Here’s Cuomo’s Plan for Reopening New York

Gov. Andrew Cuomo offered a strategy for restarting the state’s economy
based on steady signs that the outbreak is in retreat.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday presented a soft blueprint for how New York State’s economy might begin to restart, a set of criteria that will determine which regions allow what sectors to reopen and when.

In remarks at an event in Monroe County, where the coronavirus has killed more than 100 people, Mr. Cuomo reiterated that the entire state would remain locked down until May 15, when his stay-at-home order is scheduled to expire. New York City and its suburbs, which are still besieged by the virus, may be the last places to start returning to some semblance of normal, he suggested.

Still, the guidelines laid out by the governor offered a glimmer of hope for businesses that have been battered as the economy reels and residents who are weary of closed stores, shuttered bars and the scared and subdued society around them.

Advertisement“This is not a sustainable situation,” Mr. Cuomo said of the shutdown, now in its seventh week. “Close down everything, close down the economy, lock yourself in the home. You can do it for a short period of time, but you can’t do it forever.”

Mr. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, said New York would rely heavily on progress in key areas — declines in new positive virus cases and deaths, and increases in testing, hospital capacity and contact tracing — under a complex formula that will determine when parts of the state are eligible to reopen.

Once the requirements are met, the plan would first allow construction and manufacturing and some retail stores to reopen for curbside pickup, similar to California, after May 15.

The effect of phase one would be evaluated after two weeks. If indicators are still positive, state officials said, the second phase of reopening would include professional services, more retailers and real estate firms, among others, perhaps as soon as the end of May.

Restaurants, bars and hotels would come next, followed by a fourth, and final, phase that would include attractions like cinemas and theaters, including Broadway, a powerful financial force in New York City.

The governor’s announcement came after states that have not been hit as hard by the pandemic moved toward restarting their economies in a limited fashion. In one of those states, California, Gov. Gavin Newsom said bookstores, florists, clothing shops and some other businesses could begin meeting customers for curbside pickup as soon as Friday.

But New York, the U.S. epicenter of the outbreak, with nearly 25,000 deaths and more than 300,000 cases, has moved more cautiously.

Charlotte St. Martin, the president of the Broadway League, which represents theater owners and producers, said on Monday that ever since shows went dark in March, there has been an understanding that Broadway houses would be among the last businesses to return.

“It’s just common sense,” Ms. St. Martin said, noting that Broadway theaters tend to be tightly packed, and productions could not afford to put on shows at half capacity. “We hate it, but we get it.”

Schools, which have already been canceled statewide for the rest of the academic year, would also be covered in the final reopening phase.

The calculations apply to the state’s 10 regions, which include heavily populated areas like New York City and its suburbs and large rural swaths of upstate like the Southern Tier, which borders Pennsylvania.

The governor made it clear that the less-populated areas, where infection rates have been minuscule compared with what the city and suburbs have experienced, would be the first to re-emerge from the shutdown.

“If upstate has to wait for downstate to be ready,” Mr. Cuomo said, “they’re going to be waiting for a long time.”

Each region would have to satisfy seven specific criteria before businesses and services can open again.

The criteria, heavily influenced by guidelines issued last month by the White House and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, include:

  Net hospitalizations for cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, must either show a continuous 14-day decline or total no more than 15 new hospitalizations a day on average over three days. The latter would probably be a realistic goal only in less populated areas.

  A 14-day decline in virus-related hospital deaths, or fewer than five a day, averaged over three days. New York City and many other parts of the state have reached that benchmark, but Long Island and the Hudson Valley have not.

  A three-day rate of new hospitalizations below two per 100,000 residents a day, something that was well beyond the grasp of New York City and its suburbs on Monday.

  A hospital-bed vacancy rate of at least 30 percent, which Mr. Cuomo has said is necessary to be prepared for possible new waves of the disease in the future. Most parts of New York have met the threshold, despite more than 9,600 coronavirus patients still being hospitalized.

 An availability rate of at least 30 percent for intensive care unit beds; 3,330 people remain in such units, often on ventilators, which are needed in severe cases of the disease.

 A weekly average of 30 virus tests per 1,000 residents a month. This category could be the most challenging one to meet in many rural or more remote areas, where testing, and thus positive results, has lagged far behind major cities, like New York, which already is surpassing this goal.
 Finally, the governor also wants at least 30 working contact tracers per 100,000 residents as part of a program led by Michael R. Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, who has given $10.5 million for the effort. Mr. Cuomo has described the initiative as “a monumental undertaking,” requiring “an army” of tracers, some of whom will be public employees who have been redeployed.

The urge to reopen the state comes as New York’s budget is under immense pressure: The state’s coffers are being drained by the cost of the outbreak — nearly $3 billion spent, at last report — and a precipitous fall in various types of tax revenue.

Even limited increases in commercial activity could help county and city governments, said E.J. McMahon, a conservative economist and founder of the Empire Center for Public Policy, saying that revenue had “cratered during the lockdown.”

“With restaurants still very tightly constricted, and with seasonal fairs, festivals and sporting events still banned, it will be a very weak and partial recovery,” Mr. McMahon said. “But it would at least mean that sales taxes have hit bottom.”

Representative Tom Reed, a Republican who represents the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier areas, two regions where the number of tests being conducted does not currently meet the governor’s requirements, said that he and other officials were working “to build out the necessary testing infrastructure.” Mr. Reed added that he hoped Mr. Cuomo understood “the impact a prolonged shutdown will have on key local industries and historically underserved rural communities.”

Mr. Cuomo said on Monday that he wanted to see businesses open again, but that he also worried aloud about possible resurgences of the virus that had occurred in places like South Korea.

“You see that you reopen too soon or you reopen unintelligently and you can then have an immediate backlash,” Mr. Cuomo said. “And that’s not speculation. That is looking at other countries, and look at what has happened around the world.”