This story was reported by Rachelle Blidner, Robert Brodsky, Matthew Chayes, Scott Eidler, Bart Jones and David Reich-Hale. It was written by Jones.
Store owners can toss out or deny access to customers who refuse to wear a mask or face covering, under an order issued Thursday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo as he tries to crack down on people failing to obey coronavirus mitigation guidelines.
The governor also brought some Hollywood star power to his campaign, saying actor Rosie Perez and comedian Chris Rock will take part in public announcements to encourage people to wear masks and socially distance.
The two Brooklyn natives appeared with Cuomo for his daily coronavirus briefing, held Thursday at the Madison Square Boys and Girls Club in Brooklyn.
Cuomo said the state’s focus will shift to help New York City prepare for a reopening under health and preparedness metrics observed by other regions, with stepped up efforts to test more city residents, build up contact tracing and promote the use of face coverings.
“We are going to focus on the reopening of New York City,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo again repeated common refrains about the city becoming the hardest-hit part of the state and the country because, as he said, 3 million people came to Kennedy and Newark airports from Europe between January and March while the COVID-19 virus had spread there and the federal government was shutting down travel from China, so it spread through “no fault of our own. There’s nothing endemic to New York City … we are looking to the west and it came from the east. The virus came from Europe.”
The city, he said, will have to meet the state metrics tracking hospitalizations, severity of illness, death and preparations for any potential surge in patients and establishment of a significant contact tracing effort for those testing positive, like Long Island and other parts of the state did before entering the first phase of reopening.
The last metrics update published by the state for the different regions’ standing on Tuesday showed New York City falling short on two of seven benchmarks: keeping 30% of hospital beds available for any potential increase in COVID-19 patients and assembling a contact tracing corps of 30 per 100,000 residents.
“The state has a set of rules and metrics to reopen that apply to New York City just like they apply to every other region,” Cuomo said. “In this state there are no different standards of safety … if it’s safe for your family, it’s safe for my family … that’s my personal gauge.”
Coronavirus indicators continued to march in a positive direction, he said.
While still a devastating number, Cuomo said, the daily statewide death toll of 74 people from COVID-19 was the fourth straight day the figure was below 100. That compared to a high of nearly 800 confirmed deaths in a day at the height of the pandemic.
New hospitalizations of coronavirus patients, recorded at 163 patients on Wednesday, have also fallen far below the peak of about 3,200 in early April.
And the total number of hospitalized coronavirus patients, 4,010, was well below the peak of nearly 19,000.
In hosting Rock and Perez, the governor said he hopes to better get out the message about wearing masks and getting tested. Cuomo joked that his own adult children had told him his communication skills were lacking.
“You are not just disrespecting yourself, you are disrespecting your loved ones, your communities” if you don’t wear a mask, Perez said. “Please, mi gente,” she encouraged Brooklyn residents.
“People need to get tested, they need to make it a festive occasion, they need to posse up and get tested,” Rock said. “If you love your grandmother, if you love your elderly mother … you should get tested.”
Rock said people not wearing masks is a problem in Brooklyn. He guessed that around 40% of the population is wearing one.
“The kids really aren’t wearing a mask,” he said. “And you know it’s sad. It’s sad that … our health has become sort of a political issue … It’s a status symbol almost to not wear a mask.”
Perez said the mask issue is creating tensions in the city.
“When you see people lose their temper inside the stores, it’s just because everyone’s on their last nerves,” she said.
Perez said she thinks the governor’s order will reduce tensions.
“It’s going to lessen the anxiety of going into a store. It’s going to lessen, hopefully, the fights that are breaking out in stores when someone sees someone without a mask,” she said. “There is enough fear that is going around.”
She said she usually tries to use some humor to get people to wear face coverings when she sees someone without one.
“I say, ‘Hey, do the right thing! Put your mask on! Come on people!” Perez said, making a reference to the Spike Lee movie she starred in, “Do the Right Thing.”
Rock said he is willing to do anything to help in the campaign.
“We’re soldiers for New York,” he said. “There’s a hundred thousand dead Americans, and I will go wherever, you know, I’m called.”
As Cuomo said he will focus his attention on getting New York City reopened, officials on Long Island said they are working to resurrect their battered economies, which finally entered into the first reopening phase on Wednesday.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said her focus has turned to revitalization of businesses.
“It has come at such a high cost for our downtowns,” she said, referring to the state-mandated shutdown since mid-March. “The success of our businesses here in Nassau County is directly linked to our success as a government in Nassau County.”
Curran touted her plan to fast-track permits to allow closures on county roads that pass through local villages and hamlets.
“Now is the time to prepare our downtowns to get back to business,” she said.
The Open Streets Pilot Program, “the extra capacity of sidewalk and street seating could make a difference for survival for restaurants and business and could help them actually start making a profit once we get the green light to do so.”
