Wednesday is the day. More than 80 days after the economy on Long Island was effectively brought to a screeching halt because of the novel coronavirus, it can begin to reopen.
“Long Island will reopen tomorrow,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Tuesday from the New York Stock Exchange, which also reopened. As a region, the island is expected to hit its necessary metrics by May 27, meaning Phase 1 of New York Forward, the governor’s reopening plan, can commence. Industries such as construction, manufacturing, wholesale retail, fishing, and agriculture can resume business. Curbside retail is also allowed under this first phase.
“This a real milestone for us. We have been through a lot,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said during his daily press briefing on May 26. “These have been incredibly trying times — devastating in so many ways.”
He said he is confident Long Island will begin to reopen smartly and safely.
“I am certain we can do that; we can do it in a way that we are not going to see a major spike in the number of infections,” Bellone said, adding it will forge “a pathway forward to reopening other parts of our economy as quickly as possible.”
“I can’t emphasize enough how important tomorrow is,” he said.
The state’s regional monitoring dashboard still shows Long Island has met just five out of seven of the necessary metrics to begin reopening, but the dashboard is one day behind. Long Island does not show it met the 14-day decline in deaths, or a three-day rolling average of less than five deaths, or the number of contact tracers needed. Both are expected to be met when the dashboard is updated Wednesday morning in time for the start of business May 27.
In the last 24 hours, 11 more people in Suffolk died from COVID-19. Statewide, 73 people died, the lowest number of fatalities since the outbreak began.
Suffolk County has trained 1368 contact tracers, all government employees from different departments, and they will be certified by the end of business Tuesday, Bellone said. Not all will be utilized, but the county wanted to ensure it certified “more than enough” people, in case more are needed later.
“We are on track,” Bellone said. “There is no reason that I can conceive of that would take us off that track that we are on for some time now. If something changes, we will put that out immediately.”
Cuomo said regional control groups, including the one that Bellone is a part of for Long Island, need to closely monitor the numbers. If the numbers go up, the region has to “pounce on it,” finding out what caused the spike, “explore it, and resolve it.”
Meanwhile, county employees, who are able, will continue to work remotely in an effort to keep density down. It is “the prudent thing to do, right thing to do, at this point,” Bellone said. Long-term planning is underway.
Property Tax Relief
While Suffolk County’s request for a 45-day extension on property taxes for those directly impacted by COVID-19 has not been approved by Cuomo, he has issued an executive order for a 21-day extension statewide.
Bellone said under the governor’s order, no one has to fill out an attestation form. Once his office has an answer on the 45-day extension, those forms will be necessary to get the relief.
When Long Island enters Phase 1, it will mean only New York City is left to hit the state’s metrics for reopening. Cuomo said the state will turn its focus to the city, the hardest hit region in the state, for a more targeted reduction in the spread of COVID-19 in lower-income and predominantly minority neighborhoods. Data shows that zip codes in the Bronx, Queens, and Kings counties are the hardest hit.
“We’re turning the page on the COVID-19 pandemic and we’re focusing on two tracks going forward,” Cuomo said, “monitoring the reopening and supercharging the reopening.”
Governor Goes To Washington
Cuomo is heading to Washington, D.C. Wednesday, where he is scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump. Among the topics Cuomo said he plans to discuss are infrastructure projects that need federal approval — such as the LaGuardia AirTrain plan, the Hudson Tunnel Project, and the Second Avenue Subway expansion, as a way to help boost the economy, he said.
The governor also announced the state will fast-track the construction of the new Empire Station Complex at Penn Station and work at LaGuardia Airport while rail ridership and air traffic are down. The state also will work to increase low-cost renewable power downstate and production upstate with building of new cross-state transmission cables, while also expediting a power cable from Canada to New York City and increase renewable energy resources.