Movie theaters throughout much of Upstate New York — although not in Cattaraugus and Allegany counties — may reopen at 25% capacity under state guidance starting this coming Friday.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday that theaters can only open outside of New York City in counties that have COVID-19 positivity rates of less than 2% on a 14-day average and do not have any cluster zones.
That counts out Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties, as well as Broome, Chemung, Cortland, Greene, Orange, Rockland, Schuyler, Steuben and Tioga counties.
Theaters will be subject to rigorous state guidance and enforcement, the governor said.
Audiences will be restricted to 25% of capacity with a maximum of 50 people per screen, Cuomo said at his daily briefing. Masks will be required and there will be assigned seating to ensure social distancing.
This past week, the Global Cinema Federation sent an open letter to Cuomo urging him to let theaters reopen, saying Hollywood studios may continue delaying their remaining 2020 releases if theaters remain closed.
The group asked Cuomo to adopt a county-by-county plan for theater openings based on virus data, similar what it said California Gov. Gavin Newsom has done.
Cuomo on Saturday also outlined the state's new "micro-cluster" strategy to tackle COVID-19 hot spots that may come with the fall and winter weather. He said the micro-cluster strategy is predicated on three principles: refined detection, specific and calibrated mitigation and focused enforcement.
Using the state's approach to track cases by address with the help of what the governor calls nation-leading levels of testing, the state will identify outbreaks and implement mitigation measures tailored to the precise areas where outbreaks occur.
"One of the lessons we learned in New York is to look ahead and stay ahead," Cuomo said during his daily briefing. "It's not checkers; we're playing chess with this virus. In the fall you're going to see an increased viral transmission rate — that's just a fact."
Until now, he said, New York health officials have been targeting efforts either on a statewide level or a regional level. that was really the state's only option, Cuomo admitted.
"We now have more sophistication because we've been at it for seven months," Cuomo said. "So rather than looking at COVID-19 data on the state level, regional level, county level or even neighborhood level, we are now going to analyze it on the block by block level."
The micro-cluster strategy is not just to calibrate the state or the region, but to calibrate specific geographic areas.
"Target it and target your strategy down to that level of activity," the governor said. "It requires more testing, more targeted testing, and then you have to be responsive to the situations in that specific locality with mitigation measures."
Cuomo said the approach will cause less disruption in areas that are not seeing higher rates of coronavirus infection.
The governor also reported that 159,972 test results were reported to New York state Friday — a new record high.
"When you're doing that level of tests you get down to the block level," Cuomo said. "And then, when you start to see a cluster, you oversample in that cluster, so you get even more data."
In what Cuomo's office calls red zone areas — in Brooklyn and Queens and Rockland and Orange counties — the positivity rate for test results reported Friday was 4.34%, down from 4.84% the day before.
Within the red zones, 4,305 test results were reported Friday, yielding 187 positives or a 4.34% positivity rate. In the remainder of the state, not counting red zone areas, 155,667 test results were reported, yielding 1,597 positives, or a 1.02% positivity rate.
The state's overall positivity rate was 1.11% with red zones included.
In Western New York, Friday's positivity rate was 1.4% for the second straight day, putting the region at just under Mid-Hudson (1.6%) for the highest positivity rate in the state (Southern Tier was also 1.4%).
There were nine deaths Friday due to COVID-19 in New York state, including one in Cattaraugus County, bringing the confirmed total for the state to 25,637.
Patient hospitalizations in the state totaled 929 (+11) on Friday, with 129 patients newly admitted. There were 195 (-5) patients in ICUs across the state, with 103 (+6) ICU patients intubated.