NEW YORK — The state may close bars and restaurants to prevent a surge of the coronavirus as Gov. Andrew Cuomo traveled to Savannah, Georgia, on Monday to meet with officials and help the Southern city fight against COVID-19.
Officials may reclose the state’s bars and restaurants, Cuomo said, after hundreds of New Yorkers crowded New York City streets in Astoria, Queens and the Lower East Side in Manhattan over the weekend, concerning officials the activity would cause a COVID-19 resurgence in New York as the virus continues to spread in 40 states and Puerto Rico.
The State Liquor Authority has revoked food and liquor licenses at dozens of businesses for violating COVID-19 orders requiring New Yorkers to socially distance, or remain 6 feet from others, and wear face masks in public.
New York residents and businesses that do not comply with COVID-19 orders and break state law could ruin reopening privileges for others.
“Bars and restaurants are the problem,” Cuomo said. “I’m telling you, we are right on the line. Congregations, by definition, have to be increasing our viral spread. It’s math. It’s going to impact viral spread. ... We’ll have to roll back the opening plan and close bars and restaurants.”
The majority of New Yorkers seen congregating at outdoor bars and restaurants were young people in their 20s, Cuomo said. The governor reminded New Yorkers the virus impacts people of all ages, including children, and anyone could transfer the disease to another, high-risk person and kill them.
“Young people, as a general rule, believe they are superheroes,” the governor said. “It’s not just about you. It’s about who you could infect. It’s stupid what you’re doing — don’t be stupid.”
Cuomo continued his months-long plea Monday for local governments to enforce social-distancing, face-covering and other pandemic mandates — not just inform residents about the necessity.
“Local governments don’t want to enforce the law,” the governor said. “That is the only line between anarchy and civilization.”
Enforcing COVID-19 measures are not politically popular, but scaling back reopening is worse.
“That’s going to be more politically difficult than telling the NYPD to do their job,” Cuomo said. “The crowd has to be dispersed.”
Cuomo and members of the state’s COVID-19 task force departed from John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens just after 10 a.m. Monday to participate in a roundtable meeting with Savannah Mayor Van R. Johnson and the city’s health experts to discuss how to establish testing and contact-tracing operations and the best practices to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I feel compelled to go,” Cuomo said during a briefing at the airport before boarding a plane Monday morning.
The governor reviewed the state’s experiences since March establishing testing and contact tracing organizations and flattening the curve, or slowing the spread of the virus, and reminisced how more than 30,000 out-of-state health care workers volunteered to help New York in its time of need this spring.
“I said that day we would never forget it ... We live by the same code of generosity and community,” the governor added. “I go representing all New Yorkers. ... We have knowledge of how to do this. I probably have more experience than anyone in the country on this on the ground.”
The roundtable meeting was held at 2:15 p.m. from Savannah’s Hyatt Regency Hotel. The event was livestreamed on governor.ny.gov, but was closed to the press and public.
Cuomo, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa, state Budget Director Robert Mujica, SUNY Empire State College President Jim Malatras and COVID-19 task force members Gareth Rhodes, state Department of Financial Services deputy superintendent; Larry Schwartz, former secretary to the governor; Lisa Pino, state Department of Health executive deputy commissioner; and Edgar Santana, director of Downstate Regional Affairs.
The group was to return to Albany on Monday evening, according to the governor’s office.
Cuomo and his aides will not be mandated to self-quarantine for two weeks when they return, the governor said, because they are considered essential workers and are exempt from New York’s order mandating 14-day isolation for travelers from 23 states with high coronavirus infections, including Georgia.
Travelers do not have to self-quarantine if they spend fewer than 24 hours in one of the affected states.
“It’s virtually impossible to enforce with total certainty,” Cuomo said of the quarantine order, adding the nationwide virus spike “is a very real threat.”
The state does not have a legal way to enforce the quarantine for travelers who drive into New York. Most out-of-state visitors fly to a state airport.
The federal government and President Donald Trump remain in denial about the coronavirus and COVID-19 spread, said Cuomo, who repeated the virus does not respond to politics.
“The solution is medicine and science,” the governor said. “Five months later, and this country is still unprepared to deal with this. It’s like we were on day 1 of COVID. It is so unnecessary that we are here.”
Eight New Yorkers died from the virus Sunday, including six in hospitals and two in nursing homes. The state’s virus-related fatalities have remained flat for several weeks, but is down from 13 Saturday and 11 Friday.
The state reported 519 new COVID-19 cases, or about 1.05% positive, of the 49,342 tests conducted Sunday. Each of the state’s 10 regions reported a low, consistent positive COVID-19 testing rate of 1.7% or lower.
“We have no trouble signs, no trouble spots,” the governor said of the state’s overall infection rate. “The progress is all very good.”
Malatras said Monday a population must have an infection rate upwards of 60% or 70% to reach herd immunity, or when most of a population becomes immune to an infectious disease. About 20% of New York City’s population has been infected with COVID-19.
State and national health experts continue to question if, or how long, a person is immune to COVID-19 after exposure.
“There’s a question that exists, anyway, so we’re taking every step to keep the infection rate low,” Malatras said.
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.