New York, the epicenter of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in America, is set to reopen, the state’s governor declared. The announcement comes as hospitalizations and deaths from the disease have fallen back down to levels last seen nearly two months ago during the early days of the outbreak.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressed optimism when he made the announcement on Monday. This optimism was also supported by comments earlier in the day by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who indicated that the city could reopen by next month.
Their statements represent a milestone in New York’s gradual revival after two months where more than 21,000 people had perished and commercial and cultural life had been brought to a standstill. (Related: Cuomo: Reopening after coronavirus needs to consider the “human cost.”)
“This is the next step in this historic journey,” Cuomo said while laying out plans to begin a so-called “phased reopening” of the state. The reopenings are set to begin Friday when his most recent shutdown order is set to end.
For its phased reopening, the state has been divided into 10 regions. For a region to reopen, it will have to satisfy a set of criteria. Chief among these are minimum amounts of testing and hospital capacity, as well as a 14-day decline in new infections.
“Some regions are ready to go today … Some are very close,” Gov. Cuomo said. He specifically mentioned that three regions have successfully met the benchmarks for reopening. These are the Southern Tier, bordering Pennsylvania; the Finger Lakes, including Rochester in Lake Ontario; and the Mohawk Valley, west of Albany.
On the other hand, if a region began to experience a new upsurge in cases, authorities would have to righten restrictions, so as not to squander the two months of sacrifice needed to bring the outbreak under control in the state.
New York City, on the other hand, could take a bit longer to reopen. On Monday, Mayor de Blasio confirmed that the city was looking to continue its restrictions until next month.
“June is when we’re going to potentially be able to make some real changes if we continue our progress,” the mayor said.
The reopenings will proceed not just by region, but also by industry. Businesses will be given priority to reopen based on the essential nature of their services and the risks their employees face. First to be opened will be manufacturing and construction, after those financial services and others will come next.
To oversee the reopening of businesses, regional “control rooms” have been formed that can also impose their own safety requirement. Gov. Cuomo said that these would have the authority to slow or even shut down reopening plans, should data show that the pandemic is worsening.
When businesses do reopen, employees will return to radically changed workspaces, operating under social-distancing protocols, tight controls, staggered shifts and frequent cleaning and disinfecting. Cuomo even suggested that company cafeterias would most likely be closed.
“There’s no gathering,” Cuomo stated. “That’s what we’re trying to avoid.”
Retailers would also be allowed to reopen under the plan, but only for curbside service, with employees in masks. Health screenings would also be required for all businesses during the first phase. This will be followed by evaluations after two weeks to determine its impact on the spread of the disease.
“We are all anxious to get back to work,” the governor said. “We want to do it smartly, we want to do it intelligently, but we want to do it.”
As New York’s coronavirus numbers continue to fall, Gov. Cuomo will also start allowing some smaller semblances of normal life. Landscaping projects, drive-in movies and even “low-risk recreational activities,” such as tennis would be allowed to resume across the state.
Signs that New York is turning the tide in its fight against the pandemic helped buoy U.S. stocks, with the S&P 500 breaking into positive territory for the day, following Gov. Cuomo’s comments.