Coronavirus Watch

News and Updates: Cuomo: New travel rules for visitors to NY; WHO: Coronavirus could be airborne in closed spaces; New York zoos and aquarium get ready to reopen; $10 million for community organizations to fight COVID; Staggered public school reopening; Child care facilities to reopen; “Cool” streets

09 Apr 2020 | 02:49

Updated Monday, July 13, 4:05 p.m.

Quote of the Day: “New Yorkers tamed the beast.” - Governor Andrew Cuomo

The Numbers

Confirmed cases as of Monday, July 13, 2020:

NYC - 219,301

NY State - 402,263

Cuomo: New Travel Rules for Visitors to NY

Governor Andrew Cuomo expanded on New York’s quarantine on air travelers coming from states seeing a large uptick in coronavirus cases. Starting Monday, all air travelers coming into New York from high-risk states will have to provide contact information to local authorities to enforce quarantines and keep the downward trend in new coronavirus cases statewide.

“Out of state travelers from the states that are quarantined must provide a location form before they leave the airport,” Cuomo said. “If you leave the airport without providing the information, you will receive a summons immediately with a $2,000 fine.”

New York City saw zero coronavirus-related deaths on Saturday, for the first time since March - an important milestone on the road to reopening. State officials are hoping that by tracking travelers coming in from high-risk states and enforcing quarantines, New York can continue to resist the rising coronavirus case numbers being seen across the country.

WHO: COVID Could Be Airborne in Closed Spaces

Another development from the World Health Organization related to coronavirus transmission has been released: the virus is possibly airborne. Previously the organization informed the public that the coronavirus was likely transmitted through surfaces and droplets that are emitted from a person who sneezes or coughs. Now, as many states have seen dramatic spikes after reopening restaurants and bars, WHO is saying that in closed spaces, the virus might be transmitted through tiny droplets that linger in the air.

Additionally, they confirmed that someone who is infected and asymptomatic can transmit the virus, but the WHO’s website reports that they need more information to determine how frequently this can occur.

New York Zoos and Aquarium Get Ready to Reopen

While the lions and tigers and bears have seen no visitors except for their regular zookeepers for months, the zoos and the New York Aquarium are planning to open at the end of July (July 20 for the Aquarium and July 24 for the zoos). The capacity will be reduced to a third, and tickets will be timed to allow for people to enter the zoo in a less crowded space. Everyone will be required to wear masks, tickets can only be purchased online, and health care workers will get in free.

$10 Million for Community Organizations to Fight Covid

On the morning of July 9, Chief Equity Officer Annabel Palma of the city’s COVID-19 Test & Trace Corps’ announced that $10 million would be allocated for community-based organizations throughout New York City. The grant, provided by NYC Health + Hospitals and The New York State Health Department, recognizes the key role that community groups serve in the lives of New Yorkers.

With the additional funding, organizations will be educating communities on the coronavirus pandemic. According to Palma, “the education will cover how to get tested, answering to the call for confidential information to a contact tracer once they get a call or a home visit, separate from loved ones to stop the spread of the virus and the guidance of precautions around social distancing , continuing to wear mask coverings and safe re-opening practices.”

The grants will be given out from July through November and will range from $50,000 to $750,000.

Staggered Public School Reopening

Mayor de Blasio finally announced the plan for NYC’s public schools come the fall. The Mayor said public schools would not be completely reopening in the fall, only running for one to three days a week. This partial reopening is in line with the city’s efforts to continue to curb the spread of the coronavirus amidst fear of a second wave hitting the city if New Yorkers are not careful.

While the plan does allow for children to go back to a semblance of what their past school life used to be, it makes it harder for parents to completely return to a pre-pandemic work schedule. Public schools will be following social distancing regulations, not allowing for more than a dozen people in a classroom at a time, including students, teachers, and aides. This is part of a growing push around the country to reopen all schooling systems and has created more alternative solutions and hybridization systems.

Child Care Facilities to Reopen

A resolution was passed by the Department of Health, voting in favor of reopening day care and child care centers next week (starting 07/13). So far, only child care programs meant for essential workers were in operation, but this allows for all the roughly 3000 programs monitored by the Department of Health to reopen their doors.

“To avoid the kinds of situations that may not be as safe and might be unregulated, we want parents to know that the best quality child care will be there for them. So, strict safety requirements will be in place,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio about the resolution. Socially-distanced child care centers will comprise no more than 15 children in a room, continuous sanitization of surfaces, only sharing toys that can be sanitized and mask-donning staff.

