ALBANY — Horse racing tracks can open June 1 statewide without fans, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Saturday before calling on U.S. senators to act swiftly on the historic $3 trillion stimulus package Congress passed Friday.
The June 1 opening for horse racing tracks, per the state guidelines, include Aqueduct Racetrack, Batavia Downs, Belmont Park, Buffalo Raceway, the Finger Lakes Racetrack, Saratoga Race Course, Saratoga Raceway, Tioga Downs, Vernon Downs and Yonkers Raceway. The state will also open Watkins Glen International race track in Schuyler County. Officials expect to release detailed guidance this week.
The state is exploring ways to expand economic activity without crowds, Gov. Cuomo said. Half of the state started to reopen Friday with construction, manufacturing and curbside pickup retail industries.
“In terms of sports, baseball without a crowd can still be televised,” Gov. Cuomo said Saturday during a pandemic briefing at the state Capitol. “It’s about economic activity without crowds or gatherings.”
The House passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act on Friday with bipartisan votes. The nation’s fifth coronavirus package includes $500 billion for states and $375 billion slated for local governments. New York will receive about $34.4 billion in federal aid under the legislation, including $17.2 billion for New York City and $15.1 billion for other municipalities.
The measure is expected to be taken up in the Republican-led Senate for negotiations.
Gov. Cuomo called the HEROES Act “smart,” Saturday, and called on senators to swiftly pass the legislation.
“They shouldn’t delay,” said the governor, adding previous bills helped small and big businesses, but not working Americans. “...Try to be great in this moment...Do what’s right for the American people.”
The HEROES Act includes COVID-19 diagnostic testing funding, another $1,200 stimulus check for Americans, $200 billion for hazard pay for essential workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 fight, increases Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and extends unemployment benefits through January 2021. The legislation also provides funding for COVID-19 testing and repeals the 2017 federal tax law capping the State and Local Tax deduction at $10,000, which allowed taxpayers in high-tax states to deduct state and local tax payments over $10,000 on their federal tax returns.
The legislation includes the Direct Support for Communities Act, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Antonio R. Delgado, D-19, which creates a formula to ensure governments of all sizes — including rural counties, towns, villages and hamlets upstate — receive federal funding to support essential and frontline workers responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The House of Representatives took action to deliver much-needed relief to our state and local governments,” Mr. Delgado said in a statement Friday night, adding his Direct Support for Communities Act is critical. “It is urgent that we get these funds to our communities who are facing unfathomable decisions to furlough those working around the clock to keep us safe. Our rural communities are feeling the impact of this right now and we must not delay in getting this critical relief to those who need it most.”
Under the law, local relief funding would be split 50/50, with half committed to cities, towns and villages and half committed to counties. Of the portion allocated for cities, towns and villages, 70 percent would go to Community Development Block Grant entitlement communities.
The remaining 30 percent would be divided among all nonentitlement communities in the state based on population, according to a statement from Mr. Delgado’s office.
New York’s COVID-19 fatalities reached 21,750 on Saturday — up from 21,593 on Friday. according to the 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 27,878 on Saturday afternoon.
The state saw 157 virus-related deaths Saturday, including 105 in hospitals and 52 in nursing homes. The state’s death rate from the virus is flat after totaling 132 fatalities Thursday, 157 on Wednesday and 166 on Tuesday.
The state tested 1,378,717 people by Saturday, revealing 348,232 total positive cases of COVID-19. New York’s hospitalization rates continued a downward trend to 6,220 patients Saturday, down 174 overnight, according to the governor’s office.
About 400 new virus patients continue to enter hospitals statewide each day, which is down from about 600 last week and 1,000 during the first week of May.
“How relatively slow the decline has been,” Gov. Cuomo said. “It shows you the problem of having a spike. A spike happens quickly, but resolves slowly.”
Elective surgeries can resume in Westchester and Suffolk counties, including at ambulatory surgery centers. Elective surgeries cannot be performed in New York City, on Long Island or in Rockland or Erie counties, but are permitted in the rest of the state to date.
Officials expect an increase in virus activity during reopening, but must watch for outbreaks. Gov. Cuomo reminded New Yorkers many countries, such as Iran, Lebanon and Germany, have had to reinforce closing orders after suffering COVID-19 resurgences after reopening.
“Will there be a spike?” the governor said. “It’s formed on how people react and it depends on their personal behavior.”