New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday outlined a 12-step plan to reopen parts of the state while trying to keep the coronavirus pandemic from flaring up again.
"It's a very fact-based, data-driven reopening plan for regions that would keep them safe and allow the economy to reopen in phases," Cuomo said at a press conference in Syracuse.
The plan centers around keeping the hospital system from becoming overwhelmed with coronavirus cases. It requires local and state officials to set up massive testing and tracing systems, isolation facilities for infected patients and monitoring systems for everything — from hospital gear to spikes in infections to tracking whether businesses are following the guidelines. If there is an outlier in any of those measures, Cuomo said that could trigger a "circuit breaker" that would require local regions to tighten coronavirus restrictions on local businesses.
"Remember, we have been to hell and back over the last 60 days," he said. "We have to remain vigilant. This is not over."
The state is following guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that require local and state officials to show a continual decline in Covid-19 hospitalizations over a two-week period before they can think about reopening nonessential businesses, he said. If hospitalizations continue to fall, Cuomo said some parts of the state will have met the CDC guidelines by May 15, but "not New York City, not downstate, unless a miracle happens."
Cuomo said manufacturing and construction jobs will be the first businesses to return to work because they "can adopt to the new normal in terms of their employees, in terms of the places of business and in terms of the processes that they put in place."
Businesses that do reopen will need to guarantee that their employees and customers maintain adequate social distancing guidelines, frequently test employees, maintain strict cleaning standards and follow continuous tracing and reporting protocols, among other precautions.
"That's all part of the new normal, and businesses are going to have to do that if they want to reopen," he said.
Cuomo said hospitals must leave 30% of their hospital beds and ICU beds free after elective surgeries resume. He said the state also has to anticipate the upcoming flu season this fall, which will likely increase the number of hospitalizations.
"The flu season takes up hospital capacity. The flu season takes up testing capacity," Cuomo said.
He said the state also needs to build out a massive testing system, running at least 30 Covid-19 tests per 1,000 people every month, as recommended by White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Deborah Birx.
Local regions will need to build isolation facilities for infected patients, he said. They'll also need to hire thousands of so-called contact tracers to trace and isolate contacts of confirmed Covid-19 patients. Cuomo said the state will need at least 30 contact tracers per 100,000 people.
Testing will be prioritized for people who are symptomatic, people who came into contact with a symptomatic person and frequent tests of front-line, essential workers, he said. The state is also working toward constructing enough testing sites across the state.
"Testing won't work if it's impossible to get. Testing won't work if it's too hard to get," Cuomo said.
Local areas will need to build regional control rooms that monitor "all of those metrics, you're monitoring hospital capacity, the rate of infection, the PPE burn rate, how businesses are complying, and it has an emergency switch that we can throw if any one of those is problematic," he said.
"If the hospital system exceeds 70% capacity or rate of transmission of the virus hits 1.1, those are danger signs," he said, adding that the current infection rate is around 0.8. That means that for every person who has the virus, they are spreading it to less than one other person.
There were 335 deaths from the disease reported in New York on Monday, down slightly from Sunday, which saw 337 deaths, and significantly down from roughly 800 daily deaths just two weeks ago. Cuomo lamented that the number of deaths was "basically reducing but not at a tremendous rate."