What needs to be in place before COV ID-19 restrictions can be eased, and could the unique East End, with its lower volume of coronavirus cases compared to western Suffolk County, have a differnt timeline of its own?
This week, Governor Andrew Cuomo listed a multifaceted list of benchmarks to meet before a reopening of the economy could occur, while local lawmakers considered an East End opening prior to a countywide “un-PAUSE.”
“I have thought about this,” State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said on Tuesday. “I don’t think the governor is looking at [the East End] as outside the region, it’s definitely something worthy of raising with him.”
Mr. Thiele reported having daily calls with Mr. Cuomo’s office.
For Phase I, the assemblyman said the construction industry may be an area where one could look at the East End as separate from the rest of Long Island. It lends itself to social distancing, he said. In relation to the construction industry, the five East End towns could be seen as a region separate from the county as a whole. But Mr. Thiele doubts that when it comes to schools, beaches, or parks, the East End would be carved out of Suffolk County.
“It’s something to have in our minds as we move forward,” County Executive Steve Bellone said on Tuesday, noting that Suffolk County is a big region geographically.
“You could fit Brooklyn, Queens, and Nassau into Suffolk County and have plenty of room to spare,” he said.
And the governor acknowledges different regions throughout the state with “upstate, downstate differentiations,” he noted.
There has been discussion about differences within certain industries as a phased reopening begins, but the county executive felt it was too early to say for sure.
The most important consideration, he underscored, was what was best for the population.
“Whatever we’re doing, does it make sense in terms of protecting public health and restarting the economy, and that balance,” he said.
Speaking to public health, the governor noted that the Centers for Disease Control recommends a 14-day decrease in hospitalizations before a reopening can commence. Offering numbers Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Bellone said the steady decline of hospitalizations could have the county on track to meet the 14-day milestone.
By contrast, the governor on Tuesday said NY PAUSE remains in effect until May 15, but could be extended in regions, such as Long Island, where the infection and hospitalization rates are highest.
If the hospitals in an area reach 70 percent of their total capacities or 70 percent of their ICU capacity specifically, that would be a trigger for an extended PAUSE.
“If you are at 70 percent, bells should go off,” Mr. Cuomo said, pointing out that COVID-19 hospitalizations lag infections by two weeks.
Mr. Cuomo on Saturday morning announced plans to sign an executive order allowing independent pharmacies statewide to test people for the coronavirus, and at the same time opening up testing to more people.
Under the revised policy, diagnostic testing, which so far has been limited to strict criteria, will now be open to first responders, healthcare workers and essential employees, with a goal of preventing further spread of the virus.
“They’ve been working all along, they’ve been exposed,” Mr. Cuomo said during his daily briefing. “We’re dramatically increasing testing capacity to these groups.”
Mr. Cuomo said that as the state continues to increase testing capacity, he would like to get to the point where anyone could get tested on demand.
Beyond testing, the reopening plan calls for 30 contact tracers for every 100,000 people. Contact tracers track down people who interact with patients who test positive for coronavirus. Each region must also craft a plan that includes rooms for people who test positive and cannot self-isolate.
Businesses in the region will reopen in phases, with low risk construction and manufacturing the first to consider. From there, reopenings will be based on risk level and priority. Those with a inherent low risk to employees and customers could open before those who present a higher risk of infection spread.
On Sunday, Mr. Cuomo said restaurants, hotels and retail stores are likely to be among the last that are able to open their doors again. Resolving the risks inherent in their operations is a challenge.
Every business will have to submit an operations plan to the state, detailing how it will resume operations while protecting its workers and customers from spreading the virus.
Precautions like distancing employees and customers and sanitizing work spaces will have to be incorporated into the thinking of indoor workplaces.
Each phase of re-openings will be spaced at least two weeks apart, to allow for health officials to monitor for signs that the virus is spreading — like increases in hospitalizations and testing statistics.
“We’ve come up with a phased plan to re-open New York so every region in the state has the same opening template as we begin this process,” Mr. Cuomo said. “We have to be smart about this — emotions can’t drive our re-opening process — and we’ve come up with factual data points that each region must monitor as they begin to re-open. We’ve also created a New York Forward Re-Opening Advisory Board made up of business, academic, community and civic leaders from across the state to help guide this process and ensure businesses are following the necessary guidelines to preserve public health as we work towards a new normal.”
On the government response front, elected officials have been urging the federal government for assistance as grappling with the crisis drains community coffers. On Thursday, U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin announced that $257 million in federal aid had been awarded to Suffolk County under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act.
“Suffolk County is one of the areas hardest hit by coronavirus, and, while every level of government has worked together to fight this ongoing outbreak, our county and local governments have shelled out significant funding and resources to battle coronavirus on the ground,” Mr. Zeldin said in a statement. “This federal funding is vital to helping alleviate these coronavirus expenses, and we will continue to fight to ensure our communities devastated by coronavirus receive additional direct funding.”
The money can be used for expenses incurred after March 1 for COVID-19 response.