“Cool” Streets

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Tuesday that certain open streets in the city would be designated as “cool streets.” The purpose for these streets is to enable people passing by or residents to cool off from the intense summer heat. These streets are being instituted in locations particularly vulnerable to heat waves and other health risks. The streets will have fire hydrants with sprinkler spray caps, water fountains, and trees for shade.

Manhattan will have four cool streets:

East 101st Street, from Park to Third Ave.

West 117th Street, from Morningside to Fifth Ave.

West 138th Street, from Lenox Ave. to Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard

Edgecombe Avenue, from St. Nicholas Place to West 145th St.

Cuomo on City Schools

Governor Cuomo backtracked Mayor Bill de Blasio’s statements about opening NYC schools this September at a press conference on Monday morning. Though de Blasio had expressed a desire last week about going “full steam ahead” and coming up with a plan to open schools, Cuomo insisted that for the time being, no decision had been made yet about whether schools would actually be opening. He said that there wasn’t much information available about the effects of students socializing in classrooms.

“We’re not going to say children should go back to school until we know it’s safe,” Cuomo said.

But the governor highlighted the uncertainty of the state’s school reopening, calling it a “fluid situation,” and emphasizing that there was still time for a final decision to be made.

Protests Have Not Lead to Spike in NYC Cases

Since the George Floyd protests began on May 27, New York has braced for a spike in coronavirus cases, but it has yet to come. There were 754 cases confirmed before the protests, and even fewer since then. The numbers have continued to decline. Though symptoms for COVID have been reported to appear between 2-14 days after exposure, it has been five weeks since the start of the protests.

This leads experts to believe that the virus does not transmit as easily in outdoor spaces as it does in indoor spaces. Additionally, many protesters wore masks, which significantly reduces the likelihood of spreading the virus. That cannot be said for police officers, as reported in the New York Times, who have been mask-less frequently enough for Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio to call them out.

Mayor Announces Schools Will Open in the Fall

At a regularly scheduled press conference on Thursday morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced preemptive plans for the reopening of NYC public schools in the fall. De Blasio cited a survey by the DOE of 450,000 families that expressed a desire for schools to reopen in September.

“We’re full steam ahead for September,” de Blasio said. “We’re going to make it work to the maximum for each school, and we’re going to work with scheduling realities to make it work.”

Schools will be reopening under social distancing guidelines; face coverings will be mandatory, hand washing stations will be installed, and deep cleaning will be required. “The focus will be health and safety first, for all of our kids, for our families, for all the people who work in our schools,” de Blasio said.

Some, however, remain skeptical that the mayor will be able to reopen schools. In a response to the announcement, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s spokeswoman Dani Lever said that the ultimate authority to reopen schools is held by the governor.

Plans for Indoor Dining Scrapped

In a news conference on Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city would be scrapping its plans to return to indoor dining with the onset of Phase Three of the reopening. “We’ve got to honor those facts and not forge ahead on indoor dining,” he said. Governor Andrew Cuomo confirmed this, adding that local governments weren’t allowed to make decisions about reopening indoor spaces and he would be making announcements about what reopens in Phase Three and what doesn’t.

This move comes as cases across the nation continue to dangerously surge, despite coronavirus numbers in New York slowly going down. States like Texas, Florida, and California continue to show sharp rises in COVID tallies and have seen several of their cases tied to restaurant and bar crowding. The Governor specified that this is a move that would only affect the city and not New York state as a whole. However, the city does plan to “double down” on outdoor dining plans and help expand those to get restaurants back on their feet.

PPE Vending Machines Pop Up at Subway Stations

As the subways continue to be one of the safer spots in the city, the MTA moved to set up new vending machines at stations. But, in keeping with the times, these machines will sell everything that a daily traveler might need: face masks, hand sanitizers, wet wipes, and gloves. This continues as part of the MTA’s efforts to increase safety for people who take the subways as their primary means of transport.

As part of its pilot program for the PPE vending machines, the MTA initially installed three units. But it now takes the project further by setting up ten new machines at some of the busiest subway stops in the city. The machines go live today and have already been placed in stations like Union Square, Herald Square, at the Seventh and Eighth avenue Penn Station stops, W. 42nd St.-Port Authority, Times Square, Columbus Circle and Lexington Ave. and E. 53rd St. in Manhattan, at 74th St.-Roosevelt Ave. in Jackson Heights, Queens, and at the Atlantic Ave.-Barclays Center stop in Brooklyn.

NYC Hosting the MTV VMAS as Scheduled

Two weeks after it was announced that NYC would host the US Open as planned in August, news of another major event taking place in the city comes out. The city will be hosting the MTV Video Music Awards this summer as planned despite coronavirus concerns. The event will take place on August 30 at the Barclays Center.

In a press conference, Governor Andrew Cuomo stated that the event “will follow all safety guidance, including limited or no audience.” There is no word yet on how many artists will perform, if any. The event plans to follow all rules of social distancing, virtual performances, and limiting capacity.

Cuomo Adds New States to Quarantine List

In response to a surge in coronavirus cases across the country, Gov. Andrew Cuomo added eight states to the list where visitors to New York would have to self-quarantine for two weeks.

“We now have 16 states that meet the formula for quarantine,” Cuomo said on Tuesday. “That has gone way up. Now California, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee – they hit the quarantine threshold.” The full list is: AL, AR, AZ, CA, FL, GA, IA, ID, LA, MS, NC, NV, SC, TN, TX, UT.

Rethinking Phase Three Reopening?

On Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo raised the possibility of slowing the Phase Three reopening because of “troubling signs” of crowds over the weekend. “I want to continue to move forward, but we may have to move forward with caution,” he said in an interview with NY1.

Other elected officials voiced similar concerns. “I had a constructive conversation with @NYGovCuomo this morning expressing my concerns about the health risks of allowing indoor dining to reopen July 6th,” Comptroller Scott Stringer tweeted.

And Council Member Mark Levine, chair of the City Council Health Committee, said on Twitter that “NYC is 7 days away from opening bars/restaurants for *indoor* service. This ignores what’s happened in states where the virus is surging ... many of which have already reversed this move.”

NYC Infection Rate

Governor Andrew Cuomo boasted of an infection rate of just 1 per cent in New York City at a press briefing this morning, citing widespread testing and the identification of “clusters” as steps that helped continue a downward trend in cases across the state. One of these clusters included employees at the Champlain Valley Specialties apple-packaging plant in Oswego. At the plant, 82 of 179 employees tested positive for the virus, officials said.

Brewer and Benjamin Visit Reopened Harlem Barbershops

On Saturday, Borough President Gale A. Brewer and State Senator Brian A. Benjamin visited several barbershops in Harlem that have re-opened as part of Phase Two in Manhattan. “We spoke with these small business owners about how they have prepared for re-opening, and learn more about what can be done to support them and others throughout the city,” Brewer said on Instagram.

NYC Marathon Canceled

The TCS New York City Marathon, the world’s largest, has been cancelled due to fears of the spread of the coronavirus. The marathon, which winds through all five boroughs of the city, was set to take place on November 1.

An official statement was released by the marathon organizers, deeming it “too risky.” The marathon would’ve brought together over 50,000 runners and one million spectators. This comes days after news that NYC continues with its plans to host another major athletic event, the US Open, in August.

City Beaches to Reopen on July 1

As part of Phase Two of the reopening of New York City, the Mayor announced that the city’s beaches will be open for swimming and general leisure starting July 1. The 14 miles of beach will be manned by active duty lifeguards from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

City parks workers will be constantly patrolling the beaches and ensuring that people comply with social distancing rules, wear masks, and hand out masks and sanitizers. And as certain areas of the beach get more crowded, visitors will be asked to move to less crowded areas to contain the masses.

A Rocky Start for Contact Tracing

Contact tracing was off to a rocky start as the city looked to further curb the spread of the virus as New York entered Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan Monday morning. The initiative included hiring 3,000 contact tracers to interview people who had tested positive for the virus to track where they had been and who they had been in close contact with.

There are multiple problems with the contact tracing program. “The relative silence from virus patients in New York City is one of several issues troubling the contact-tracing program,” The New York Times said, citing that only 35 per cent of infected people were answering calls from contact tracers. Another problem is the training required to become a contact tracer. The New York Department of Health website lists the requirements to become a contact tracer as: “a problem-solver with a professional, positive attitude and an independent work ethic who can work a minimum of 20 hours per week.” The DOH did not list any professional certifications as requirements to become a contact tracer.

However, some issues with the program can be attributed to contact tracers’ inexperience. “This is a skill,” said Perry N. Halkitis, dean of the School of Public Health at Rutgers University to the New York Times. “You need to practice.” But whether contact tracing can keep the virus under control as the city’s residents begin to return to work will be seen in the weeks to come.

Governor Cuomo Gives His Final Daily Briefing

On Friday morning, Governor Cuomo gave his last daily briefing on COVID-19 and New York. His voice was full of emotion as he announced that New York State now has the lowest weekly number of lives lost and low infection rates in all regions. He said that New York went “from worst to first,” and that even though “everyday hurt and was hard,” it was necessary to control the virus and save lives, which he confirmed happened. He reported that 100,000 people were prevented from being hospitalized and possibly dying of coronavirus due to the extreme measures put in place in New York.

