BUFFALO — Western New York will start reopening Tuesday after hiring several hundred coronavirus COVID-19 contact tracers overnight, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday.
Western New York, which includes Buffalo, will become the sixth region of 10 to begin the state’s gradual, four-phase reopening plan. Dozens of officials from each of the state’s 62 counties will monitor COVID-19 hospitalization, death, infection, testing and contact tracing data for two weeks between each phase.
“It is a formula — it is math, which is liberating because it takes the politics out of it,” Cuomo said Monday during a pandemic briefing at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. “It’s up to us. It’s up to you.”
Large gatherings and events will be the last to resume, state Budget Director Robert Mujica said.
Western New York needed to hire 352 contact tracers to reach its required 521 as of Sunday afternoon. County and other officials worked hard and completed the task and started training as of Monday afternoon.
As of Saturday, Western New York and the Capital Region did not satisfy the state’s required 14-day decline in net hospitalizations on a rolling three-day average to gradually restart the economy. The state reset its clock for counting metric data Friday — the day Cuomo’s 10-point executive NY On Pause order was set to expire, and the regions met the requirement Sunday, or the third day, afterward.
“That’s what we’ve been doing,” Cuomo said Monday.
The governor and his officials dodged questions that the metrics were changed over the weekend, and the plan was to reset the regional dashboard “clock” Friday.
NY On Pause was extended through May 28, but the remaining four regions can start reopening once they meet the state’s benchmarks regardless of the order’s expiration.
The Capital Region satisfied six of the state’s seven reopening criteria Monday. The region can start reopening once it has 383 total contact tracers, but needs to hire 166 more, Cuomo said Sunday. The governor did not address the Capital Region’s progress at his Monday briefing.
“That is purely an administrative function,” he said. “That’s the only function that has to be performed for those regions to reopen.”
State testing labs have reserved a capacity of at least 35,000 diagnostic COVID-19 tests each day for nursing home facilities after Cuomo mandated nursing home and adult care facility staff be tested twice per week.
The state Health Department will send 320,000 testing kits to more than 600 nursing homes statewide this week.
“I know the nursing home operators are not happy about this — I get it,” Cuomo said. “It’s very hard to administer. I understand that no other state is doing this. ... We’re going to do what we have to do to protect the lives of New Yorkers.”
New York’s COVID-19 fatalities reached 21,995 Monday — up from 21,750 Saturday and 21,889 Sunday. 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 28,232 Monday afternoon.
The state saw 106 virus-related deaths Sunday, including 83 in hospitals and 23 in nursing homes. The state’s death rate from the virus remains flat after totaling 139 fatalities Saturday, 157 Friday and 132 Thursday.
The state tested 1,439,557 people by Monday, revealing 351,371 total positive cases of COVID-19. New York’s hospitalization rates continued a downward trend to 5,840 patients Monday, down 57 overnight, according to the governor’s office.
Just over 370 new virus patients entered hospitals statewide each Sunday and Monday — a dip from last week’s daily average of 400 and an average of about 600 the prior week.
Judges and staff will return to courthouses in 30 upstate counties this week.
International health experts Dr. Michael Osterholm, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy director at the University of Minnesota; and Dr. Samir Bhatt, senior lecturer at Imperial College London; will watch New York’s metrics as the state reopens and advise officials through the process.
“New York is not out of the wood yet,” Bhatt said via video call during Monday’s briefing. “No state, no country is. Our team is focused on rigorous modeling to keep track of the [COVID-19 infection rate]. New York must continue to be diligent and follow the data.”
The state will work with major sport teams that plan to play without fans.
“Games could be televised,” Cuomo said, mentioning hockey, basketball, baseball and football. “New York state will help those major sport franchises to do just that. Whoever can reopen, we are ready and willing and able to partner.”
Horse racing tracks can open June 1 statewide without fans. Next month’s opening for horse racing tracks, per state guidelines, include Aqueduct Racetrack, Batavia Downs, Belmont Park, Buffalo Raceway, the Finger Lakes Racetrack, Saratoga Race Course, Saratoga Raceway, Tioga Downs, Vernon Downs and Yonkers Raceway. The state will also open Watkins Glen International race track in Schuyler County. Officials expect to release detailed guidance this week.
New York has more than 700 coronavirus testing sites statewide. Several drive-through testing sites can test up to 15,000 people each day, but only test 5,000. The state will partner with more than 60 CVS pharmacies across New York to conduct 50 or more tests each day.
Cuomo received a diagnostic COVID-19 swab test in his nasal cavity during Sunday’s briefing to demonstrate the test’s simplicity, he said, and encourage all New Yorkers to get one.
Elective surgeries will resume in Westchester and Suffolk counties, including at ambulatory surgery centers. Elective surgeries cannot be performed in New York City, on Long Island or in Rockland or Erie counties, but are permitted in the rest of the state to date. Erie County Medical Center was granted a waiver to restart elective procedures.
The House passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or HEROES Act, on Friday with bipartisan votes. The nation’s fifth coronavirus package includes $500 billion for states and $375 billion slated for local governments. New York will receive about $34.4 billion in federal aid under the legislation, including $17.2 billion for New York City and $15.1 billion for other municipalities.
The measure is expected to be taken up in the Republican-led Senate for negotiations.
Cuomo called the HEROES Act “smart” Saturday, and called on senators to swiftly pass the legislation.
The HEROES Act includes COVID-19 diagnostic testing funding, another $1,200 stimulus check for Americans, $200 billion for hazard pay for essential workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 fight, increases Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, and extends unemployment benefits through January 2021. The legislation also provides funding for COVID-19 testing and repeals the 2017 federal tax law capping the State and Local Tax deduction at $10,000, which allowed taxpayers in high-tax states to deduct state and local tax payments over $10,000 on their federal tax returns.
The legislation includes the Direct Support for Communities Act, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-19, which creates a formula to ensure governments of all sizes — including rural counties, towns, villages and hamlets upstate — receive federal funding to support essential and frontline workers responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The House of Representatives took action to deliver much-needed relief to our state and local governments,” Delgado said in a statement, adding his Direct Support for Communities Act is critical. “It is urgent that we get these funds to our communities who are facing unfathomable decisions to furlough those working around the clock to keep us safe. Our rural communities are feeling the impact of this right now and we must not delay in getting this critical relief to those who need it most.”
Under the law, local relief funding would be split 50/50, with half committed to cities, towns and villages and half committed to counties. Of the portion allocated for cities, towns and villages, 70% would go to Community Development Block Grant entitlement communities.
The remaining 30% would be divided among all non-entitlement communities in the state based on population, according to a statement from Delgado’s office.
Monday marked day 79 since the state’s first confirmed COVID-19 case.
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