Closure Extended in New York City and Suburbs; 5 regions of the state enter the first phase of reopening on Friday

What you should know

  • More than 40,000 people in the tri-state area have died from COVID-19, including probable deaths from New York; NJ’s death toll would surpass 10,000 on Friday, while NYC surpassed 20,000
  • New York’s Mohawk Valley, North Country, Southern Tier, Central New York and Finger Lakes regions may begin to reopen when the “PAUSE” order expires at 11:59 pm on Friday. New York and Long Island have met 4 out of 7 benchmarks
  • New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy says the Jersey Shore will be open in time for Memorial Day weekend with restrictions.

NEW YORK – Beginning Friday, for the first time in two months, parts of New York are eligible to reopen their businesses, a ray of light and hope amid the tragedy that continues to cover the tri-state area devastated by the coronavirus pandemic and much of the nation. Another positive sign: New Jersey’s beaches will reopen for Memorial Day weekend.

These encouraging scopes face other, much grimmer challenges: New Jersey is poised to surpass 10,000 deaths on Friday, while New York City dwarfed 20,000, including its possible deaths, a day earlier.

At the same time, the number of lives lost in the metropolitan area rose to more than 40,000, accounting for nearly half of all deaths in the United States, and about one in eight worldwide.

Still, all three governors say their states have flattened the curve to the point where they are comfortable taking the initial, calculated steps in reopening.

Five of New York’s 10 regions now meet Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s criteria to do so, and the governor signed an executive order lifting his “stay home” directives as of 12:01 am Friday. The Central New York, Mohawk Valley, North Country, Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions have reached the seven benchmarks required to enter Phase I and can do so at any time, with caution, Cuomo said.

“You open a business tomorrow with 50 employees and one is sick, you can infect 30 in an afternoon,” Cuomo said. “People will run out and say hallelujah, (that) doesn’t mean the problem is gone.”

The governor extended his “PAUSE” order until May 28 for New York City and Long Island, which have met just four of the required metrics to begin reopening. The extension applies to the other three regions: Capital, Mid-Hudson, and Western New York, which have yet to check all seven boxes. Cuomo says they can be “NON-PAUSE” by the time they do.

It has also relaxed certain statewide restrictions, allowing landscaping businesses to resume along with drive-ins. Outdoor activities that lead to social distancing, such as tennis, are also allowed.

All enforcement mechanisms “will remain in effect” until June 13, unless they are extended or modified by a future executive order.

State of Each Region in New York

Once the infections are contained, Cuomo wants each region to make sure it has the mechanisms to prevent a resurgence. That means keeping nearly a third of hospital and intensive care beds available and implementing robust evidence and contract tracking infrastructures. It means setting up regional control rooms that can monitor developments and literally act as circuit breakers, immediately pausing reopening if any region slips into a landmark at any given time.

That’s the worst case, Cuomo says. But given the spikes in infection other countries have seen, and in US states that opened too early, it’s an outlet you have to make available. When asked Thursday about the reopening of houses of worship, Cuomo said he would get updated guidance on that when the state changes its directive banning large gatherings. He did not offer a fixed time.

“Follow the data. Follow the science. Follow the metrics. This is how New York reopens,” Cuomo said.

The governor also said the state was working on a database to provide people with detailed information daily about the condition in their counties and the reopening status. Its goal is to arm New Yorkers with the more concrete and comprehensive local data they need to safely live their daily lives.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy is equally aware of the need to move meticulously and cautiously. His state now reports more deaths and cases per 100,000 residents than any other country, but Murphy says New Jersey is ready to take its next small steps, given its overall success in flattening the curve.

A day after easing restrictions on construction and non-essential retail stores and drive-ins, Murphy announced Thursday that all public and private beaches in the state, including along the Jersey shore, will reopen on May 22, just in time for Memorial Day weekend. Murphy said the move was coordinated with neighbors in the state in New York, Connecticut and Delaware. Restrooms in state and county parks will also reopen, provided they undergo frequent and proper cleaning.

“We want everyone to have fun, but we want everyone to be safe,” Murphy said Thursday. “The Shore (the beach) is central to our Jersey identity and we want to make sure families can safely enjoy it this summer.”

To that end, he announced a series of restrictions that will come when the state’s beaches reopen later this month. Murphy said the state is also reviewing guidance on swimming pools and charter fishing programs.

The measures issued by Murphy for the reopening of beaches in New Jersey.

Mayor de Blasio also pledged to share New York City’s plans for the summer. Nobody expects it to be a usual one.

New York State has confirmed 22,170 virus deaths since reporting its first virus death on March 4. Almost 15,000 of those deaths are in New York City. The city’s health department reports another 5,057 probable deaths from the virus, bringing its number to more than 20,000. Even that may not fully encompass the scope of the tragedy.

To some extent, the mystery of this highly adaptable virus has clouded the beginning of the way forward. Experts urge states to proceed with caution.

Asymptomatic people can transmit it. Immunity to antibodies is not proven. The virus cannot largely avoid children, as previously believed. Instead, it can manifest itself in a much more discreet and life-threatening way. More than 100 cases of a new pediatric inflammatory syndrome possibly related to COVID-19 have been identified in New York, and another 17 in New Jersey. Most cases involve children under the age of 9, and the vast majority end up in the ICU; at least three children have died, two more deaths are under investigation.

The tri-state area has confirmed more than half a million COVID-19 cases to date, 343,051 in New York, 142,704 in New Jersey, 35,464, although actual infections are likely much more widespread. Nationwide, the virus killed nearly 87,000 people and sickened more than 1.4 million. Deaths worldwide surpassed 300,000 this week, according to Johns Hopkins.

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