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Deaths in NY dip below 100 for first time since March; more progress on reopening

Dan Clark/WMHT New York NOW

The daily number of deaths related to COVID-19 in New York has dropped below 100 for the first time since late March, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday, marking another turning point for the disease, which has killed more than 23,000 people statewide.

There were 84 additional deaths in New York Friday, the latest data available from the state, bringing the total number of fatalities to 23,282.

“The fact that it’s down as low as it is is really, overall, good news,” Cuomo said. “That doesn't do any good for those 84 families that are feeling the pain, but for me it’s a sign that we’re making real progress.”

That’s a good sign that New York City, where the deaths have been concentrated, could be on track to start the first phase of reopening its economy in the coming weeks. It’s expected to be the last of the state’s 10 regions to do so.

Counties in the Mid-Hudson Region could start the first phase of reopening their economy on Tuesday, Cuomo said Saturday, with Long Island expected to follow on Wednesday. Other regions could enter the second phase next weekend.

Long Island and the Mid-Hudson region were expected to open later next week, but new data showed each was expected to satisfy the state’s metric for average number of deaths over a number of days to qualify.

Both regions still need to train enough contract tracers to start the reopening process, which was expected to happen this weekend, Cuomo said.

As long as those contact tracers are trained, the Mid-Hudson region will be ready to start the first phase of reopening Tuesday. The region includes counties in the Hudson Valley and New York City suburbs, from Ulster County to Westchester County.

“No region opens before it’s ready to open,” Cuomo said. “To be ready to open, you need the tracing and testing system in place.”

The number of deaths on Long Island is expected to be low enough to reopen, but the state won’t know that for a few days. Local officials are training contact tracers in anticipation that they’ll be allowed to reopen Wednesday, Cuomo said.

Three of the state’s regions — the Mohawk Valley, Southern Tier, and Finger Lakes — have now been in the first phase of reopening for a full week.

That means each could enter the second phase of reopening by next weekend. The state’s guidelines suggest that regions wait two weeks before moving to the next phase of reopening. There are four phases altogether.

As long as there doesn’t appear to be an uptick in the region’s COVID-19 indicators — like infections and hospitalizations — those regions should be given the green light to move on to the second phase of reopening, Cuomo said.

“We’re watching the numbers,” Cuomo said.

State Budget Director Robert Mujica said Saturday that the administration was preparing an executive order with guidelines for the second phase of reopening in anticipation that each of the three regions could be ready to advance next weekend.

“To go to phase two, we would modify the executive order and put out all the guidelines for the phase two industries,” Mujica said. “So, those are being prepared now, and those will be ready.”

The first phase of reopening allowed construction, manufacturing, and some retail curbside pickup to come back online. The second phase, according to the state, will allow professional services, administrative support, real estate, and more retail to open.

The state’s remaining regions — Central New York, Western New York, the Capital Region, and the North Country — all entered the first phase of reopening at different times over the last week.

Dan Clark is host and producer at New York NOW.