NEW YORK (1010 WINS) -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that the "New York Pause" intiative will be extended to May 15, guaranteeing the near-shutdown of the state for another month.
The order means 100 percent of the non-essential workforce will be required to stay home and social distancing measures will continue to limit activities across the state. Schools will also remain closed.
"New York Pause has worked, the closedown has worked. That's how we controlled the beast," Cuomo said. "However we're not there yet."
The initiative had been in effect until the end of April. Cuomo said the extension to May 15 is being made in coodination with other states.
"I don't want to project beyond that period," Cuomo said. "That's about one month, one month is a long time. People need certainty and clarity so they can plan. I need a coordinated action plan with the other states. So one month, we'll continue the closedown policies. What happens after then? I don't know."
When it comes to reopening the economy, Cuomo said the next step will involve deciding which businesses are "the next level of essential."
He said there will be a "phased return to a new normal," with business reopening on a phased priority scale and based on the risk posed by their return.
"Are there certain businesses that are inherently safer or can be safer," Cuomo said. "Then let's talk about how we reopen them and where to reopen them. And these are all questions that we have to work through on a case by case basis."
The governor also said businesses must "reimagine" the workplace in the future, possibly by having more people work remotely or social distance at offices.
"This is going to be a moment of transformation for society," Cuomo said. "And we paid a very high price for it. But how do we learn the lessons so this new normal is a better New York?"
When it comes to coronavirus case numbers, Cuomo said the hospitalizations and ICU admissions continued to trend downward even as the state reported more than 600 new deaths from the coronavirus outbreak.
The governor said that ICU admissions were also down significantly for the first time and intubations were also down.
He said 1,996 people had tested positive for the virus since Wednesday but that the number of people becoming infected was dropping.
"Now we know we can control this disease," Cuomo said. "The bad news is 2,000 people walked into a hospital yesterday with the disease."
Cuomo also said 606 more deaths were reported from Wednesday to Thursday, bringing the statewide death toll to at least 12,192—a large majority of them in New York City.
The number of deaths is at its lowest in the past week, but Cuomo said it's "still continuing at a really tragic, tragic rate."
But Cuomo said the state has had a lower infection rate than all major models had projected.
"We slowed the infection rate by our actions, and that's why we're in a better position today," he said.
Cuomo announced Wednesday that New York residents will be required to wear face coverings anytime they come into close contact with other people outside their homes.
The mandate will require a mask or face covering, like a bandanna, on busy streets, public transit, or any situation where people cannot maintain 6 feet of social distancing, even if it is passing a person briefly on a wooded trail. The order takes effect Friday.
“Stopping the spread is everything. How can you not wear a mask when you’re going to come close to a person?” Cuomo said at his daily briefing. “On what theory would you not do that?”
The governor, who has himself eschewed masks during his daily news briefings, though he comes within six feet of his staff, said there will initially be no civil penalties for noncompliance, but he’s urging merchants to enforce it among customers.
Cuomo said getting people back to work safely before a vaccine is developed will require not only large-scale testing, but tracing the personal contacts of people who test positive and isolating infected people.
But testing and tracing people in a state of 19 million is not possible without federal help, he said.
“That is a massive undertaking,” he said. “It’s intelligent but it’s massive.”
In the meantime, New York will begin testing 2,000 people a day for virus antibodies this week via a newly developed finger-prick test. Priority will be given to nurses, New York City police and other first responders, so they can know if they’ve been infected.
Both Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio said leaders need to be deliberative about trying to rev up the economy without creating an opportunity for the coronavirus to come roaring back.
“I want to restart the economy desperately ... but the best way to do it is to be careful,” de Blasio said.
Cuomo said the state could consider lifting restrictions first for businesses that pose a lesser risk of infection and are considered more “essential.”