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Cuomo outlines regional reopening criteria; WNY isn't ready yet

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Monday a list of criteria that regions need to meet to reopen on May 15.

Based on the list and a chart that the governor presented during his daily coronavirus briefing, Western New York isn't ready yet.

May 15 is the expiration date for the state's current "NY pause" order, which limits nonessential businesses from opening, directs nonessential employees to work from home and advises social distancing measures.

Reopening standards include metrics measuring different categories, including hospitalization rates and death rates, as well as a region's capacity for health care, testing and tracing.

Businesses, which would have to meet certain safety precautions, would have their reopenings phased in depending on their category. A region will also have to show that they will be able to monitor all of these standards.

"This is what local leaders, this is what a community has to deal with, to reopen safely and intelligently, in my opinion," Cuomo said Monday from the Wegmans Conference Center in Rochester. "This can’t just be, we want to get out of the house, we’re going. No. Let's be smart, let’s be intelligent, let's learn from the past, let's do it based on facts."

Cuomo displayed a chart that showed 10 different regions in the state and how those regions currently stand in seven different metrics. On that chart, Western New York was green – or ready – in only three of seven categories.

Western New York did not meet the following criteria in:

• 14-day decline in hospitalizations OR under 15 new hospitalizations (on a three-day average).

• New hospitalizations that must be under two per 100,000 residents on a three-day rolling average. Western New York's number was listed as 2.2.

• On testing, regions need 30 tests per 1,000 residents monthly (based on a seven-day average of new tests per day).

• Regions need at least 30 contact tracers per 100,000 residents. The chart showed Western New York's total of 414 was not sufficient.

Western New York did meet these guidelines:

• 14-day decline in hospital deaths OR fewer than five deaths (on a three-day rolling average).

• Share of total hospital beds available must be at least at 30%. Western New York was shown to have 46% available.

• Share of total intensive care unit beds must be at least 30%. Western New York was shown to have 40% available.

The state defines the Western New York region as five counties: Erie, Niagara, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany.

Orleans, Genesee and Wyoming counties are considered part of the Finger Lakes region, which includes nine counties, including Rochester’s Monroe County.

Cuomo displayed a map showing which of the 10 regions were designated as high-risk and low-risk.

The high-risk regions included Western New York, the Albany area's Capital District, the Mid-Hudson region that includes Westchester and Rockland counties, as well as New York City and Long Island.

"On May 15, regions can start to reopen and do their own analysis, but these are the facts that they have to have in place to do it," Cuomo said. "Start now, don't wait til May 15. Don't call me up on May 15.

"Because I’m going to ask you the questions I just presented. Is your health system ready? Do you have testing in place? Do you have tracing in place? Have you talked to businesses about how they are going to reopen? So, we have a couple of weeks."

"Once that is all done," Cuomo said, "then you can talk about opening businesses."

Businesses would be reopened in four phases, based on certain categories.

"You can open businesses first that are most essential and post the lowest risk," the governor said.

Phase One: Construction; manufacturing and wholesale supply chain; select retail with curbside pickup.

Phase Two: Professional services; finance and insurance; retail; administrative support; real estate/rental leasing.

Phase Three: Restaurant/food services; hotels/accommodations.

Phase Four: Arts/entertainment/recreation; education

Businesses would have to enact certain safety precautions to be in compliance with new standards, Cuomo said.

"We need businesses to reimagine how they are going to do business," he said, "and get ready to protect their workforce, to change their physical environment to the extent they need to, and to change their processes to make sure people can socially distance, so people remain in a safe environment.

"And that's business by business. Government can say these are the standards, but a business is going to have to figure out how to do that," Cuomo said.

The state's overall coronavirus numbers continued to decline, the governor said. The three-day rolling average for new Covid-19 hospitalizations per day was down for the third straight day and was in the 700s; Cuomo noted that this number had recently plateaued around 900 for a few days.

The Sunday total of coronavirus deaths was 226, down markedly from previous days. Saturday's total was 280 and Friday's was 299. Cuomo said 33 of Sunday's deaths were nursing home residents.

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