By MARINA VILLENEUVE, KAREN MATTHEWS and MICHAEL HILL
NEW YORK (AP) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo outlined how stay-at-home restrictions could be eased for parts of New York where the coronavirus outbreak is less severe. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that city-run health clinics will soon use a testing procedure that lets people collect samples themselves at a health care worker’s direction. The city also will close 40 miles of streets to cars next month to give pedestrians more room to move outside
Here are the latest coronavirus-related developments in New York:
Regional officials aiming to re-open their economies next month should make sure testing is up to speed and that there are enough hospital beds available to handle a combined load of coronavirus and flu patients, Cuomo said.
The governor outlined re-opening guidelines as statewide hospitalization rates and deaths continue to decline from peaks earlier this month. The 337 deaths recorded statewide Sunday was the lowest daily tally this month and down from a high of 799 on April 8. More than 17,000 people have died in New York since the start of the outbreak.
Cuomo said at his daily news briefing that statewide stay-at-home restrictions set to expire May 15 will likely be extended in many parts of the state.
“But in some parts of the state, some regions, you could make the case that we should un-pause on May 15,” said Cuomo, who likened it to turning a valve a bit at a time. The governor, like elected officials around the nation, is facing calls to ease restrictions soon.
Floyd Rayburn, who employs 30 people at his Canandaigua-based masonry business, doesn’t see a need to wait until mid-May. He didn’t think the widespread shutdowns were necessary in places with lower numbers of cases.
“It’s time to open up the whole state, the whole country. Open it up,” Rayburn said by phone Monday.
He is still paying employees as part of the Paycheck Protection Program, the relief fund that Congress created to help small businesses through the crisis, but said he would rather open back up and put them back to work.
“I’ve got two years of backlog,” Rayburn said.
Cuomo said decisions will be made and monitored based on rates of hospitalizations, antibody testing, diagnostic testing and data on infection rates. Regional officials need to be prepared to make sure there are enough workers to trace the contacts of infected people, enough places to isolate infected people and enough hospital capacity, especially once flu season starts in September.
Preliminary results of statewide antibody tests, which check for substances the immune system makes to fight the virus, suggest the coronavirus is far less prevalent in some upstate areas compared New York City, a pandemic hotspot. While almost a quarter of people in New York City tested positive for antibodies, the rate was below 2% in northern and central New York, according to preliminary estimates.
Construction and manufacturing jobs that represent low risks for workers will be among the first to resume once New York state begins reopening, Cuomo said Sunday.
New York City-run health clinics will soon take a new tack on coronavirus testing, using a procedure that lets people collect samples themselves at a health care worker’s direction, de Blasio announced Monday.
He said the “self-swab” tests would allow for more and easier testing and make it safer for test-seekers and health care workers alike.
“This is something we’re going to start using aggressively because it will be better for everyone,” the Democrat said.
Up to this point, testing has mainly been done by health care workers inserting a swab deep into a person’s nostrils. The feeling often makes someone sneeze or cough while the health care professional is right there, city Health and Hospitals President Dr. Mitchell Katz said.
The new method is set to start within the next few days at eight community testing sites around the city. The process will work like this: A health care worker will explain how to administer the test, and then the person would take a nasal swab, with a health professional watching via a mirror to offer guidance, Katz said. The person getting tested then will spit into a cup for a second sample for cross-checking. The samples will then be given to a health care worker and tested.
De Blasio said the method would allow health care workers and test-seekers to keep more distance; reduce the need to devote health care workers to administering tests, and allow the clinics to administer as many as 20 tests and hour, instead of 15.
The Cuomo administration says it will soon have to cut aid to schools and local governments by as much as $8.2 billion and slash most state agency budgets by 10% — or $1.6 billion — unless New York receives a flood of federal aid to mend the state’s “bleak” economic outlook, according to the state’s recently released financial plan.
Cuomo’s administration warns cuts could hit everything from special education to children’s health insurance to school property tax relief.
The public may not get a sense of the cuts until sometime in May, when the Cuomo administration plans to send lawmakers a plan to cut spending. Lawmakers could then pass their own plan to balance the budget.
Cuomo has previously dismissed the possibility of raising taxes on the wealthy to help bridge the gap and questioned how much money could be raised.
When asked about a tax increase on the wealthy in a Monday radio appearance, Democratic Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said “we’ve got to have everything on the table” but also added: “We can’t tax our way out of this situation.”
Cuomo’s budget office estimates economic restrictions will reduce New York revenues by $13.3 billion and leave state finances strained for years to come.
NO SPILLED MILK
A new partnership between New York and dairy processors will help farmers struggling due to pandemic-related school and restaurant closings, Cuomo said.
Grocery store purchases have surged, but processors geared toward the food service industry have had a huge drop in demand. Farmers left with an oversupply of milk and no market have been forced to dispose of some.
“This is just total waste to me,” Cuomo said. “We have people downstate who need food. We have farmers upstate who can’t sell their product. We have to put those two things together.”
New York’s dairy processors, including Chobani, Cabot Creamery, Upstate Niagara and Dairy Farmers of America, will partner with the state to process excess milk into yogurt, cheese and other products that will be distributed to food banks and those in need, Cuomo said.
OPEN STREETS TO PEDESTRIANS
De Blasio said the city will close 40 miles of streets to cars next month and up to 100 miles during the duration of the COVID-19 crisis in order to give pedestrians more room to move while maintaining social distancing.
“During this crisis the goal is to get up to 100 miles of those open streets,” said de Blasio, who had earlier resisted calls from advocates for pedestrians and cyclists to close off large swaths of roadways to cars.
De Blasio said an early focus of the plan will be streets near parks, since people are already gathering there. He said he is working out details with the City Council, which passed a bill last week to require the city’s transportation department to close up to 75 miles of streets to cars.
IN OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
New York has canceled its Democratic presidential primary that was scheduled for June 23 amid the coronavirus pandemic but will still hold its congressional and state-level primaries on that date.
Hill and Villeneuve reported and Mary Esch contributed from Albany, N.Y. Carolyn Thompson contributed from Buffalo, N.Y.