With the third phase of reopening under New York Forward well underway on Long Island and the lowest COVID-19 figures since mid-March, officials are already looking ahead to phase 4.
While it is technically the last phase in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s reopening plan, it does not mean everything goes back to normal when Long Island begins phase 4, which is expected on July 8. Earlier Friday, during a conference call with the media, Cuomo said the seven-day average of positive tests is 1.1 percent, the lowest of any big state in the nation. New York saw the lowest number of hospitalizations on Thursday since March 18.
In phase 4, low-risk indoor and outdoor arts and entertainment will be permitted to return, along with in-classroom higher education, professional sports without fans and television and film production.
Five regions elsewhere in New York State entered phase 4 on Friday. Central New York, Finger Lakes, Mohawk Valley, North Country and Southern Tier are now permitted to have social gatherings of 50 people or more and indoor religious gatherings at 33 percent capacity.
Cuomo yanked movie theaters, gyms, and malls from the list of businesses that may reopen during that phase. “There has been information that those situations have created issues in other states. If we have that information, we don’t want to then go ahead until we know what we’re doing,” he said.
The State Department of Health is trying to determine “if there is any filtration system for an air conditioning system that can successfully remove the virus from air circulation. Is there a filter that can be added to an air conditioning system that we know will filter out the virus?” Cuomo asked. “The issue they’re looking at is, are these air conditioning systems recirculating the virus, and you’re not getting a high percentage about the air, the air conditioning system is recirculating and could be recirculating the virus.”
Malls with exterior entrances are already permitted to reopen, but stores that only have entrances from within an interior mall are prohibited from opening.
Indoor museums, historical sites, nature parks, and other related institutions or activities have been permitted to reopen. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has been requesting the state allow museums to reopen earlier with restrictions. “I’ve been saying for some time that with capacity limits museums should be able to reopen now with those guidelines in place and you can do that safely. . . ,” he said during a daily briefing on Friday.
“The indoor mass gathering events are going to be the toughest issues to figure out,” Bellone said. “And now that we’re in phase 3 the focus is completely on phase 4 and really getting into the details of a lot of those issues.”
Community and junior colleges, universities, graduate and professional schools, medical schools, and technical schools will be permitted to open classrooms. These higher education institutions must first develop and submit a reopening and operating plan. Students will have to remain six feet apart and wear masks. The state recommends schools consider a mix of traditional in-person and remote learning depending on student needs. “When COVID-19 cases develop, consider restricting social contact and mobility across campus, particularly in affected areas,” the guidance says.
Cuomo also announced that the state’s tracing system is working, putting isolation and quarantine measures in place, as it identified clusters of COVID-19 cases upstate at an apple packaging plant in Oswego County and an aluminum manufacturer in Montgomery County.
“That is actually good news,” Cuomo said. “Those clusters will pop up. The question is do you find them? Do you find them quickly? And do you address them? And that is what the tracing system does.”