ALBANY — Some regions of New York can start reopening Friday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said, and nursing homes must comply with a new COVID-19 executive order amid growing backlash over the state’s handling of the virus in those facilities.
Select regions of New York will be eligible to start gradually restarting the economy after the governor’s New York State on PAUSE executive order, which closed schools and nonessential businesses and enforced social distancing measures is set to expire Friday.
Gov. Cuomo would not say Sunday which regions are eligible to reopen under the state’s four-phase reopening plan he outlined May 4.
County and local officials are expected to join Gov. Cuomo during his briefing Monday to announce specific reopening plans, the governor said.
To start Phase I of reopening, or construction and manufacturing industries, a region must satisfy seven criteria regarding an area’s COVID-19 hospitalization, infection and death rates, available hospital beds, testing and tracing capacity.
The state is divided into 10 regions to reopen: Western New York, Finger Lakes, Central New York, Southern Tier, Mohawk Valley, the North Country, Capital District, Mid-Hudson, New York City and Long Island.
The governor will issue an executive order requiring all nursing home staff be tested for COVID-19 twice a week, starting this week.
“It’s a rule,” Gov. Cuomo said Sunday during a coronavirus briefing at the state Capitol. “We have the tests available.”
Additionally, hospitals cannot release a COVID-19 patient to a nursing home unless that person tests negative for the virus. Facilities must submit testing plans and compliance certificates to the state Department of Health by Friday.
Gov. Cuomo’s new executive order does not reverse the state’s March 25 policy, which mandates nursing homes cannot discriminate against residents by not readmitting people who test positive for the coronavirus, officials said Sunday.
“The only avenue of coming to a nursing home is not just the hospital,” SUNY Empire State College President Jim Malatras said. “It could have been a new patient or from another facility...You can still not discriminate against a nursing home patient. If you’re in the hospital for another reason, you can’t discharge that patient until they’re negative.”
The March 25 and Sunday’s nursing home policies co-exist, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa said.
The state has 101,518 nursing home residents in more than 600 facilities. More than 360 have seen COVID-19 deaths, or 12 percent of virus fatalities statewide. New York ranks 34th highest in the nation for virus-related fatalities in nursing homes.
Nursing home operators who do not follow the state guidelines could lose their license.
“This is the essence of their responsibility and obligation,” Gov. Cuomo said. “If that happens, that facility operator will lose their license. I have no problem with that.”
Under state law, New York nursing homes can house people with coronavirus only when the facility can provide the appropriate care. If not, the infected residents are transferred to COVID-19-only facilities throughout the state, which include St. Joseph Post-Actue Center in Erie County, Syracuse’s SUNY Upstate Medical University, Jacob K. Javits Center in Manhattan, South Beach Psychiatric Center in Staten Island and Brooklyn’s SUNY Downstate Medical University and Brooklyn Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare.
Nursing homes continue with other state orders, including restricted visitation except end-of-life visits; requiring all staff wear personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves, face masks and gowns, when interacting with residents; examining all staff for virus symptoms, including temperature checks, every 12 hours; and requiring facilities to notify all residents and family members about a COVID-positive test result or death within 24 hours.
Three New York children have died from COVID-19 complications causing inflammation of blood vessels and extremities, mimicking symptoms similar to severe illnesses such as Kawasaki disease and toxic shock syndrome. The deaths include a 5-year-old boy, a second elementary school-aged and an adolescent child who did not have any underlying conditions.
Two additional child deaths that occurred over the weekend are under investigation for potential coronavirus complications.
“This is very heartbreaking,” state Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said.
New York hospitals have 85 reported cases of virus-related illnesses in children — up from 73 cases Friday and Saturday. To date, the complications predominantly affect toddler to elementary school-aged children, Gov. Cuomo said.
Between 30 and 40 state health professionals are closely evaluating the 85 cases to determine a correlation and best course of action. State officials will share their findings with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the other 49 states, Gov. Cuomo said.
“We worry about children with vague symptoms...the most important thing parents should do is err on the side of caution.”
The state Department of Health and CDC are identifying national criteria to respond to this syndrome.
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.
New York’s COVID-19 fatalities reached at least 20,757 on Sunday — up from 20,550 on Saturday. The state saw 207 virus-related deaths Saturday, including 164 in hospitals and 43 in nursing homes. The death rate remains flat after 226 fatalities Friday, 216 on Thursday and 231 on Wednesday.
A death toll of more than 200 New Yorkers in a 24-hour period is the same level as the state’s daily deaths in late March.
“Takes us right back to where we started this hellish journey,” Gov. Cuomo said. “It has been a painful period.”
The state tested 1,182,998 people as of Sunday, revealing 335,395 total positive cases of COVID-19. New York’s hospitalization rates continued a downward trend to 7,262 patients Sunday, down 514, according to the governor’s office.
The state Department of Health will treat 2,900 New Yorkers with experimental COVID-19 antiviral drug remdesivir at 15 hospitals with hopes to help patients recover from the illness more quickly. The CDC is testing the potential treatment.
The state’s COVID-19-related expenses are expected to be $5 billion annually. New York would need $35 billion to cover the state’s total pandemic revenue loss, Gov. Cuomo said.
The governor continued his weeks-long plea for federal lawmakers to pass COVID-19 legislation to fund state governments as legislators negotiate a fifth coronavirus relief bill on Capitol Hill while New York faces a minimum $13.3 billion budget gap.
Gov. Cuomo on Sunday proposed the Americans First Law to prohibit corporations from receiving federal coronavirus funding if they do not rehire its same number of employees as before the pandemic.
“We’re not going to subsidize you to lay off workers,” Gov. Cuomo said. “If you’re saving money by laying off workers, you don’t need the American taxpayer to subsidize you, otherwise you will never get those unemployment numbers back.”
Speaking of the consequential bank bail-out following 2008’s Great Recession, the governor said: “We did it once, we can’t do it again.”
Sunday, Mother’s Day, marked 71 days since New York’s first confirmed COVID-19 case.