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When should New York City reopen? Governor says it’s his call

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the state will decide when to loosen restrictions, not officials of individual cities.

NEW YORK — New York City’s mayor unveiled a new set of data thresholds on May 22 to help determine when to loosen restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic, but his frequent political sparring partner, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, later said it will be up to the state — not the city — to make those decisions.

"No local official can open or close," Cuomo said, noting that the state has established its own set of metrics intended to measure the safety of reopening.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo briefs the media during a coronavirus news conference at Marist College on May 8 in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Cuomo said on May 22 that coronavirus restrictions will loosen when the state feels the time is right. “No local official can open or close,” Cuomo said, noting that the state has established its own set of metrics intended to measure the safety of reopening. [DARREN MCGEE | AP]

"We said at the beginning it's going to be one standard that is data-driven. There's no politics here. What's safe is safe," the governor said.

The offices of both Democrats have been saying that the city, among the hardest hit in the world by the virus, is on target to begin reopening its economy in the first half of June.

De Blasio said May 22 that in order to enter the first phase of the reopening, including manufacturing and retail with curbside pickup, the city must stay below thresholds for three things: the daily number of people admitted to hospitals for suspected COVID-19, the total number of patients in intensive care at public hospitals and the citywide percentage of people testing positive for the virus.

"If we do it right, if people stick to the plan, stick to the guidance, we will move to Phase 1 in either the first or second week of June," the mayor said.

De Blasio had previously said that all three metrics would have to move downward in unison for 10 to 14 days for the city to reopen.

"The day-to-day changes, the small up and downs, matter less," he said in explaining the new criteria for reopening. "What matters more now is staying at a low level and keeping it that way and so we're going to be talking about thresholds now."

Cuomo's standards, which apply to the entire state, are based around measures including whether a region has had an overall decline in the number of hospitalizations and the availability of hospital beds.

Cuomo's top aide, Melissa DeRosa, said the indicators used by the city and the state "are in line with one another" and that the two administrations are in constant communication.

“We are aligned in our approach — nothing will reopen until it is safe to do so,” de Blasio spokeswoman Jane Meyer told the Associated Press.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio discuss the state and city's preparedness for the spread of the coronavirus on March 2 in New York. The state of New York is working to loosen restrictions put into place to slow the spread of COVID-19. “We are aligned in our approach — nothing will reopen until it is safe to do so,” de Blasio spokeswoman Jane Meyer told the Associated Press. [MARK LENNIHAN | AP]

Regional economic re-openings began in upstate areas May 15, with different industries opening in phases.

Cuomo said that Long Island and the mid-Hudson Valley region, including the city's northern suburbs, are poised to phase economic activity back in next week if COVID-19-related deaths continue to decline and they meet state standards for contact tracing. He said construction projects can begin staging in those regions now.

Other coronavirus developments:

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THE NUMBERS

New York recorded 109 deaths May 21. The daily death toll is down dramatically from early April but has stubbornly remained at just above 100 for five straight days.

Total hospitalizations dropped below 5,000 statewide for the first time since late March. Hospitals still see an average of 225 new patients a day.

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LEGISLATIVE SESSION

The public can tune in May 26 as state lawmakers consider legislation to help New Yorkers hit by the COVID-19 crisis.

The state Senate and Assembly expect a few legislative leaders will travel to Albany to debate and vote on bills from their offices or the chambers, while the vast majority of lawmakers will participate from home through video and teleconference.

Several state lawmakers have tested positive for COVID-19, and the Legislature hasn't been in town since the passage of the state's budget in early April. Lawmakers held two virtual hearings this week on the impact of COVID-19 on minority communities and small businesses.

It's unclear which bills lawmakers will take up next week.

Proposed bills range from banning the use of facial recognition technology in the tracking of COVID-19 to ensuring benefits for workers. Several Republicans and Democrats have introduced bills calling for more oversight and testing of residents at nursing homes.

It's unclear whether or when lawmakers — who face June 23 primaries and technically have a year-round session — will return again after next week.

The governor says by the end of May he'll release a plan that could slash state spending on schools, local governments and hospitals. New York lacks enough federal aid to make up for a projected $15 billion revenue shortfall. The Democratic-led Legislature could then pass their own plan to balance the budget.

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SHUTDOWN LAWSUIT

A lawsuit asserts that if Cuomo is allowing small groups to honor veterans and hold religious ceremonies, the Constitution requires the same right be extended to shutdown protesters.

The federal lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union takes aim at exceptions to Cuomo's order in March banning "non-essential gatherings" of any size. The governor this week modified the order to allow gatherings of up to 10 people for religious services and Memorial Day commemorations, as long as participants social distance and take other precautions.

The NYCLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of New York City resident Linda Bouferguen, who the group says was twice arrested outside City Hall for protesting the state’s shutdown. She wants to organize another protest May 23.

"Limits on public gatherings are in place to serve a clear public health purpose, but they need to be applied uniformly, without bias in favor of an approved message or religion," NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman said in a statement. "The government is unconstitutionally abusing its emergency powers to handpick which gatherings and free speech activity are allowed."

There was no immediate comment from the Cuomo administration.

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