Outdoor dining, and other businesses
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Thursday he plans to issue an executive order that will require the county health department to automatically approve requests from restaurants to expand their outdoor dining if the related town or village has already approved it.
“We want to make sure there is nothing hindering [an expansion] once we have the go-ahead to move forward with outdoor dining,” Bellone said.
Bellone said he hopes outdoor dining can be accelerated. Expansions could happen on sidewalks and back areas that normally would not be allowed.
As Long Island continues to reopen, questions remain about how businesses can best prepare to welcome back employees and customers — and how they can safely move some of their operations outdoors to reduce transmission.
Among top concerns is when hair salons, barbershops, restaurants, catering halls, movie theatres and gyms could open their doors in Nassau and Suffolk County.
Evlyn Tsimis, Nassau’s deputy county executive for economic development, said at a Newsday-sponsored webinar that salons remain the “million-dollar question” for many residents. The shops, considered personal services, are slated for a phase three reopening, which could be up to a month away.
“But momentum is building to bring it to phase two,” Tsimis said. “It’s a hot topic on everyone’s mind. There is a real feeling that this can be done safely, and that people can wear masks and limit the number of people inside the salon at one time.”
Nassau officials said there is a growing push to allow more outdoor dining, with flexible uses of space ranging from back parking lots to closing municipal roadways for plaza-like dining.
Catering halls hosting large indoor events, gyms, theatres and other recreational events are slated for phase four, officials said.
Natalie Wright, Suffolk County commissioner of economic development and planning, said businesses slated for reopening will be responsible for complying with state regulations to ensure that the virus does not come back in full force.
She recommends daily screening of employees to ensure they are healthy; distributing masks to employees — and customers if needed — and posting prominent signage requiring face coverings and social distancing measures. Many of these policies, she said, can also be shared with customers through the business’ social media page.
“The best practices at this time is to continue to wear face coverings and continuing to practice social distancing,” Wright said. “That is the best practice to reduce transmission.”
Kristen Jarnagin, president and chief executive of Discover Long Island, the region’s tourism promotion agency, said it’s critical that the reopening proceeds carefully and not force a second round of shutdowns. Tourism on Long Island, she said, is a $6.1 billion industry supporting 100,000 jobs, about 80% in small businesses.
“We can’t afford to shut down again and lose our season,” Jarnagin said. “That’s why, as much as we all want to open so quickly, it’s so important that we do it safely and responsibly to ensure this doesn’t happen.”
De Blasio anticipates June reopening
Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said between 200,000 and 400,000 people in New York City are expected to return to work when the city starts to reopen beginning in the first half of June.
But there will be conditions, de Blasio said. Among them: One person in an elevator at a time. Occupancy in a work site capped at 50% of normal. Mandatory social distancing, delineated by markers. “A constant everyday check on how employees are doing,” such as temperature checks.
“We’ve come a long way. We’re not going to blow it now,” the mayor said at his daily virtual news conference.
He said city agencies would conduct random inspections “with a supportive attitude.”
“This is not gotcha,” he said. But, he said, fines or other steps are possible for those who don’t follow the rules.
Northwell: Number of COVID-19 patients continues to fall
New cases of coronavirus continued to remain at relatively low levels, according to state data released Thursday.
Nassau reported 106 new cases Wednesday, for a total of 40,140 since the pandemic started. Suffolk had 101 new cases, for a total of 39,359. New York City reported 1,083 new cases, for a total of 201,051. New York State as a whole had 1,768 new cases, for a total of 366,733.
Northwell Health on Thursday said the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 continues to decline, while the number of deaths at Long Island hospitals remains low.
The health system said it had 647 coronavirus patients at its 19 hospitals, down 19% from the same period last week.
The patient count fell at nearly all of its 19 hospitals, large and small. For example, there are 112 COVID-19 patients at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, down 13% from last week. Smaller facilities such as Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, Plainview Hospital, and Mather in Port Jefferson all saw drops of at least 25% in the last week.
Northwell reported three deaths on Long Island in the past 24 hours, compared to six deaths on Long Island a week ago. Northwell has reported four deaths in the region over the past 48 hours.
The region met the state’s hospital death metric this week, which allowed Long Island to enter Phase 1 of reopening.
Separately, Northwell said it had 29 COVID-19 admissions on Wednesday.
“Given that people are out and about, you worry a little bit about exposure,” said Terry Lynam, a Northwell spokesman. “So far, we haven’t see it spike. We are going to watch the admissions number for sure.”
Nassau reported 60 new coronavirus cases Tuesday, for a total of 40,034 since the pandemic hit in March. Suffolk reported 59 new cases, for a total of 39,258. New York City reported 667 new cases, for a total of 199,968.
New York State as a whole reported 1,129 new cases, for a total of 364,965.
Check back for updates on this developing story.