NEW YORK — New York will create its own coronavirus order enforcement department as Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressed concern Wednesday the virus could resurge in the state as residents and local governments grow complacent in enforcing mask and social-distancing measures and the pandemic spreads across the U.S.
State officials tasked with enforcing New Yorkers remain socially distanced and wear facial coverings in public, including inside businesses, will supplement the state’s 500-plus local police departments as the governor said citizen compliance is slipping.
Indoor dining will remain closed in New York City as the city prepares to start phase III of reopening Monday. COVID-19 testing rates across the five boroughs remain stable or below 1% positive, but the governor is concerned restarting indoor dining in the city — the nation’s former coronavirus epicenter. State police, State Liquor Authority and Health Department officials monitored patrons at city bars and restaurants Tuesday to help Cuomo and his aides make the citywide decision.
“Citizen compliance is slipping —look at any street in Manhattan,” Cuomo said during a pandemic briefing Wednesday afternoon in New York City. “I get why, but it is a very real problem.”
The governor pleaded with local governments to stay vigilant in enforcing state coronavirus orders, otherwise the virus would resurge in the state.
“Government is supposed to be enforcing compliance, that is not happening to a sufficient basis,” Cuomo said. “If you have citizen compliance dropping and you don’t have local governments enforcing, then you’re going to see the virus go up. Their sole, legal responsibility is testing, tracing and compliance.
“If they don’t do those things, the virus will spread. That’s reality. Period. Then, we’re back to the mountain.”
The governor’s office has received compliance complaints from across the state, but it remains the largest issue in New York City where crowds are most likely to congregate. Indoor dining has resumed across the rest of the state and will not be affected.
The governor would not specify how long indoor dining will be prohibited in city bars and restaurants, adding it depends on New Yorkers’ behavior.
“It’s going to be postponed until the facts change and it’s prudent to open, but the facts have to change,” he said.
COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations continue to spread in 35 U.S. states and Puerto Rico, especially in Texas, Arizona and Florida, which have reclosed bars and reversed reopening in attempts to curb the outbreak. Cuomo blamed President Donald Trump for the nation’s failed virus recovery Wednesday for the second time this week, saying the federal government denied the severity of the virus and incorrectly urged states to reopen quickly to benefit the economy.
The president has continued to hold political rallies in packed arenas recently ahead of the November election, including a controversial Tulsa, Oklahoma, event June 20 and another in Phoenix, Arizona, on June 23. Trump has not mandated attendees to wear masks and Cuomo continued his criticism of the president Wednesday for also not donning a facial covering in public and urged him to change his behavior and mobilize the government to successfully fight COVID-19.
“What signal did that send to the American people?” Cuomo said. “‘If it was a problem, the president wouldn’t do it’ — wrong! ...Sometimes, if the president of the United States speaks, people listen... even if the president is Trump.
“You know what, Mr. President? Reality wins every time. You don’t defeat reality... and now the country is suffering because of the president. It’s time for him to change course.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert and leading voice on the White House coronavirus task force, warned cases could grow to 100,000 a day in the U.S. if Americans don’t start following public health recommendations, such as wearing masks and practicing social distancing, to reverse the spread.
“That, my friends, is frightening,” Cuomo said.
U.S. states and cities must receive federal coronavirus aid, the governor said, to restart the national economy following the pandemic. The U.S. House’s fifth COVID-19 relief bill the HEROES Act, which has sat in the Senate since May, would provide about $500 billion to states and $460 billion in aid to localities.
“We thought what the HEROES Act did was exactly right,” U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer said to reporters on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
The bill repeals the controversial State And Local Tax deduction, which allowed taxpayers of high-tax tates to deduct local payments on their federal tax returns.
“If they don’t fund state and local governments, you’re going to see massive layoffs all across the country,” Cuomo said. “My guess is they do it by the end of July, if I had a crystal ball.”
Critics berated Cuomo and officials after initial reports projected as many as 120,000 New Yorkers could be hospitalized at the height of the pandemic’s curve in the state earlier this spring were not accurate. More than 18,000 New York patients were hospitalized at the peak in April.
Most people mistake COVID-19 infection, hospitalization or death models as a prediction when the charts show what will happen if the current numbers continue, the governor explained.
All New Yorkers are eligible to get tested for COVID-19 as the state has secured enough testing supplies and capacity for New York’s roughly 19 million residents. Tests for free for all New York residents. The state performs more coronavirus diagnostic tests per capita than any nation across the world, including Italy, the United Kingdom, Canada and South Korea.
Travelers who fly or arrive in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut from 16 states that have more than a 10% positive coronavirus test rate must self-isolate for 14 days. To date, no visitors have tested positive for the virus post-quarantine, but the order has been in effect for one week.
State officials randomly call and video call travelers who land in state airports from California, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, the Carolinas, Utah or Texas to check visitors are self-isolating in a home or residence.
People who violate the advisory will be subject to a judicial order and mandatory quarantine where a state official checks a residence or dwelling once per day to ensure a person has remained separated from the public.
The state is requiring any malls, gyms or movie theaters to install a High Efficiency Particulate Air, or HEPA, filters, which have been shown to help reduce the presence of COVID-19 in air filtration or cooling systems, before they will be cleared to reopen. Cuomo said Wednesday the filter is a possible benefit to preventing the spread of the coronavirus, but would not be the sole factor in the state’s decision to resume those businesses in phase IV.
Malls, gyms and movie theaters remain closed statewide.
The Capital Region entered phase 4 of reopening Wednesday, including low-risk arts, entertainment, recreation and educational industries and facilities.
State Health Department Commissioner Howard Zucker said Wednesday COVID-19 can spread through fecal matter or contamination, and recommends closing the lid before flushing a toilet. Zucker recommends businesses implement social-distancing protocols by blocking off certain public restroom stalls with lidless toilets to reduce the possibility of virus spread.
The state reported 11 New Yorkers died from the virus Tuesday, including eight in hospitals and three in nursing homes, and down from 13 fatalities Monday. The state’s total virus hospitalizations decreased to 879, or down 11, according to the governor’s office.
The state reported 625 new COVID-19 cases, or about 1.1%, of the 56,710 tests conducted Tuesday. Each of the state’s 10 regions reported a positive COVID-19 testing rate of 1.5% or lower.
To schedule a COVID-19 test or for more information about the virus, visit coronavirus.health.ny.gov/covid-19-testing
The Tribune News Service contributed to this report.