Cuomo: Reopening can start on May 15 -- or earlier

“It’s a new phase,” Governor Andrew Cuomo remarked today as he turned New York toward a gradual reopening of public life after the COVID-19 shutdowns. By May 15, Cuomo plans to start rolling back restrictions imposed during the peak of the outbreak, declaring those policies a success in getting to “the other side of the mountain.” The state will use different regional strategies, and a few of them might be ready to start sooner — perhaps as early as now, Cuomo suggests:

As the rate of new COVID-19 cases in New York has declined to the rate of “about where we started this horrific situation,” Cuomo said the state is ready to begin a “safe” and prepared reopening.

Cuomo said the state has been broken down into 10 regions, each ranked across seven metrics related to the rate of infection and the hospital capacity for their residents. In the most concrete step toward restarting the virus-stricken state, Cuomo said three regions—the Southern Tier, Mohawk Valley, and the Finger Lakes—have met the readiness metrics and proved they have controlled their infection rate and established local hospitals have the capacity and testing to handle any possible virus resurgence.

“Some regions are ready to go today,” Cuomo said, noting that other regions are very close to begin the re-opening process. “This is the next big phase in the historic journey.”

That’s good news for the White House, which has emphasized the need to get economic activity expanded quickly. Their focus has been on the catastrophic economic and fiscal numbers that the shutdown has generated. Cuomo says his focus has been mainly on the medical numbers, but those align with that push to reopen, as long as it’s done intelligently.

That means starting with “low risk” economic activities at first, Cuomo warns. What are those? A few activities that probably didn’t need to shut down in the first place:

Cuomo says New Your will reopen statewide for certain businesses and recreational activities that are deemed low-risk as of May 15.  They include:

  • Landscaping and gardening
  • Outdoor, low-risk recreational activities (ex. tennis)
  • Drive-in movie theaters.

Outdoor sports with shared equipment is still a bit of a risk, but drive-in movie theaters wouldn’t have been a risk at all. There aren’t many out there, of course, thanks to the modern value of real estate in suburban areas, but as long as one remains in the car and pays with contactless methods, what’s the risk? The same goes for landscaping and gardening, where little to no contact with others is made and which take place entirely outdoors, where transmission risk turns out to be near zero.

Don’t expect much of a boost from Phase 1 except for maybe morale, in other words. That’s even more true because of the limited authorization, too, which will mostly apply to rural or exurban areas of the state:

He said three upstate regions have met all criteria for opening some business activity after May 15: the Southern Tier, Mohawk Valley and the Finger Lakes. Other upstate regions are making and could follow soon after.

The reopening regions still need to work out logistics, such as creating regional “control rooms” to monitor the effects of the reopening.

That’s good news for upstate New York. What about the Big Apple, where much of the state’s economic activity takes place? Don’t expect any reopening until the beginning of next month at the earliest, Mayor Bill de Blasio warned, “unless something miraculous happens.” The state has its measures, but New York City has its own, and they’re not optimistic:

“Unless something miraculous happens, we’re going into June,” de Blasio said Monday, adding that New York City is “clearly not ready yet.”

He added: “It’s fair to say by June we will make progress if we keep up what we have been doing.”

De Blasio sad the earliest non-essential businesses in the city could open is June 7. De Blasio also was asked about schools reopening, which he said he expects to do “safely” in September.

Just how long will de Blasio be able to sustain that, though? The longer this goes on — and the longer we get past the declared goal of flattening the curve to prevent overwhelming the hospitals — the more people will demand the opportunity to get back to work. Even in New York City, the disconnect between the sale of shutdowns and the goalpost-shifting currently under way on it will start to wear on those who have no income during this period. Perhaps de Blasio can maintain adherence to these restrictions for another four weeks at a minimum, according to his statement today, but he may need a miracle for that, too.

At any rate, the momentum has begun to swing in the direction of reopening, which is itself a good sign. As long as social distancing can be maintained, though, the state should rethink the pace and the scope of Phase 1.