New York will not reopen gyms, malls and movie theaters until health officials have more information about the impact of air conditioning circulating COVID-19 as the illness spikes across more than half the U.S., Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday.
“Our Department of Health is trying to determine if there is any filtration system for an air conditioning system to successfully remove the virus from air circulation,” the governor said in a call with reporters Friday afternoon. “Is there a filter we know out there that will filter out the virus? That’s the issue we’re exploring on that.”
State Budget Director Robert Mujica and Cuomo’s top aides are working with engineering firms to search for a dense filter that would successfully cleanse the air expelled by a cooling system and still allow the machine to operate. State officials want to find such a filter before resuming gyms, malls and movie theaters — businesses expected to draw large crowds and exacerbate virus spread — under phase IV of the state’s gradual reopening plan.
The North Country, Finger Lakes, Southern Tier, Mohawk Valley and Central New York regions began the state’s current final reopening stage Friday.
“The filters that they use have different densities and some filters are better at taking out fine particulate matter than others,” the governor explained. “Some claim they filter viruses out of the air. If anyone knows of such a filter... that would be helpful.”
Some studies conducted in Norway, Germany and Austria where gyms reopened show no correlation to COVID-19 outbreaks. New York officials are studying those reports, Cuomo said, who voiced concern about the safety of wearing a mask while exercising.
“It restricts your breathing while running,” he said. “You have a number of people on treadmills breathing in and out deeply on a treadmill. The deeper breaths — laughing, shouting — tends to put more of the virus in the air if you are positive. If you are at a gym that also has an air conditioning system, that could be problematic.”
A gym’s equipment and mask policies will ultimately determine the state’s decision to reopen those facilities, the governor said.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force held its first briefing in nearly two months late Friday afternoon as positive coronavirus cases and related hospitalizations continue to rise in more than 25 states nationwide. Cuomo did not know what the task force would announce or discuss, he said during his press call held before the briefing.
Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Nevada and Idaho are among a growing list of states that have rolled back reopening and are urging residents to stay home.
“This is wholly inconsistent with everything that has come out of the White House,” Cuomo said. “It has been clear there was no national strategy. It has been clear there was no national leadership. It is now clear that to the extent people followed what was coming from the White House, it was wrong. How do we know that? Look at the results.”
The governor criticized the federal task force and the president’s leadership through the pandemic, including not knowing or warning states that COVID-19, which was originally discovered last December in Wuhan, China, arrived in the U.S. from infected European travelers. About 3 million Europeans landed in New York and New Jersey airports from January through March.
States have remained divided — largely by political leaning — on their approach to COVID-19 prevention and reopening the economy. President Donald Trump and his officials pushed for a swift reopening and assured Americans it was safe to do so.
“One theory, which came from the White House, was this is all going to be fine, it’s going to go away — reopen the economy right away. Get back to life as normal,” Cuomo said. “It is time to wake up, America, and look at the undeniable fact.”
In the long run, the nation’s spiking coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths destabilize the economy, Cuomo said, which was Trump and other states’ opposite intent when they rushed to reopen nonessential businesses.
“A rushed reopening will boomerang and more people will get sick, more people will die and it will be worse for the economy,” the governor added. “There’s now undeniable, irrefutable evidence that the nonscientific-based reopening was a mistake. The argument is over. There are no two theories anymore. There’s one right path and one wrong path.”
The governor lauded New Yorkers and officials from other surrounding states who reopened nonessential businesses based on science and data.
“The states that have handled it politically and the White House guidance are seeing a significant spike,” he said. “It’s time this country understands the facts and responds to the facts... and not dealing with this virus as a political issue a few months from an election. The virus has made its position clear. It does not respond to politics.”
Cuomo, D-N.Y.; and Govs. Phil Murphy, D-N.J.; and Ned Lamont, D-Conn., imposed a tri-state order at midnight Thursday mandating a two-week self-quarantine for travelers who fly or arrive in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut from states with more than a 10% positive coronavirus test rate over a seven-day average. The required self-isolation is to curb the spread of the virus.
Cuomo said Thursday that state inspectors may randomly check on travelers who are supposed to be quarantining. Customs or border patrol officials at state airport are federal employees, and would require federal orders or guidance to assist in enforcing the state’s travel advisory. Cuomo and his aides remain in conversation with federal authorities about ways they are willing to help monitor travelers and implement the tri-state order.
COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide dropped below 1,000 New Yorkers on Thursday for the first time since March 18 to 996 patients and remains its lowest to date, according to the governor’s office. The state had a peak of 18,825 virus hospitalizations April 12.
The state had 805 new positive virus cases Thursday, or about 1.1% of the 61,723 conducted tests, bringing the statewide total to 391,220 cases.
New Yorkers must remain diligent in wearing face masks or coverings in public and social distancing from others to keep the state’s COVID-19 numbers low, Cuomo said.
New York will offer to assist states with high infection rates as several states begin to see COVID-19 spikes. Officials called Arizona, Texas and Florida on Friday to offer medical supplies, equipment, ventilators, National Guard or personnel. About 60,000 health care workers from across the U.S. volunteered to help the state when the virus peaked in New York City and downstate hospitals earlier this spring.
“We will never forget that graciousness and we will repay it any way we can,” the governor said.
As of Friday, Cuomo said the New York State Fair in Syracuse could not open this summer because of COVID-19, but officials have not made a final decision. The decision will be announced within the next few weeks.
“Right now, we can’t say it’s going to open,” he said. “If there’s any possible way to open it safely, I would, but we’re not there yet. The drop-dead date is in a couple of weeks. We’ll make the best decision we can at that time.”