“The more we know, the more we’re able to reach people” in the city’s testing and tracing initiative, de Blasio said.
De Blasio also said he wants “the full details” on an alleged dispute between New York City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot and the New York City Police Department, which he said concerns him.
According to sources in The New York Post, which broke the story, Dr. Barbot refused the NYPD’s request for 500,000 surgical masks and told a police official she didn’t give “two rats’ asses about your cops.”
The New York Daily News, providing context, said the incident occurred in mid-March when cops showed up at a warehouse in another state run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and demanded the medical-grade N95 masks without warning.
Department of Health workers at the warehouse called Barbot, the News reported, at which point she allegedly had the “heated exchange” with NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan.
Barbot reportedly said she could give the NYPD 50,000 masks, saying she needed them for “others,” the Post reported. Making sure New York City health care workers have proper protective equipment to care for sick patients was and remains a top priority for the city during the pandemic.
Police unions have responded furiously, with the Sergeants Benevolent Association calling Barbot a “bitch” on Twitter.
Barbot was absent from Thursday’s press briefing.
It’s not the first report of New York political drama during Covid-19. De Blasio and Cuomo have engaged in an extended public power struggle, and de Blasio recently wrested control of the city’s new test-and-trace operation from the Health Department and handed it to the city’s public hospital system. He and his health department have been at odds since early in the pandemic over disagreements about school closures and public messaging.
Meanwhile, 186,293 New York City residents have fallen ill with Covid-19 and at least 20,406 have died.