Albany – At his daily press conference, Governor Andrew Cuomo began to sketch a vision for what he calls the “new normal” – the way New York will look as it reopens in a pandemic. And the first step is a call for everyone in the state to wear masks when they're in public and can't maintain social distancing.
The governor said that, at least to start, there will be no civil penalty, but he called on local government to enforce the rule. He said any kind of fabric covering for the nose and mouth is acceptable, and the rule won't go into effect for three days. When asked to describe its suggested use, the governor said people should simply have the mask around their necks when they're outside, and cover up if they find they can't maintain a six foot distance from others.
“Our success here has been the very high compliance rate with a very aggressive response,” he said, referring to what amounted to a total shutdown of the state.
“New Yorkers are staying inside because they say “it makes sense to me.” I haven't given anyone a ticket for non-compliance with that,” he continued. “Stopping the spread is everything. How do you not wear a mask when you're near someone?”
The three day average of hospitalizations and intubations is continuing to decline statewide, though the governor said more than 18,000 people are still hospitalized and there were 2,253 new admissions for COVID-19 since yesterday.
“We are not out of the woods,” he said. “We are still in the woods. But the great news is we can control the spread.”
Cuomo said 752 people have died from the virus since yesterday, 45 of them in nursing homes. But he said new guidelines from the CDC mean he can't accurately report total deaths until getting more information from local public health officials.
The final phase, the time when the governor said he can say 'this is over,” is when a vaccine is readily available. That, he said is 12 to 18 months away.
Meanwhile, describing what he's calling a “bridge to tomorrow,” Cuomo indicated that there would be a phased re-opening. He said there would be a business by business analysis of how essential the business is, combined with how equipped it is to comply with social distancing and public health protections.
Along with that analysis is the need to ramp up both testing and treatment, something the governor said a state as big as New York cannot do without help from the federal government. Not only is there a need for supplies, labs, and testing sites, but Cuomo said the state will need “an army” of people to trace all the contacts of anyone who tests positive for the virus.
“The bottom line is we can't do it yet,” he said. “That's the unvarnished truth.”
The state will begin administering 2,000 antibody finger prick tests a day this week. It's asked the FDA for help to get that number up to 100,000 a day. Cuomo said first responders and essential workers will be prioritized in that testing.
“Testing capacity is, to me, like the need for ventilators was in the first phase,” the governor said. “The answer is not 50 states and the federal government competing against each other for the same things. Let's learn from the past. We cannot do the testing and tracing without federal assistance.”
He also said funding for state government in a new federal relief bill is essential.
“State governments are broke,” he said. “That's not just me. Every state is impacted.”
The National Association of Governors has sent a letter to Congress requesting $500 billion dollars in relief for states be included in any new relief package.
Cuomo also announced New York is sending 100 ventilators to Michigan and another 50 to Maryland, both of which are now experiencing a spike in COVID-19 infections.