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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks during a pandemic briefing Saturday at the Executive Mansion in Albany. Mike Groll/Office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo

ALBANY — The state saw 84 virus-related deaths Friday, including 62 in hospitals and 22 in nursing homes. Friday was the first day since March the state had fewer than 100 coronavirus deaths in a 24-hour period.

Gov. Cuomo said weeks ago, when several hundred New Yorkers were dying each day, a medical expert told the governor to have a goal for the state’s daily death toll to get below 100.

“If you can get under 100, I thought...to blow a sigh of relief,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Eighty-four is still a tragedy, but the fact it’s as low as it is...you need something in life to shoot for.”

New York’s COVID-19 fatalities reached 22,510 on Saturday — up from 22,426 on Friday. 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 28,853 on Saturday afternoon.

New York’s COVID-19 death rate is on a decline after totaling 109 fatalities Thursday, 105 on Wednesday and 112 on Tuesday.

The state tested 1,652,061 people by Saturday, revealing 359,926 total positive cases of COVID-19. New York’s hospitalization rates continued a downward trend to 4,642 patients Saturday, according to the governor’s office.

Gov. Cuomo and the state have faced weeks of backlash after New York has more than 5,400 reported and probable COVID-19 deaths at more than 600 nursing home and adult care facilities statewide.

Many COVID-19-positive nursing home residents returned home to their facilities before they recovered after a March 25 state Department of Health memo declared the state cannot discriminate against COVID-19 nursing home patients and prohibit their return, which potentially infected the most vulnerable New Yorkers — senior citizens and people with underlying conditions.

The state rule was implemented per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, Gov. Cuomo has said repeatedly in recent weeks, deferring questions to President Donald J. Trump about the federal agency.

“The policy the Department of Health put out was in line directly with the March 13 directive put out by the CDC,” Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa said Saturday. “I know there’s been lot of discussion on this topic. There are over a dozen states that did the exact same thing — many of whom were concerned about hospital capacity. ...It’s been a national and international tragedy that everybody has had to grapple with, and it is something that we’re trying to learn from everyday and move forward.”

New York Congressional Republicans and state lawmakers have called for an investigation into the state’s handling of COVID-19 in nursing homes and related deaths. Earlier this week, the governor said he welcomed such investigations, reiterating Saturday the state followed the president agency’s guidance.

“That depoliticizes it,” Gov. Cuomo said. “What New York did was follow what the Republicans’ administration said to do. That’s not my attempt to politicize it. That’s my attempt to depoliticize it. Don’t criticize the state for following the president’s policy.”

As some experts and recent studies suggest a second wave in Southern states that may have opened too quickly, including parts of Florida, Alabama and Texas, Gov. Cuomo warned New Yorkers not to underestimate the virus, to wear a mask in public and wash your hands.

“I’m telling you, those masks can save your life or another person’s life,” the governor said, reiterating emergency room workers have lower rates of infection than the general population because of their consistent usage of personal protective equipment (PPE).

State beaches and lakefronts opened Friday and are slated to remain open through the Memorial Day weekend, before closing at dusk Monday. All will operate at 50 percent capacity with concessions closed and group activities prohibited.

New Yorkers largely complied with social distancing — remaining six feet from each other — and did not overcrowd areas or engage in group activities, Gov. Cuomo said.

“People were great,” he added. “They did what they’re supposed to do.”

More than one-third, or about 35 percent, of people who become infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, or do not show symptoms, according to a recent CDC report. The governor urged New Yorkers to get a free diagnostic test at one of more than 760 sites statewide. The state will open 15 new testing sites at downstate medical centers in partnership with AdvantageCare Physicians.

“That’s one of the insidious elements to this virus, so get a test,” Gov. Cuomo said. “It protects you, it protects your family — it protects everyone.”

Frontline workers, New Yorkers who come in contact with a COVID-19-positive person or anyone with symptoms should get tested. Repeat diagnostic tests are permitted. To schedule a free COVID-19 test, visit coronavirus.health.ny.gov.

Saturday marked 84 days since New York’s first official COVID-19 case.

The Mid-Hudson region will start reopening after the holiday weekend, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Saturday, adding that it may take more than two weeks for regions to enter the next planned stages of reopening the economy.

The Mid-Hudson region, which includes Westchester, Rockland, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Sullivan and Ulster counties, is planning to become the eighth region to start reopening nonessential businesses Tuesday under Phase I.

The region can reopen after it satisfied the criteria for a steady decline in the area’s number of COVID-19 deaths. Officials hired 2,207 Mid-Hudson contact tracers of the region’s required 1,991, but 857 to train as of Saturday afternoon. The tracers were expected to be trained with the state’s online course by the end of the Memorial Day weekend.

Long Island remains two criteria away from reopening, but could reopen Wednesday if the number of virus deaths continues to drop.

The north country, Central New York, the Finger Lakes, the Mohawk Valley and Southern Tier regions started reopening May 15 — the day the state’s PAUSE order, which mandated the closure of schools and nonessential businesses, first expired. A regional control group of officials continue to monitor virus testing, tracing, hospitalization and death metrics each day.

“We’re watching the numbers,” Gov. Cuomo said during a pandemic briefing Saturday in the governor’s mansion. “Two weeks between each phase is a rule of thumb. That’s not a hard-and-fast number.”

Phase I is easier to implement than Phase II, Budget Director Robert Mujica said, because the required benchmarks were clear-cut.

“Phase II is more a judgment call of when have the numbers stabilized,” the governor added. “Can you explain an increase, or is the increase problematic?”

Phase II businesses include professional services such as hair salons, finance and insurance, retail, administrative support, real estate and rental leasing. The governor’s executive order will be amended and the state will release specific social distancing guidelines and safety protocols before Phase II industries are permitted to reopen in any region, Mr. Mujica said.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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