By MICHAEL HINMAN
Where does the power of New York to govern itself and the authority of New York State stop to tell the city what to start? This is an issue that has been raised more than once since the start of the coronavirus pandemic – and which has sometimes brought mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo into disagreement.
It seemed that much of this tension had subsided in the past few weeks after Cuomo conceded that schools would not be open for the rest of the school year. But now, as New York appears to be the last in line for a gradual reopening of its economy, Blasio and Cuomo are again at odds.
New York suburban counties in the Mid-Hudson region – including Westchester and Rockland counties – could begin the first phase of reopening on Tuesday, with Long Island not far behind. Both areas reached metric milestones defined by Cuomo – such as the number of new hospitalizations, infection rates, testing capacity and hospital capacity – and were mainly expecting their mortality rate to reach acceptable levels.
The Mid-Hudson region did this over the weekend, reducing its deaths to five, while Long Island can reach that level by Wednesday with 14 days of sustained decline in death rates. The two areas would join the rest of the northern part of the state, most of which are already halfway through the reopening of its first two-week phase.
New York City is still waiting, however, despite a 42-day drop in net hospitalizations and a 37-day drop in hospital deaths – well beyond the established milestones. However, what slows the city down is the number of hospital and intensive care beds available, although on Sunday the city was just below the 30% threshold for both.
This could reopen New York more quickly than even Blasio had anticipated, saying on Friday that he expected phase one to begin in the city in the first week of June at the earliest. But if the city can free up more beds, a first phase could begin in a few days, well ahead of even the most optimistic projections of Blasio.
Cuomo, speaking to reporters at the USS Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum at Manhattan’s Pier 86 on Monday, said he would not commit to any date until all data are available.
“People can speculate, people can guess,” said Cuomo. “I think next week, I think two weeks, I think a month. I am no longer in this profession because we have all failed in this profession. “
The governor, of course, was referring to the different patterns of infection rates that flooded the scene at the start of the pandemic, all of which showed much higher rates of infection and mortality. While New York was ultimately far from these projections, Cuomo recognized that other variables could be involved, such as social distancing and global state foreclosure.
“We are looking at the numbers,” said the governor. “We are preparing as the numbers drop, so when the numbers hit the thresholds, we are ready to go. We are in the middle of that with Long Island and the Mid-Hudson area, but I don’t want to guess. “
de Blasio says he tracks metrics as described by Cuomo, but has also offered a different perspective on the data in recent days, telling reporters that there are more variables that should be taken into account, especially when talking of the complexity of New York.
The mayor condensed the data into three main categories, mainly involving hospitalizations, intensive care beds available in public hospitals, and the percentage of New York residents tested positive relative to the number of people tested. At one point in late March, that percentage reached 71%, de Blasio said, but has remained below its 15% threshold since around May 9.
“We have to look at our definitions to see if it makes sense right now,” said de Blasio. “We will always, always vary our approach based on new information and new realities that we all learn together. “
Hospital admissions to suspected COVID-19 cases, for example, are lower than the city’s previous years experienced other serious respiratory illnesses, de Blasio said. As of Friday, the city had 76 hospital admissions, well below the threshold it set at just under 200 – a level the city hasn’t reached in more than a month.
On Monday, however, Cuomo appeared to reject Blasio’s data brought to the table, telling a reporter interviewed about it that there was only one set of numbers at stake, and these are the ones aggregated by the State.
“It’s not here” choose your numbers “,” said Cuomo. “We have statewide criteria. They are the same all over the state. And we know where we are on each of the criteria every day. There is a set of numbers, and we all know the numbers. “
Prior to Memorial Day weekend, all but 14 counties had entered the first phase of statewide reopening. Half of these remaining counties are expected to reopen on Tuesday or Wednesday, with Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island expected to follow soon after. This would leave only the five counties of New York as the last remaining region to start reopening.
Each reopening phase will allow more and more businesses and other services to reopen. In the first phase, construction, manufacturing, wholesaling and agriculture can reopen, as well as what had been considered a “nonessential” retail business offering pickup or drop off at the curb or in store.
Two weeks later, assuming a region does not see a spike in any of the monitored coronavirus measures, it can move on to the second phase such as professional services, retail, administrative support and real estate and rental.
There are two more phases, both separated by two weeks, which begin with the reopening of restaurants and food services, then arts and entertainment, recreation and education.
Some areas that are already starting to reopen have seen a slight but noticeable increase in some of its measures, but Cuomo says it is too early to say this increase upon reopening, saying it would take at least 10 days before such correlations can be established. However, it is expected that when the state reopens, some of the coronavirus cases will increase.
“The numbers are rebounding,” said Cuomo. “And when we reopen, you can expect an increase. I like to point out that it is not necessarily predetermined that you will have a raise. It depends on how people act and what they do. “
It was something he and de Blasio could agree on.
“We want to move on. We want to get to this first phase of the reboot, ”said the mayor. “And to do that, we have to stay tight and stay disciplined with what we do. “
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