New York will remain "on pause" for another month.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Thursday he is extending his "New York PAUSE" initiative until May 15.
"We have to continue doing what we're doing," Cuomo said during his daily coronavirus briefing from Albany. "The close-down policies will be extended. I don't want to project beyond that period. One month is a long time.
"What happens after then? I don’t know," Cuomo said. "We will see, depending on what the data shows. Tell me what our infection rate spread is ... tell me what the hospitalization rate is, and then the experts will tell us the best course of conduct based on that data."
Cuomo said the PAUSE extension, which deems that nonessential businesses close, employees work from home as well as other restrictions on social gatherings, is being done in coordination with neighboring states.
"The good news is we can control the virus, we can control the spread, and we were not sure that we could do that," Cuomo said. "Now we know we can."
Local business people expressed disappointment at the extension, but they recognize defeating Covid-19 takes precedence.
"Obviously, no one wants to hear that," said Laurie Irish-Jones, co-owner of Irish Carbonic and Propane, a restaurant supplier on the East Side. "But given the circumstances, we are in it until it's over. We have to stay the course and persevere, and know we're one day closer to getting through this."
Sam Gurney, owner of the real estate company Gurney, Becker and Bourne, said the governor's announcement puts added pressure on his business and sales force.
"This has already put a lot of people out of a job who rely on sales for their income," Gurney said. "Many are running out of whatever funds they had in reserve. No one anticipated this coming, and it's difficult to have put away enough money to get through this situation."
Mayor Byron Brown supported Cuomo's decision, saying the governor is "implementing sensible measures to protect all of our health and safety."
"This is about public health, and everyone needs to follow the extension of the PAUSE button," Brown said.
Cuomo, citing social distancing and other measures that have been part of PAUSE, said New Yorkers "slowed the infection rate" – a metric the state will be watching closely as it discusses methods of "reopening" the state.
The governor explained infection rates, where a rate of 1.0 represents one person spreading the disease to another person. A rate of 2.0 means that one person spreads the disease to two people, which leads to an exponential growth of the virus.
He said New York State's current infection rate is at about 0.9. According to Cuomo, rates of 1.2 to 1.3 corresponded with experts' projections that would have overwhelmed the state's hospital capacity.
"We don't have a high margin of error," he said. "The 1.2 takes you back to the high projection rate. We're at .9. That does not leave you with a lot of wiggle room."
Cuomo cited four main factors being considered in his strategy to reopen the state:
- controlling the rate of infection
- strengthening the health care system
- partnering with the federal government for a major increase in testing and tracing
- phasing in the return of businesses
Cuomo said the phased return to business would involve a gradual return of employees going back to work, just as how the workforce was reduced gradually when the state was closing down its economy.
He presented a metric that showed businesses deemed more essential and with low infection rates would open first. Businesses deemed nonessential with high infection rates would not be opened.
Cuomo said 606 New Yorkers died Wednesday, a significant decrease in daily deaths. Wednesday's total was down from Tuesday's amount of 752, the lowest daily death toll in 10 days.
Hospitalizations, intensive care admissions and intubations continued to fall. Cuomo said the daily hospitalizations fell under 18,000 Wednesday.
"While you see a reduction in rates, a reduction in increases, you still have 2,000 people (each day) walking into a hospital with Covid for the first time," the governor said.
Rich Casey, owner of Rust Belt Barbering & Salon in Buffalo, said he understands the extension but is concerned by the uncertainty it brings.
"We're fine with that," Casey said. "But I worry that as a small business, we don't have endless reserves. That goes for the people who are part of the crew at the shop."
Adding to the uncertainty, Casey said, has been the frustrating and at times confusing response from government agencies that has delayed the ability to apply for and receive needed funds.
"We were able to set something aside, but there are people who needed the money the week that this happened," Casey said. "How long can some of these families go?"
RJ Jewula, owner-operator of the Original Pancake House in Williamsville, also understands the extension, even as concerns about his business due to Covid-19 are mounting.
The pancake restaurant has been doing takeout, but it's only bringing 10% to 12% of what the restaurant normally makes when people are dining in.
"I think as every day goes by everyone realizes the true severity of what we're facing," said Jewula, who has three restaurants. "I am disappointed. I am upset. But in my mind, for the health of everyone in the region – including my family, employees and customers – it's the smart thing to do."