ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sunday that Western New York has now reached six out of the seven metrics needed to begin the first phase of reopening.
During his daily briefing on the state’s response to the spread of the novel coronavirus, Cuomo said the region still needs to add more personnel who will be responsible for following up on positive cases as part of the process known as contact tracing.
The region as a whole still needs a total of 521 contact tracers to be able to move into the phase one reopening. Cuomo said the region still needs to add another 352 contact tracers to qualify.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who was assigned to oversee the reopening committee for Western New York, touted Sunday’s announcement as a sign that the region is heading in the right direction.
”We are making progress,” she said in a Tweet on Sunday.
County, municipal and business leaders in Cattaraugus, Allegany and Chautauqua counties have expressed frustration that the Southern Tier portion of Western New York have been inextricably linked with Erie and Niagara counties regarding meeting Cuomo’s metrics for reopening.
The Southern Tier counties would meet the guideline’s set by the governor, but infection and hospitalization rates in Erie and Niagara counties are far higher.
Under phase one of reopening, Cuomo said residential and commercial construction can resume in the regions that have met the benchmarks. The first phase allows for indoor and outdoor work although masks must be worn by all individuals who are working within 6 feet of each other.
Employers must provide masks. Congregate meetings are still no longer allowed.
In regions that have reached phase one, retail businesses can open for curbside pickup or in-store pickup. Customers must order ahead and social distancing is required in stores. Patrons and staff must wear masks in stores and store owners must make sanitizer available.
Meanwhile, Cuomo said Sunday the Capital Region can begin reopening this week after the state recalibrated the metrics needed to start reviving the economy.
The region has now met six of the seven requirements to reopen and is working to scale up its contact tracing operations to start phase one of the reopening process, Cuomo said. The region previously fell short of requirements for declining hospitalizations and deaths, but after the state shifted the timeline to hit those metrics, the Capital Region is “now qualified for reopening,” the governor said.
Overall, the state has reported 22,617 deaths because of COVID-19. Of the 139 deaths recorded on Saturday, 33 were in nursing homes, Cuomo said.
Cuomo paused the briefing to bring in a doctor and get a COVID-19 test — live on various television stations.
”Good to see you doctor,” Cuomo said to Dr. Elizabeth Dufort, who is medical director of the division of epidemiology at the state Department of Health. Dufort came into the room and was covered in a PPE gown, mask, face shield and gloves.
”You make that gown look good,” Cuomo quipped.
The Times Union of Albany reported that the doctor provided the governor with instructions, “head up a little bit, close your eyes.”
”Close my eyes, why do I need to close my eyes?” Cuomo said, “You can question the doctor that’s OK. Why do I need to close my eyes?”
”For comfort,” Dufort said, “It might make you tear up a little bit.”
Cuomo continued to joke, “what if I fall asleep?” The doctor then inserted a nasopharyngeal swab into one of the governor’s nostrils — a test which is known to be uncomfortable as it reaches to the back wall of a person’s sinuses — often causing people to cough and tear up.
The governor stood stoically — although leaned a little backward as the swab was deeply inserted.
"That’s it, nothing else?” Cuomo said, trying to impress upon the public how easy a COVID-19 test is. “Told you — thank you very much doctor.”
RACE TRACKS MAY OPEN
On Saturday, Cuomo said the state will allow horse racing tracks and Watkins Glen International to reopen with the coronavirus outbreak easing.
But the Democrat was quick to add a caveat: “No crowds. No fans.”
Cuomo said Saturday he could even envision a return of Major League Baseball in New York, also without fans. “If it works economically, that would be great,” he said.