SYRACUSE, NY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday unveiled new, data-driven “circuit-breaker” thresholds that must be met for regions to reopen businesses as new coronavirus infections continue to slow.
Speaking from Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse on Tuesday, Cuomo said rates of COVID-19 hospitalizations, intubations and intensive care treatments continued to trend downward. The number of people who died from the disease fell to 335 overnight, bringing the death toll to 17,638 in the state.
“The number is reducing, but not at a tremendous rate,” Cuomo said. The number of new daily hospitalizations remained relatively flat at 900.
After days of talk about restarting the economy in certain areas, Cuomo unveiled a 12-point regional template that must be met for certain businesses to resume after May 15.
Meet federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines of seeing a 14-day decline in hospitalizations rates.
Identify industries that will bring people back to work and get the economy going while abiding by social distancing. Phase one includes construction and manufacturing. Must identify businesses for the second phase.
What business or precautions are in place? Have businesses come up with plans and precautions to maintain a safe work environment, such as implementing social distancing policies, monitoring and taking workers’ temperatures. Also have to ensure they’re not creating an “attractive nuisance,” meaning they’re opening a facility or attraction that could draw people to the area from elsewhere.
Monitor health care capacity and ensure it remains below 70 percent, including with ICU beds. Hospitals should also prepare for an influx of patients in the fall from flu season and stockpile personal protective equipment such as masks and gowns.
Implement a testing regimen of 30 tests for every 1,000 people, as well as advertising, sites and turnaround time for results.
Implement a tracing system in place in coordination with Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Regions should have at least 30 tracers per 100,000 people.
Have two-week isolation facilities in place for people who get sick and don’t want to quarantine at home.
Coordinate regionally on what to do with schools, transportation, testing and tracing.
Install a regional control room that can monitor infections and hospital capacity and hit an emergency off switch if the region enters a danger zone.
Protect and respect essential workers with adequate access to testing and equipment, as well as disinfecting public transit.
“We want to reopen, but we want to do it without infecting more people and overwhelming hospital system,” Cuomo said.
Data will drive reopenings, he said. New rules will be implemented ordering a close down if a region’s hospital system exceeds 70 percent capacity or the rate of transmission reaches an outbreak level of 1.1. The state is currently at 0.8, meaning one infected person is infecting less than one other person. Epidemic levels begin at 1.2.
“Those are danger signs,” Cuomo said. “We know that.”
He later added: “It’s a tight margin of error.”
Cuomo acknowledged some upstate regions have seen infection rates comparable to the Midwest or West.
The governor also announced the creation of a reopening advisory board made up of 100 businesses, community members and civic leaders to help guide the reopening strategy. Manufacturing and construction will open in the first phase, resulting in 46,000 jobs returning in central New York.
Regions will have to reimagine testing protocols and prioritize symptomatic people, those who came in contact with people who contracted the virus, and frontline workers. Advertising will also be important. Testing has to be available and people have to “know it’s available,” Cuomo said.
When it comes to tracing infected people, regions will need about 30 tracers for every 1,000 people, as well as an adequate number of isolation facilities.
A regional control room will monitor metrics such as hospital capacity, rate of infection and PPE burn rate, and will have an off-switch for the economy.
“We have to remain vigilant,” Cuomo said. “This is not over.”
The governor also called out the “alphabet soup” group of health organizations, such as the CDC and World Health Organization, as well as media outlets for not sounding the alarm when experts knew about the virus outbreak in China last year.
“Who’s supposed to blow the bugle and didn’t?”
When asked by a reporter about updates involving a backlog of unemployment benefits, top aide Melissa DeRosa said $3.1 billion has been distributed to over 1.5 million people. The state is down to about 400,000 pending claims, she said, mostly gig workers and self-employed contractors. The state has hired about 3,000 workers to handle the phone lines and website.
“We’re heads and shoulders above other states,” DeRosa said.