(Reuters) - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Monday that several regions of the state outside New York City could start reopening their economies this weekend after meeting criteria related to hospitalizations and testing for the coronavirus, demonstrating that they are “ready to go.”
Cuomo said that the Finger Lakes, Mohawk Valley and Southern Tier regions in central and western New York meet the seven criteria to reopen, including a two-week decline in hospital deaths and enough people to trace the contacts of new cases.
He also said certain business and recreational activities, including tennis, landscaping and drive-in theaters could open on May 15, when a stay-at-home order expires. The regions that qualify will also be allowed to reopen after that date.
“Some regions are ready to go today,” Cuomo told a daily briefing. “They just need to get some logistical pieces in order by the end of the week.”
Due to the rapid spread of the virus in New York City, the state has been by far the hardest hit by the pandemic, accounting for more than one-third of the nearly 80,000 American lives lost, according to a Reuters tally.
Underscoring the human costs of the health crisis, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Monday the number of deaths in New York City from causes other than COVID-19 rose by 5,293 above the seasonal norm during the first two months of the pandemic, citing data from the city’s health department.
These deaths could be directly or indirectly attributed to the virus, including people who did not seek life-saving care for fear of exposure to COVID-19, and suggest the running death tally likely understates the actual toll, the CDC said.
Still, a nearly two-month shutdown of schools and non-essential businesses has worked to limit infections in New York, staving off a collapse of the city’s hospital system, Cuomo said. Across the state, hospitalizations have been on a downward trend for nearly a month, and the 161 fatalities reported for Sunday marked the lowest number of daily coronavirus-related deaths since March 26.
While New York has taken a cautious approach to relaxing restrictions on business and daily life, other states - many of them in the South and Midwest - have moved to reopen even in the face of rising infections.
Cuomo, who has emerged as a leading national voice on the crisis, warned that reopening too quickly could backfire.
“We took the worst situation in the nation and changed the trajectory,” Cuomo said. “The rest of the nation the cases are still on the incline.”
Cuomo said regional reopenings would be coordinated across the state and that hospitalizations and other metrics would be watched closely. If “circuit breakers” are triggered, restrictions could be put back into place, he said.
“We just made it over the mountain. Nobody wants to go back to the other side of the mountain,” the governor said.
At an earlier briefing on Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that while progress on key indicators for the virus had been made “it’s not quite where we need it to be” to allow for a relaxing of social distancing measures.
“June is when we’re potentially going to be able to make some real changes, if we can continue our progress” de Blasio said.
Neighboring New Jersey has also seen coronavirus metrics improve in recent weeks.
At a separate briefing, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said hospitalizations continued to fall, while the 59 coronavirus-related deaths recorded over the past 24 hours was about a third of the daily count three weeks ago.
“The house is still on fire,” Murphy said. “Has it gotten better? Yes, it has clearly gotten better.”
Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut, Maria Caspani in New York and Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chicago; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Alistair Bell