New York City eyes June 8 for first phase of reopening

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A fence outside Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery is adorned with a surgical mask tribute Constantino Sosa, Thursday, May 28, 2020 in New York during the coronavirus pandemic. The memorial is part of the Naming the Lost project which attempts to humanize the victims. On Wednesday, the United States' official reported coronavirus death toll reached one hundred thousand. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

ALBANY, N.Y. – New York City is on track to begin reopening June 8 as the state gradually loosens restrictions put in place during the coronavirus crisis, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday.

Cuomo said the city was meeting goals set for hospital rates and testing, will “stockpile” personal protective equipment and will focus on infection rates in hot spots by ZIP code.

“We believe all of these things can be done next week,” the Democratic governor said at his daily briefing. The state saw 67 new deaths, a number he called the “lowest ever.”

Also Friday, Cuomo cleared a large swath of upstate New York to reopen hair salons, retail shops and offices under strict guidelines.

Cuomo said virology experts had reviewed infection and hospitalization data and cleared the North Country, Finger Lakes, central New York, Mohawk Valley and Southern Tier to enter the second phase of reopening.

New York City is the only remaining region in the state that has yet to lift any restrictions. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the first phase of the reopening process would bring as many as 400,000 people back to work.

The city is providing 2 million masks for businesses and will also offer training and a worker protection hotline, he said, but residents who don’t yet feel comfortable commuting by subway may have to improvise.

“We are trying to get the subways and buses to be as clean and safe as possible in a really, really imperfect situation,” de Blasio said. “If people want to use cars because that’s what makes them comfortable, and obviously there still is a lot less traffic on the road, then they’re going to use cars.”

Businesses normally rely on public transportation to get their employees to work in a city where fewer than half of households own a car.

The first phase of reopening allows manufacturers to bring employees back and lets retailers operate with only curbside pickup.

Guidance for businesses entering the second phase requires barbers and hair stylists to get tested every two weeks and limits services to hair only — no facials, manicures or massages.

Employees returning to offices should expect daily screenings, including temperature checks, and will have to work behind barriers if six feet of separation isn't possible. Retail stores must close self-serve sampling stations and other shared amenities and can prohibit customers without masks.

The reopening announcements followed a day of confusion that had businesses in several upstate regions making plans to welcome customers Friday — only to be told late Thursday they could not.

County leaders learned on a 7 p.m. call with state officials that public health experts hired by the state would have to sign off on the next phase of reopening, but it was unclear when that would happen, Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente said.

While some businesses delayed their reopening plans, others opened as planned, before the state gave the official OK, Picente said by phone Friday, adding he told them he would not move to stop them.

“These are businesses that have spent a great deal of money in preparing for a reopening, and then to tell them at the 11th hour ... that different criteria was being looked at or that some other experts were going to look at data — we didn't know any of that," the Republican county executive said.

Annette Knapp, owner of Salon Bellezza in Syracuse, had lined up eight clients for Friday, the first at 9:15 a.m., but cancelled them while awaiting clarification, afraid of putting her operators’ license at risk.

“It’s like you’re having a baby. You get to the due date, you want to have that baby,” she said. “Any day after is frustrating.”

The governor’s executive orders leave it up to his administration to decide when a region has met the state’s standards for lifting restrictions. The minimum amount of time between phases is two weeks.


Thompson reported from Buffalo. Associated Press writer Karen Matthews in New York City contributed.