Cuomo warns infection threat looms as regions restart

The Associated PressIn this Aug. 2018 file photo, a woman walks a small dog near a sign at Finger Lakes Welcome Center on the banks of Lake Geneva in Geneva, N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday, gave the green light to several regions of the state not as severely affected by the outbreak to gradually restart their economies once the latest stay-at-home order expires Friday. The Southern Tier, Mohawk Valley and the Finger Lakes have met all seven benchmarks for opening some business activity and need to work out some logistical details by the end of the week, Cuomo said. The North Country, which includes Essex County, is close behind. 

ALBANY -- With five regions of the state reopening and state beaches set to accept visitors May 22, Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned Friday he anticipates New York will experience another increase in the spread of the COVID-19 contagion.

“We expect to see an increase, but that increase has to be monitored and has to be controlled,” Cuomo said.

Once the transmission rate increases to each infected person spreading the virus to 1.1 persons or more on average, Cuomo added, “You’re heading to a bad place.”

Cuomo said the decision to open the state beaches on the Friday heading into Memorial Day weekend was made in conjunction with governors of Connecticut, New Jersey and Delaware. New York decided to move in tandem with the other states to discourage people from traveling from one state to another, he said.

But limits will be set to keep the beaches from becoming overcrowded, he said, noting visitors will be turned away once parking lots reach 50 percent of capacity.

Opening of beaches and municipal lakes run by local governments will be determined by those local governments, Cuomo said. Those decisions should be made by Wednesday, he said.

“If they choose to open, they must adopt the state’s requirements at a minimum,” he said.

Many businesses deemed nonessential by the Cuomo administration had been required to stay closed since March 19. But retailers such as clothing store, electronics shops and florists were given the green light to reopen Friday in five regions -- the North Country, Mohawk Valley, the Southern Tier, Central New York and the Finger Lakes,

Cuomo continued his “pause” order for Western New York, a region that includes Niagara County, and several other regions until May 28, The areas that remain locked down include the nation’s most populous region, New York City and its suburbs.

State guidance on the status of barber shops and hair dressers has been vague for weeks. But Cuomo, after being pressed to define where those businesses fit in the four stages of reopening, said Friday they will be in the second phase. That means they could reopen in some regions at date to be determined next month.

Cuomo suggested it was appropriate that they not be among the businesses to initially open, noting there is generally close contact between a customer and the person cutting the hair. He also said that a barber in the Ulster County city of Kingston is suspected of having infected more than a dozen people while defying the state’s shutdown order.

However, Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan was quoted by the Daily Freeman newspaper of Kingston later Friday as saying his county’s health department had not received any COVID-19 positive test results from people who went to the barber shop in question.

A week ago, Cuomo said of the virus, “We have the beast on the run.” But his discussion of the contagion has taken on a more ominous tone this week.

“Everyone is vulnerable to this virus and government cannot keep you safe,” he said Friday.

Under Cuomo’s directives, all non-essential gatherings of individuals of any size for any reason are temporarily banned. However, in Syracuse this week, Cuomo said that order does not pertain to gatherings of friends and family members.

Casinos, gyms, theaters remain closed, as do bars and restaurants, with the exception of take-out service.

Playing tennis and golf is now permitted but football, basketball and other sports in which players can come into close contact or banned.

A total of 22,304 New Yorkers have died from the virus over the past two months, with data showing a gradual decline in recent weeks for the daily fatalities.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com.

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