By Liz Lucking
New York City is on track to begin reopening on June 8, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday, earmarking for the first time a specific date for the city to take the initial steps in its coronavirus recovery plan.
The governor’s timetable added specificity to the broader estimate of the first two weeks of June that Mayor Bill de Blasio provided recently for Phase 1, when between 200,000 and 400,000 New Yorkers are expected to return to work across the five boroughs.
Appearing virtually during the governor’s daily briefing, the mayor agreed with the projection. “We are excited to get to the point of a restart for New York City,” he said.
Reopening New York City is “complicated,” according to Cuomo. “But we are on track to meet all the metrics.”
Industries given the go-ahead to reopen their doors first are nonessential construction, manufacturing, wholesale and nonessential retail whose business is limited to curbside or in-store pickups.
The city has met five of the seven state-mandated metrics required to begin reopening, and is quickly approaching the necessary levels of available ICU beds and contract tracers, according to the state’s tracker.
Next week, while working to reach those targets, the city will also be working on its stockpile of personal protective equipment and reducing COVID-19 infections in the city’s infection hotspots, Cuomo said.
“We are on track to open on June 8,” the governor said, but warned New Yorkers that easing restrictions does not mean going back to the way things were. “It’s going to be different. It is reopening to a new normal, a safer normal. People will be wearing masks; people will be socially distanced.”
The MTA will also spend the next week preparing for the first stage of reopening, Cuomo said. Concerns about the conditions of New York City’s subway system have been prevalent throughout the pandemic, prompting the MTA to shutter all service between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. for deep cleaning.
Strict social distancing is unlikely to be enforced on the subway, “but [the MTA] can do the cleaning protocol, the disinfecting protocol,” and riders will be required to wear a mask, Cuomo said.
The MTA will also “be doing the best they can to stagger volume on trains,” the governor said, including having personal working to limit how many people get on to a train.
He went on to stress on Friday afternoon during an interview on MSNBC that public transportation in the city is clean and safe. “I understand the anxiety but it’s clean and it’s safe,” he said. “You have to be smart and you have to keep distance where you can.”
Each business OK’d to open during Phase 1 will be expected to follow industry-specific guidelines as well as “nuts and bolts rules” covering social distance, hygiene, capacity and health-care screenings, de Blasio has explained.
The city will be the last region in the state to reopen, a result of how hard hit the Big Apple has been by the pandemic.
A total of 199,038 New York City residents have tested positive for coronavirus and 16,737 have died. As of Friday afternoon, a further 4,740 fatalities are presumed to be a result of the virus, according to the city’s health department.
While the city is still days away from reaching that initial, and newly specified, Phase 1 milestone, Cuomo gave the greenlight for five upstate regions to commence with Phase 2 on Friday: North Country, Finger Lakes, Central New York, Mohawk Valley and Southern Tier.
“Their data has been reviewed, and the experts say to us it’s safe to move forward because people have been smart and you haven’t seen the spike,” Cuomo said.
Phase 2 opens the door for office-based jobs, real estate services, retail, barber shops and hair salons to reopen, in accordance with specific state guidance. “It’s not just open the doors and everyone has a party,” the governor stressed.
Some measures will include 50% capacity in office buildings and stores; increased signage and markers; no meetings without social distancing; mandatory biweekly COVID-19 testing for barber shops and hair salon employees; and the wearing of face coverings in stores—which on Thursday, Cuomo gave business owners the power to enforce by turning away customers who don’t comply.
Across New York state, 368,284 people have tested positive for coronavirus and 23,780 have died, according to the health department. The number of new hospitalizations on Thursday was down to 152, “a dramatic, dramatic drop for us,” Cuomo said, and the number of daily deaths fell to “its lowest level ever of 67 deaths.”