Coronavirus Updates (May 27): Long Island Reopening Begins

Long Island’s economy will begin to rev up again today, after a nearly two-and -a-half month long shutdown to stop the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

“This is a real milestone for us. We have been through a lot,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Tuesday. “These have been incredibly trying times that have been devastating in so many ways.”

Construction work is slated to begin today, along with manufacturing, agricultural and forestry support businesses and curbside pickup for retail stores.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has mandated that economic activity can resume at two week intervals, as regional “Control Rooms,” headed by county executives and business representatives, monitor seven health metrics to ensure the coronavirus hasn’t begun to spread again. If the disease does begin to spread, economic activity would be limited again.

Phase 2 includes professional, financial and administrative services, real estate and retail. Phase 3 includes restaurants, food service and hotels, followed by arts, entertainment, recreation and education in Phase 4.

Low-risk businesses like landscaping and gardening, outdoor activities like tennis, and drive-in movie theaters opened statewide on May 15, and many beaches throughout the region opened for Memorial Day Weekend, though the weather proved cold and rainy, damping down what had expected to be large crowds.

Several lifeguards, a smattering of surfers and a few well-bundled walkers were all that could be found at Southampton Town’s Ponquogue Beach in Hampton Bays Memorial Day. The red flags were up, cautioning that swimming conditions were dangerous.

“The first real test will be when we have the first great beach day,” said Mr. Bellone, who added that he believes health precautions being put in place at all beaches throughout the state will enable beaches to operate safely here this summer.

“We’re gonna be able to have a great summer,” he said.

Mr. Bellone said Tuesday that he believes the interval between phases will be “two weeks max and hopefully will be a little shorter, pointing out that, some regions upstate that were not hit hard by the disease have been able to reopen more quickly.

“We need to do more and are looking to do exactly that,” he said. “We know the economic devastation is real, and we need to move as quickly as we can while keeping safety in mind.”

But with 1,851 Suffolk County residents dead from Covid-19 and about 40,000 who have tested positive for the disease and more than 12,600 who have tested positive for antibodies, this area has been among the hardest hit.

It was staying on track for a 14-day decline in hospital deaths (on a three day rolling average) that proved the most difficult state mandate for Long Island to reach, and yesterday would prove to be that 14th day, triggering the state to give the region the green light to open.

“I’m very confident we can do that in way that we’re not going to see a major spike in the number of infections,” said Mr. Bellone.

The county now has 1,368 employees trained in contact tracing, either people who were already on staff who were retrained or new hires brought on through the state’s partnership with the Bloomberg School of Public Medicine at Johns Hopkins University. Mr. Cuomo also said Tuesday that reopening the region today was hinging on the official hiring of enough contact tracers.

Contact tracing, in which public health employees interview people who test positive for Covid-19 to see who they may have spent a significant amount of time while they were infectious and inform those contacts they will need to quarantine for two weeks to stop spread, was also one of the final metrics Long Island was able to meet. Between Suffolk and Nassau, the state had mandated the island hire about 850 contact tracers.

Mr. Bellone reported the lowest number of hospitalizations and the greatest hospital capacity in months on Tuesday, with 335 people currently hospitalized with Covid-19, 106 of whom were in ICU.

He said the county has 371 hospital beds available, or 36 percent of the total number of beds, and 236 of them are ICU beds, 41 percent of the total. The state’s metrics include requiring hospitals in the region have at least 30 percent of their capacity available before they can reopen.

While New York State’s reopening ‘monitoring dashboard‘ still said Long Island had met just 5 of the 7 metrics to reopen as of early Wednesday morning, both Mr. Bellone and Mr. Cuomo said Tuesday that Long Island can begin reopening today.

“There’s no reason I can conceive of that would take us off the track we’ve been on for quite some time now,” said Mr. Bellone, who said owners of businesses eligible to reopen can expect to be able to get back to work today.

Mr. Bellone encouraged local governments to work to help Main Street businesses open safely, including allowing the use of some public spaces curbside for business use.

“We wouldn’t do anything to hinder people utilizing the space they need to effectively do curbside retail, even if they’re in technical violation of the code,” he said. “People understand we’re in an unprecedented situation.”

The businesses that can reopen today include the following categories, according to the state:

  • Construction, including: Building Equipment Contractors; Building Finishing Contractors; Foundation, Structure and Building Exterior Contractors; Highway, street and bridge construction; land subdivision; nonresidential building construction; Residential building construction; Utility system construction
  • Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting, including: Other animal and crop production; Support activities for animal and crop production; Support activities for forestry
  • Retail – Limited to curbside or in-store pickup or drop off, including: Clothing stores; Direct selling establishments; Electronics and appliance stores; Electronic shopping and mail-order houses; Furniture and home furnishing stores; Florists; General merchandise stores; Health and personal care stores; Jewelry, luggage, and leather goods stores; Lawn and garden equipment and supplies stores; Office supplies, stationary and gift stores; Used merchandise stores; Shoe stores; Sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, and book stores; Other miscellaneous store retailers
  • Manufacturing, including: Apparel manufacturing; Computer and electronic product manufacturing; Electric lighting equipment manufacturing; Fabricated metal production manufacturing; Furniture and related product manufacturing; Leather and allied product manufacturing; Machinery manufacturing; Nonmetallic mineral product manufacturing; Paper manufacturing; Petroleum and coal products manufacturing; Plastics and rubber products manufacturing; Printing and related support activities; Textile mills and textile product mills; Wood product manufacturing; Other miscellaneous manufacturing; Apparel, piece goods and notions; Chemical and allied products; Furniture and home furnishing; Household appliances and electrical/electronic goods; Machinery, equipment and supplies; Metal and mineral (except petroleum); Paper and paper product; Professional and commercial equipment and supplies; Electronic markets and agents and brokers; Miscellaneous durable goods and nondurable goods
  • Wholesale Trade  

All businesses, including essential businesses, must develop a Covid-19 Health and Safety Plan, which should include the ways in which the business intends to comply with the issued guidance to safely reopen.

Additional information and guidance on the New York Forward reopening plan can be found at https://forward.ny.gov/.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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