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Cuomo, before White House meeting, loosens restrictions on some surgeries

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Governor Cuomo's office
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April 20, 2020

Gov. Andrew Cuomo laid out a plan Tuesday to resume some types of elective surgeries in some portions of upstate New York. But all of downstate, and several upstate counties, will be excluded.

"We're going to allow elective outpatient treatment, which means the number of beds remain available because the number of people using those beds is still relatively minimal," he said.

Cuomo spoke before a planned meeting Tuesday afternoon at the White House with President Donald Trump.

Cuomo, who conducted his briefing at the Roswell Park Cancer Center in Buffalo, said the meeting with Trump will focus on testing. The governor has been asking the federal government to step in and manage the national supply chain for testing materials, saying it’s something the states can’t do on their own. 

The governor, who has alternately praised and berated the president in the past few weeks as the pandemic raged in New York, said he will try to find some middle ground.  

“Life is a fine line,” said Cuomo, who added he will “tell the truth” to the president. 

Cuomo also said elective outpatient surgeries will be allowed to resume in counties that do not have a significant number of people sick with the coronavirus.  

“We are going to allow it in counties in the state that do not have a COVID issue,” Cuomo said. 

The entire New York City area and its suburbs, Long Island, Westchester and Rockland, will be excluded. Several upstate counties will also not be permitted to resume elective surgeries for now, including Erie County -- which includes Buffalo and its suburbs -- Albany County and Dutchess County. The governor said hospital beds there might be needed if the virus resurges.  

Outside of those areas, Cuomo said the surgeries could resume at upstate hospitals in counties where at least 25% of hospital beds are unoccupied and less than 10 people have been hospitalized for COVID-19 in the past 10 days.

The governor also said he plans to reopen the state differently in different regions of the state, depending on how many people are infected in a particular area. But he is not ready to announce any loosening of the business and school closures and stay-at-home orders. They remain in effect until May 15.  

Complaints about New York’s unemployment offices continue, even though Cuomo and his aides have said they are improving the antiquated system. Several days ago, the state simplified the forms and said applicants would get a call back from the state department of labor within 72 hours.

Reporters asked the governor about jobless New Yorkers who say the state failed to call them back during that time period. The governor said he understands the frustration.  

“There’s nothing worse than being unemployed," he said, "and nervous about a paycheck, and then you call for unemployment benefits, and you can’t get through on the phone. I get it.”

The system, which normally handles about 50,000 calls a week, had nearly 8 million calls in one week in late March and early April.

Cuomo said the state has 1,000 workers transferred from other departments to work on the volume of phone calls, and it is working with Google to try to streamline the system. 

On Monday, the state labor department issued a new application that fixed a glitch that required applicants to file twice, one for regular unemployment , and if they were rejected, to then file for the federal enhanced pandemic unemployment program. Now they just have to apply once.

Cuomo said even if benefits are delayed, they will be retroactive to the date of the person’s job loss.