NEW YORK — Coronavirus transmission may be primarily airborne, national health officials said, as two downstate regions prepare to reopen and leaders announced Friday both houses of the state Legislature will reconvene next week.
New guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests the novel coronavirus, which was first discovered in humans in Wuhan, China, in December, is spread mainly from airborne sources, including respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. The droplets can land in the mouths or noses of nearby people, or possibly be inhaled into their lungs, according to cdc.gov.
“If they’re right and the major transmission source is airborne, it takes you back to wear a mask,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday during a pandemic briefing at his Manhattan office. “First responders have a lower infection rate than the general population... Because they wear the mask and use the hand sanitizer.
“The mask can make the difference between life and death.”
The Mid-Hudson and Long Island regions could reopen next week if COVID-19 deaths continue to decrease and the regions hire and train their required contact tracers. Seven of the state’s 10 regions have started reopening with a control group of officials monitoring virus testing, tracing, hospitalization and death metrics each day.
The state permitted construction staging in Mid-Hudson and on Long Island in anticipation of resuming Phase I businesses, including construction, manufacturing, forestry, fishing, pickup retail and wholesale trades.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-83, and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-35, announced in a joint statement Friday afternoon the state Legislature will convene session next week to pass legislation related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Committee meetings are scheduled to take place Tuesday with session scheduled for the following days. Lawmakers will utilize temporary rule changes adopted in March to hold proceedings with web-based teleconference and video conference. Strict social-distancing measures will be in effect.
“Over the last several weeks, my colleagues and I in the Assembly majority have been working in our districts to respond to the urgent needs of our communities brought on by this public health crisis,” Heastie said. “We were able to see firsthand what our communities need to get through this, and we look forward to passing legislation to address these issues and concerns when we convene next week.”
New York’s legislative session is scheduled to end June 2. Lawmakers must pass a measure to extend the session or convene a special session into the summer to continue to vote on legislation.
Some advocates and lobby groups have called for pay cuts for state lawmakers who would have been in session for most of the last two months as New York faces a $13.3 billion budget shortfall.
“While the work may look different, it very much continues,” Stewart-Cousins said. “For the past several weeks, senators and their staffs have worked tirelessly to aid their constituents as we all struggle with this crisis. From helping the hungry and unemployed, to virtual town halls and legislative hearings, to coordinating with state agencies, senators have continued working to serve New Yorkers and provide the government action and leadership needed during these difficult times.”
Cuomo supports the recreational legalization of marijuana, he said Friday, but will not move forward with it or other revenue-bolstering legislation, such as mobile sports gambling, during the pandemic.
“It’s a complicated issue and it has to be done in a comprehensive way,” the governor said.
For the past two months, Cuomo has pleaded with federal lawmakers to pass coronavirus legislation to financially assist state governments as New York faces a 20% cut to schools, hospitals and localities.
“It is the federal government’s obligation as part of managing this national pandemic that they provide financial relief to state and local governments just the way they took care of big corporations,” Cuomo said. “Are you saying the federal government should bail out airlines and hotels and big corporations, but nurses, doctors, police officers and firefighters should lose their jobs? That’s unconscionable to me.”
New York’s COVID-19 fatalities reached 22,426 Friday — up from 22,317 Thursday. Johns Hopkins University & Medicine’s online COVID-19 tracker, which includes probable virus deaths in its tally, listed the state’s virus death toll as 28,743 Friday afternoon.
The state saw 109 virus-related deaths Thursday, including 82 in hospitals and 27 in nursing homes. The state’s coronavirus death rate remains flat after totaling 105 fatalities Wednesday, 112 Tuesday and 105 Monday.
The state does not include probable virus deaths in its COVID-19 death toll because the data are scientifically distinct, state Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, adding some states merge the numbers together. New York’s reported virus death count comes directly from statewide hospitals.
“Probable is different than confirmed,” Cuomo said. “They’re two different answers and they’re two different questions. We’ve had many cases that were probable, but turned out not to be coronavirus.”
The state tested 1,600,793 people by Friday, revealing 358,154 total positive cases of COVID-19. New York’s hospitalization rates continued a downward trend to 4,844 patients Friday, according to the governor’s office.
The state launched a $100 million loan program for small businesses, or the New York Forward Loan Fund, on Friday. The state will prioritize loans to businesses with 20 or fewer employees and less than $3 million in gross revenues.
Small businesses represent more than 90% of state businesses and are a priority, Cuomo said.
To apply or for more information, visit esd.ny.gov/nyforwardloans.
New York lost more than 1.8 million jobs in April, and the state’s unemployment rate soared to 14.5% in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic — up more than three times from 4.1% in March.
The spike of 10.4 percentage points is the largest monthly increase since record-keeping began in 1976, according to the state Department of Labor. The department released a report with updated statistics late Thursday. Cuomo and his aides did not discuss the figures at Friday’s briefing.
The number of unemployed New Yorkers increased by 931,600 in one month — from 388,700 in March to 1,320,300 in April. It’s the state’s largest monthly unemployment increase on record.
New York’s economy lost 1,764,600 private-sector jobs, a 21.4% decrease since March. That’s also a record for the largest decline in monthly employment. The labor force declined by 307,600 residents.
State beaches and lakefronts opened Friday and are scheduled to remain open through the Memorial Day weekend. All will operate at 50% capacity with concessions closed and group activities prohibited.
The governor encouraged New Yorkers to remain vigilant with social distancing and wearing masks or facial coverings over the holiday weekend.
New York is conducting more than 40,000 coronavirus diagnostic tests each day at more than 750 sites statewide. The state launched a pilot program Friday with 52 independent pharmacies to conduct 7,000 tests per week.
To schedule a free COVID-19 test, visit coronavirus.health.ny.gov.
Contact tracing continues in the seven regions that started reopening, with 285 tracers in the Capital District, 26 in the North Country and 586 tracers in Western New York. State officials will share an online curriculum with other states to train contact tracers. The curriculum was developed with Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University.
More than 92,000 people voted as of Friday afternoon for their favorite 30-second video as part of the state competition explaining why people should wear a mask in public. Votes are accepted through Monday. The winning video will be used as a state public service announcement.
To view the top five videos, vote or for more information, visit WearAMask.ny.gov.
To see where each region stands on reopening and the complete county breakdown of COVID-19 cases and deaths statewide, view the COVID-19 map and tracker at hudsonvalley360.com/site/covid19.html.
The Tribune News Service contributed to this report.