ALBANY — Coronavirus COVID-19 can live in the air for up to three hours, officials said, and houses of worship can resume socially distanced religious services and gatherings with reduced capacity under New York’s second reopening phase.
Medical experts and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the COVID-19 can survive in the air for up to three hours.
“If I’m speaking...it could linger for three hours,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday during a pandemic briefing in the state Capitol. “That is a frightening fact.”
The virus survives on all types of hard surfaces, officials have said since the pandemic began in March, but it may not survive on those surfaces as easily or for as long as medical experts thought. Initially, officials said COVID-19 could survive on all hard surfaces for up to nine hours.
Information about COVID-19 changes rapidly, Cuomo said, adding state, national and international health professionals continue to study hundreds of global cases of virus complications in children and young adults to age 21 causing inflammation of blood vessels and extremities, mimicking symptoms similar to severe illnesses such as Kawasaki disease and toxic-shock syndrome.
Medical experts across the world continue to study the new illness as reports emerge in other states and countries about people becoming reinfected and the World Health Organization advising the public to wear face masks.
“In light of evolving evidence, WHO advises that governments should encourage the general public to wear masks where there is widespread transmission and physical distancing is difficult, such as on public transport, in shops or in other confined or crowded environments,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday.
Churches, temples, mosques and houses of worship statewide can resume services and ceremonies with 25% capacity when a region has entered phase II of the state’s four-stage reopening plan.
“Be smart — it doesn’t mean you sit right next to a person,” Cuomo said, warning worshipers not to congregate at entrances or exits.
“This is an acceleration for us because we have done so well on the metrics.”
The North Country, Finger Lakes, Central New York, Mohawk Valley, Southern Tier, Western New York and the Capital District regions have each started phase II. The Mid-Hudson Valley region is on track to start phase II Tuesday. Long Island is expected to enter the second phase Wednesday.
New York City protests, and others statewide in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany remained mainly peaceful overnight Thursday and Friday, with continuing arrests of looters or violent demonstrators. International Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations are expected to continue through the weekend.
In the Capital District, a large rally is planned to begin at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Rensselaer County Courthouse in Troy.
Two Buffalo police officers accused of shoving and injuring a 75-year-old peace activist Martin Gugino outside City Hall during a protest Thursday were arraigned on felony assault charges Saturday morning. Officers Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe were charged with felony second-degree assault as part of an online arraignment procedure at about 11 a.m.
Both officers pleaded not guilty to the charges and were released without bail. They are scheduled to return to court July 20.
Video shot by a WBFO reporter Thursday showed Torgalski pushing Gugino before he fell and slammed his head against the pavement, causing him to bleed from the ear and become unconscious.
McCabe can be seen about to kneel toward Gugino after the fall before a supervisor ushered him to keep moving down the sidewalk. The video has been seen on Twitter more than 77 million times.
Gugino sustained a cut to the head and a concussion. He was in serious but stable condition at Erie County Medical Center on Friday.
The Buffalo officers were part of a police contingent in tactical gear ordered to clear Niagara Square after a citywide curfew started at 8 p.m.
On Friday and Saturday, Cuomo called on Buffalo officials and Erie County District Attorney John Flynn to quickly pursue firing the officers. He commended Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, who immediately suspended both officers without pay.
The governor said Friday the video of the incident was “sickening” and “disturbing.” He fired back Saturday at the argument the video did not show the altercation from the police officer’s perspective.
“Then show me the whole story,” Cuomo said. “I know what I saw, and what I saw was terrible.”
The governor will work with the state Legislature to pass legislation next week to address the ongoing pattern of police brutality against minority communities nationwide.
The state’s Say Their Name reform agenda, which Cuomo announced Friday, would allow for transparency of prior disciplinary records of law enforcement officers by reforming 50-a of the civil rights law, ban police from using chokeholds, make false race-based 911 reports a crime and designate New York’s attorney general as an independent prosecutor for matters relating to the deaths of unarmed civilians caused by law enforcement.
Cuomo touted New York’s history of being one of the first states to implement social change,
“Seize the moment,” he said. “
The governor declared an executive order Saturday banning statewide price gouging of face masks and personal protective equipment, including gloves and gowns. N95 respirator masks cost 70 cents each, on average, before the pandemic, but have surged to $7 per mask, Cuomo said.
As businesses reopen, the state is permitting commercial buildings to allow requiring taking a person’s temperature before allowing them to enter, Cuomo said.
New York City’s COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and death metrics are on track to reopen Monday. The city is the last region to restart the local economy with phase I of the state’s four-part reopening plan.
The state will deploy more than 1 million masks and 25,000 gallons of hand sanitizer to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in preparation for reopening.
New York’s COVID-19 fatalities reached 24,212 Friday — up from 24,133 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 30,269.
The state saw its lowest number of coronavirus fatalities for the second consecutive day Friday at 35 fatalities since the pandemic began in March, including 26 in hospitals and nine in nursing homes. New York’s COVID-19 death rate is on a decline after having 42 deaths Thursday, 52 Wednesday and 49 Tuesday.
“We’d like to see nobody die, but this is really good news,” Cuomo said. “From where we were, this is a sigh of relief.”
Statewide virus patients in the hospital declined to 2,603 Saturday, down 125, according to the governor’s office.
As demonstrations, or large gatherings, continue, the governor urged New Yorkers to remain vigilant in protecting themselves and others from the coronavirus and wearing face masks and social distancing in public to prevent a virus resurgence. Cuomo reiterated metrics will not reflect an outbreak for several days.
“We didn’t just flatten the curve in New York — we bent the curve,” he said. “We went from the worst to one of the best in a very short period of time...Don’t get arrogant. Be smart.”
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.
Kate Lisa covers New York government and the state Capitol for Johnson Newspaper Corp. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @KaitlynnLisa