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Hochul tempers expectations of rapid reopening of Western New York

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul's phone started exploding with text messages after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday she would be his point person for reopening Western New York.

She heard from business people, clergy members, health care professionals. By mid-afternoon, she was talking fast and sounding slightly hoarse as she squeezed in one interview after another.

She made the same point to everyone: Just because the Cuomo administration recognizes that not all parts of the state are in the same situation as New York City doesn't mean Western New York will relax its social distancing and business restrictions in the immediate future.

"We don’t want to have restrictions a day longer than necessary, but not a day shorter either," she said in an interview with The Buffalo News.

Hochul is expected to keep track of public health needs for this region and to help formulate a plan to eventually reopen the local economy. That's a role she's largely taken on informally since the coronavirus health crisis began, she said.

But now, whatever plan is developed to help reopen Western New York may serve as the template for all regions outside of New York City.

She echoed the points made by Cuomo that any decisions regarding the loosening of state restrictions on businesses, hospitals and individuals will be based on data, such as hospitalization and infection rates.

"What we’ve seen in Western New York is an increase in those numbers," she said. "They’re not going up exponentially. They’re not out of control. They’re managed right now."

But that slowing or plateauing of Covid-19 cases is occurring because of existing state restrictions, not in spite of them, she said. An eventual lightening of those restrictions must be cautious and smart, she said.

She mentioned the lifting of some golf course and marina restrictions and referred to easing up on outdoor construction.

The number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care has steadily risen over the past week.

"It's not what you want. It's data driven," Cuomo said. "So look at the data. Kathy Hochul will coordinate with local officials, and then I think the better question is, when we reopen, what did we learn? And how do we reimagine Western New York to be the better for it?"

Hochul said she has not yet looked at regional forecasting models regarding when the peak will arrive here, but it's on her list of things to do. She expects to have a conversation with the governor regarding recommendations for this region before Cuomo decides whether to extend his pause orders beyond May 15.

"That is absolutely going to be part of my new responsibilities," she said.

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