ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order Wednesday declaring Juneteenth, or June 19th, as a holiday for state employees, with plans to advance legislation next year to make the date an official New York holiday.
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom or Jubilee Day, commemorates the June 19, 1865, emancipation of U.S. slaves when the final Confederate slaves were freed following the American Civil War.
“I don’t think it has been recognized for the importance that it denotes,” the governor said Wednesday during a pandemic briefing in the state Capitol. “That’s why I’m going to propose legislation to make it an official holiday next year. The most I can do [this year] by executive order is make it a state holiday for employees. ... This would be a first step for the state.”
Forty-seven U.S. states — excluding Hawaii and North and South Dakotas — recognize Juneteenth as a state or ceremonial holiday or day of observance.
The federal government is making a mistake in the way it is handling the COVID-19 public health crisis by not encouraging states to reopen gradually, or in stages based on data, Cuomo said, as the virus continues to spread in 20 states and Puerto Rico and hospitalizations in Arizona, Texas and Florida are increasing daily.
Federal lawmakers and President Donald Trump have repeatedly attributed the number of rising cases to an increase in coronavirus diagnostic testing.
“It [the federal government] is making a historic mistake — this is not a political comment, it is a fact-based objective comment,” Cuomo said. “The argument on testing doesn’t make sense because the number of positives is going up. ... These are facts. It is undeniable.
“If those states are going up, they could spread the virus to New York,” the governor added. “They have a higher rate of infection than New York. What happens when those people fly on planes and fly to New York?”
The governor also signed legislation into law Wednesday prohibiting health care employers from penalizing employees for complaining about employer violations, or whistleblowing.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projected Monday 149,690 Americans will die from COVID-19 by August as the virus continues to spread in 21 states and Puerto Rico — about 15,000 fatalities more than the research center’s May 4 estimate, and more than 75,000 than its April 17 estimate.
This week, IHME increased its estimate to 201,129 U.S. coronavirus deaths by October, or up about 18% from 169,890. The IHME projection is the White House’s preferred model and is supported by the Gates Foundation.
“It’s not a Democratic projection, it’s not a Republican projection,” the governor said, adding reopening businesses too quickly to improve the economy is counterproductive when it causes the nation’s coronavirus cases to increase.
“When the virus goes up, the financial markets go down,” Cuomo said. “When the virus spread goes up, people get more nervous and less confident about government.”
Officials continue to monitor the number of daily, new positive COVID-19 cases across New York. The state had 567 new positive virus cases Tuesday, or .96% of the 59,341 conducted tests, bringing the statewide total to 385,142 cases.
The state saw its lowest number of virus-related deaths Tuesday since the pandemic hit in March at 17, including 15 in hospitals and two in nursing homes. The state’s daily death toll has continued a flattening decline for several weeks, but officials do not anticipate the figure will drop lower.
“The only way I could feel better is if that number ever becomes zero,” Cuomo said. “We remember the 17 in our thoughts and prayers... but this is great, great news compared to where we’ve been.”
Statewide coronavirus hospitalizations declined to 1,479 patients Wednesday, down 59, according to the governor’s office.
New York City is on track to enter phase II Monday of the state’s four-phase gradual plan to reopen nonessential businesses.
The Capital District entered the third phase Wednesday. The Mid-Hudson Valley and Long Island are on track to enter phase III next week.
New York’s infection rate remains the lowest in the country at 0.77%, or one person with the coronavirus infecting 0.77% of another person, or less than one.
State officials remain uncertain if in-class school attendance will resume for school districts and universities in the fall.
“We don’t know for sure yet — we have to see where the virus is,” Cuomo said. “We are in very good shapein controlling the virus in New York right now, but there are question marks nationwide, globally .... of a second wave, is there a resurgence?
“To say today as we sit here in June wat is going to happen in September? No one can tell you,” the governor added. “Think of the period of where we are today to September, and think of this period of time bakwards all of this transpired. That’s 100 days — that’s all that is.”
Cuomo reminded localities Wednesday they have 288 days to satisfy his June 12 New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative executive order mandating each of the state’s 500-plus police agencies to publicly meet with people in their communities to reinvent policing strategies or forego state funding.
“It is the single best chance for change — real reform,” Cuomo said. “We mean start with a blank sheet of paper and come up with your views of your public safety department.”
Each police force statewide must develop a plan by April 1, 2021 — the state’s next budget deadline — to be eligible for state funding. The municipality that oversees the law enforcement agency must certify and adopt and enforce the plan as a local law.