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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks during his daily COVID-19 press briefing on May 13 at Jefferson Community College in Watertown. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

SYRACUSE — Central New York is ready to begin reopening Friday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Thursday during his daily briefing held at Upstate Medical University.

The region — which includes Oswego, Onondaga, Cayuga, Madison and Cortland counties — has met seven out of seven criteria about an area’s coronavirus hospitalization, infection and death rates, available hospital beds, testing and tracing capacity to begin Phase I of the state’s regional phased reopening plan when the New York State on PAUSE executive order expires Friday at 12:01 a.m.

As the governor spoke Thursday, the Oswego County legislature met and were informed of the governor’s declaration by County Legislative Chairman James Weatherup as the meeting ended. 

“We did meet our testing numbers just now,” Mr. Weatherup said. “We have met seven of the seven metrics, so, we’re open for Phase I. The process continues, the testing will continue. It’s still a challenge. We are daily asking for more test kits so we can maintain our testing regimen, keep open and get to the next phase. It’s good news. It’s starting to look like there may be a summer.” 

On Wednesday, Gov. Cuomo visited Watertown to announce the reopening of the north country region, which includes Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Franklin, Clinton, Essex and Hamilton counties. 

Jefferson County Board of Legislature Chairman Scott A. Gray was informed Thursday that the authorized reopening for Phase I businesses is 12:01 a.m. Friday, rather than Saturday, as he had previously stated.

Central New York joins the north country, Finger Lakes, Southern Tier and Mohawk Valley regions in meeting all seven metrics to begin the reopening process.

Anthony Pauldine, an Oswego general contractor, said “We were fortunate that we were able to be open because we were doing a lot of work for the city of Oswego in maintenance repairs, code violations, and so on. So, we kept our crews on and did some of our own small projects where we were able to do necessary repairs and things like that and kind of string along for the most part. But, I’m really looking forward to having it be fully open.”

“I’m sure there’s going to be some rules and regulations to be open. I don’t think it’s going to be necessarily like it was before, so, I’m going to have to delve into what the new rules are for being open,” Mr. Pauldine said.

“There’s just a huge amount of unknown,” he said. “So, we’re just going to take it a couple days at a time and then plan accordingly.”

Half of the state’s 10 regions are now ready to start reopening Friday. Regions will resume construction and manufacturing industries first with Phase I of the state’s four-phase reopening plan.

Each area of the state has a regional control group comprised of local elected officials and administrators to monitor virus hospitalization numbers, deaths and infection rate to prevent a second wave.

Businesses must submit a detailed plan to the state about their social distancing protocols and how they will reduce density to curb the virus spread and follow state guidance to keep workers safe. The plan could assist in the case of potential liability if a COVID-19 death or outbreak originates from a reopened business, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa said. Federal legislation is pending about liability issues and the novel coronavirus.

“You have to attest to the guidelines,” Ms. DeRosa said of business owners and state regulations. “If they don’t do that, they do that at their own peril. It’s a way to hold them accountable.”

New York’s COVID-19 fatalities reached at least 21,436 on Thursday — up from 21,2179 on Wednesday. Johns Hopkins University & Medicine’s online COVID-19 tracker, which includes probable virus deaths in its tally, listed the state’s virus death toll as 27,567 on Thursday.

The state saw 157 virus-related deaths Tuesday, including 157 in hospitals and 36 in nursing homes. The death rate remains flat after 166 fatalities Tuesday, 195 on Monday and 161 on Sunday. 

The state tested 1,298,757 people as of Thursday, revealing 343,051 total positive cases of COVID-19. New York’s hospitalization rates continued a downward trend to 6,706 patients Thursday, down 240, according to the governor’s office.

“Today is day 75 — it feels like a lifetime, but it’s been 75 days since we had our first case,” Gov. Cuomo said.

Dozens of medical officials continue to study 110 reported cases of virus complications in New York children — up from 102 cases Wednesday — causing inflammation of blood vessels and extremities, mimicking symptoms similar to severe illnesses such as Kawasaki disease and toxic shock syndrome.

The complications are affecting young New Yorkers from infants through age 21, Gov. Cuomo said Thursday. Health professionals initially thought the complications were predominantly in toddler to elementary school-age children.

“It is a very frightening development,” Gov. Cuomo said. “I expect this issue is only going to grow...Parents should be aware. It tends to present in children who were exposed to the COVID virus or still test positive.”

Sixteen other states and six European countries have reported similar cases in children, which does not present as a normal COVID-19 ­— or respiratory — case.

Medical attention should be sought immediately when a child has a fever lasting more than five days, severe abdominal pain, diarrhea or vomiting, a change in skin color, such as turning pale or blue, trouble breathing, decreased amount or frequency of urination, racing heart rate or infants having difficulty feeding or drinking fluids, according to the governor’s office.

The state will increase manufacturing medical supplies, such as masks, gowns, testing materials and ventilators, through partnerships with New York companies and corporations. Interested businesses are encouraged to contact Empire State Development 

“We should never again ask a nation to have to scramble the way we scrambled,” the governor said of the state and U.S.’s need to purchase critical medical supplies from China.

The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on its fifth coronavirus package, named the Heroes Act, on Friday. As it stands, the bill is expected to give $34.4 billion to New York, including $17.2 billion for New York City and $15.1 billion for other municipalities. The bill provides funding for COVID-19 testing and repeals the State and Local Tax deduction, which allowed taxpayers of high-tax states to deduct local tax payments on their federal tax returns. Gov. Cuomo praised the proposed SALT repeal again Thursday, saying it costs the state $29 billion and increases federal taxes on New Yorkers by $12 billion to $15 billion.

The National Governors Association renewed its bipartisan request for the third time Wednesday for $500 billion from the federal government to rebuild state economies. Gov. Cuomo first issued the joint statement with association Chairman Maryland Larry Hogan, a Republican, on April 12 and again April 17.

“There’s no red or blue here,” the governor said. “It’s red, white and blue.”

Members of the state Assembly minority requested a hearing to review and investigate New York’s policies, decisions and protocols in response to COVID-19’s impact on state-regulated nursing homes after more than 5,000 reported deaths. Twenty-five percent of COVID-related fatalities have occurred in state nursing homes, according to a Tuesday statement from Assembly Minority Leader William A. Barclay, R-120. Several Assembly Republicans made the request in a letter to the chairmen of the Committees on Aging, Health, and Oversight, Analysis and Investigations earlier this week.

Gov. Cuomo addressed the request for an investigation at the end of his Thursday briefing.

“I would hope we are enlightened enough where we don’t play gratuitous politics, but everyone makes their own decision,” the governor said.

New Yorkers must remain vigilant with social distancing, wearing masks or face coverings in public, washing their hands and taking precautions against COVID-19 — especially as regions start to reopen, Gov. Cuomo said.

“The facts of this virus have changed and I believe they will continue to change,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Do not underestimate this virus. It has beaten us at every turn. It’s your job to understand and protect yourself and I just urge caution.”

Oswego County News reporter Randy Pellis contributed to this report.

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