ALBANY – New York State has been on pause since March. On Sunday, Governor Andrew Cuomo said a phased-in reopening should begin in the upstate regions when the current shutdown expires on May 15. The determining factor will be the rate of infection.
The fact, according to the governor, is that the upstate region's rate of infection is higher than downstate's now – 1 to .9, compared to 1 to .75 downstate. But both numbers are low enough to indicate that by May 15, the state should meet the CDC's guideline of two straight weeks of declining state and regional hospitalization rates prior to any reopening.
If the current declining trend of infections continues, Governor Cuomo said that Phase I of reopening will include low-risk construction and manufacturing. Where, specifically, that happens, is a decision that will be made on a regional basis.
The governor then said there would be a two week lag to assess the impact of that change. If it is successful, the second phase would allow more businesses to open on a case by case basis, depending on how essential their service is as well as how well they are able to adjust their business model to include current public safety needs.
“Schools would be necessary for any large scale business reopening,” Cuomo said. “You can't get to Phase II without them.”
He said some districts in the state are discussing the possibility of summer school to make up for instruction time lost. And State Budget Director Robert Mujica said the state should know by May 1 just how big the hole for the state aid budget will be. That number is dependent on whether Congress passes funding to help states hardest hit by the pandemic. Right now, New York is telling its school districts to prepare for a cut of up to 20%.
As the talk turns to reopening, there is one exception to that plan that impacts upstate tourism particularly: no attractions or openings will be permitted that bring in a large number of visitors to a region.
Cuomo was asked about the state's plan to help upstate dairy farmers, who have seen the market for their product collapse.
“The Department of Agriculture is looking at that,” Cuomo said. “If there's any way we can fix that, we will.”
Cuomo proposed the state buy milk to supply the need in downstate food banks.
He also acknowledged that reopening plans for both the retail and hospitality industry will be problematic.
“That's a complex sector to deal with,” he said. “But there's no doubt we've gone through the worst. If we're prudent, the worst should be over.”
Bottom line, the governor said, was that the success of any reopening lies with the public.
“If they understand, they'll do the right thing,” he said. Reopening “assumes they'll be responsible in their behavior.”