Cuomo has given the go-ahead for New York City to enter Phase Two on Monday, June 22, which will allow outdoor dining for restaurants, barber shops and hair salons, and some office spaces at 50% capacity. Even though he addressed what a victory this is, he said, “COVID isn’t over.” He warned New Yorkers to watch out for a second wave and “possible infections coming from other states.” The way to do this, he said, is to “open the economy intelligently, and save lives at the same time.”

Cuomo’s briefings have been an anchor to many New Yorkers during the shutdown, and he said that he will continue to hold briefings when necessary going forward. He concluded by thanking his family, his team, and New Yorkers, saying, “To the 59 million viewers who shared in these daily briefings, thank you.”

NYC Playing Host to the U.S. Open

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Tuesday that New York City would be hosting the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament as planned from August 31. In order to combat the continuing spread of the coronavirus, the tournament would be held without fans or audiences and certain measures would be taken, such as “testing, additional cleaning, extra locker room space, and dedicated housing & transportation.” While many tennis fans are rejoicing, a number of top seeded players have expressed their unease about how safe the event would actually be and are still debating whether to attend or not.

Contact Tracers Cannot Inquire About Protests

In a continued stance taken by NYC officials towards protest-related COVID case surges, Mayor Bill De Blasio’s office released a statement on Monday saying that no person would be asked by the team of contact tracers whether they attended a protest. The Mayor announced his plan to deploy a team of 1000 “contact tracers” to create linkages between positive cases by figuring out where they’d been and who they were in contact with, in order to identify the source for the illness. However, the decision was made to exclude protests from the contact history. “No person will be asked proactively if they attended a protest. If a person wants to proactively offer that information, there is an opportunity for them to do so,” was what was said.

Hospitals and Group Homes Now Allowing Visitors

Governor Andrew Cuomo gave New Yorkers some good news by announcing that hospitals and group homes in the state would be able to accept visitors. This, of course, would be done at the discretion of the institutions and visitors would have to adhere to rules of social distancing and appropriate steps such as temperature checks and face coverings. The facilities would also be required to inform the state if they were allowing visitors. “This was always a balance of public health versus the personal relationships, and people were in hospitals who desperately want to see loved ones,” Cuomo said. “Obviously, we need to be careful.”

Restaurant Revitalization Program

After months of lockdown, Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged $3 million to restaurants most affected by the pandemic. Restaurants can receive up to $30,000 each to pay the wages of employees who have, or are in danger of being laid off due to COVID-19.

This is just one of many announced revitalization programs with the goal of preserving local businesses.

Contact Tracing

On Thursday, June 11, Governor Cuomo tweeted a photo of two iPhones, one receiving a call from “Your Ex” and one receiving a call from “NYS Contact Tracing.” The former was captioned, “Don’t Pick Up” and the latter, “Please Pick Up.” The tweet read: “When you get a call from NYS Contact Tracing — Answer your phone!”

This meme, that appeared as an attempt to reach millennial and younger generations, is part of the Contact Tracing program launched by Cuomo and former Mayor Michael Bloomberg to track the virus’s spread based on testing results, by interviewing those who tested positive to locate where they contracted it.

While the tweet was met with mixed reviews (some applauding the humor: “This is quite comical Andrew!” and some sounding the “Big Brother” alarm bell: “Now this is there New WAY to track you, the excuse, the Coronavirus epidemic!”), the Governor released a statement saying, “Contact tracing is a proven public health tool which can profoundly help ‘box in’ the virus. Several countries, such as Germany, Singapore and South Korea, have used contact tracing effectively amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. As a result, those countries have been able to re-open for business quicker and have experienced fewer deaths and lower rates of infection.” There are still fears about the data that needs to be collected from individuals, and how it will be used.

Philharmonic Cancels Fall Season

While the New York Philharmonic continues to provide virtual concerts with “NY Phil Plays On,” it has decided to cancel the rest of its fall line-up of concerts through January 2021. They’re currently exploring options for carrying out the concerts in smaller spaces with limited audiences, but they do not plan to resume live performances till January 6, 2021 at the earliest.

President and CEO Deborah Borda released a statement, saying, “While the New York Philharmonic deeply regrets having to cancel our fall concerts, we had no choice. Our number one concern is the health and safety of our audiences, musicians, and employees. It has become very clear that large groups of people will not be able to safely gather for the remainder of the calendar year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

NYC’S Smallest Museum Goes Booksmart

Mmuseumm, the city’s smallest and most oddly spelled museum, has been hit by the coronavirus pandemic like every other museum in the city. However, it’s back to doing things a little differently as usual, as it decides to release its entire 2020 exhibition in book version. The 300-page “Jumbo Catalog” consists of pictures of a variety of objects that are a part of the museum’s 2020 exhibition on “power.” The objects range from credit cards and clock faces, to dollar bills and doorknobs.

According to curator Alex Kalman, the 36 square-foot Tribeca space might open a lot sooner than other hard-hit institutions in the city, since its maximum capacity of three people works well in socially-distanced times. Plus, the availability of peepholes outside the museum makes it easier for those from the outside wanting to view the gallery without actually entering it.

Taking Temperatures

At his Saturday briefing, Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke of reduced coronavirus numbers. Earlier this week, NYC reported no new deaths in a single day, and Friday’s death toll of 26 fatalities was down from Thursday’s low of 42 in the state. This “really really good news,” Cuomo said, allowed him to take steps to further reopen the state. As the city prepares to start phase one of reopening on Monday, the governor spoke of signing an executive order that would allow all commercial buildings to take the temperature of anyone entering.

Centers of Excellence

Today the mayor announced the creation of three “COVID-19 Centers of Excellence” that will support communities of color that have been hit the hardest by the coronavirus pandemic. The centers, located in Bushwick, Jackson Heights and Tretmont, will provide comprehensive outpatient services for patients recovering from the virus.

“Our city will not recover until we address the painful disparities laid bare by the COVID-19 crisis,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “The Centers of Excellence will move us forward in our fight for a fair recovery and deliver care to the communities that need it most.”

COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color, with Black and Latino New Yorkers dying around twice the rate of their white counterparts when adjusted for age, according to the city. The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported that in sections of Jackson Heights, Queens, approximately 37 percent of people who have been tested for COVID-19 have been positive for the virus. In the Tremont section of the Bronx, approximately 30 percent of people tested positive, and 25 percent of people in Bushwick.

To support patients recovering from COVID-19, these centers, run by Gotham Health, will provide pulmonary care, radiologic and diagnostic services, as well as mental health services to help address anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and psychological distress. The sites are expected to open in the fall, and will also house retail pharmacies. Patients can be referred to the one of the centers after a hospital visit or through their primary care provider. Positive COVID-19 test results, antibody or not, are not required.

Open Restaurant Program

The mayor put forward a plan to expand outdoor dining at restaurants when the city enters Phase 2 of reopening. The plan will not include an application and approval process, according a press release, unlike a bill that was recently introduced to the City Council that would also expand outdoor dining. Mayor de Blasio said the city is aiming for early July to enter Phase 2, which is later than officials had expected.

According to the plan, restaurants in commercial corridors will be able to serve patrons outdoors in alignment with State guidelines. Restaurants will be able to convert parking spaces in order to use the roadbed alongside the curb for dine-in service. Restaurants must register and self-certify with the city online. Some of the guidelines for outdoor dining include accessible seating, making sure bus stops and fire hydrants are not blocked, and placing seating away from intersections. Restaurants must provide their own vertical barricades, planters, tables, and chairs.

In conjunction with the city’s Open Streets programs, which has so far cut off 45 miles of streets across the city to vehicle traffic, restaurants will be able to create seating areas directly in front of their establishments on these open streets. The city plans to identify additional open streets on commercial strips with a large number of restaurants and bars.

Lastly, the city says it will work to create a streamlined process for restaurants to obtain sidewalk seating that would require establishments to maintain appropriate clear paths for pedestrians and people with disabilities.

The City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, and the Department of Transportation will be overseeing the program.

City Expanding COVID-19 Testing to All New Yorkers

New York City is lifting all the criteria previously required to get tested for COVID-19 and is making tests available to all New Yorkers. The effort is a part of the city’s Test & Trace Corps initiative, which will allow the city to safely separate and care for those who test positive for the virus, and then track, assess and quarantine anyone who came in contact with the infected person.

“Widespread testing holds the key to re-opening our city safely,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “After months of fighting, we are finally able to say that every New Yorker who needs a test will get one.”

Any New Yorker can now get tested at one of the over 150 testing sites citywide. To find the site closest to you, visit nyc.gov/CovidTest or call 3-1-1.

Where to check for the latest updates on this story:

NYC Health:

https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/health/health-topics/coronavirus.page

U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

World Health Organization (WHO):

https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019