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Coronavirus shutdown extended, but Cuomo shares hope of progress

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What will it take for New York to reopen for business? Gov. Andrew Cuomo has several steps he laid out Thursday. But it all can be summed up in three simple words: testing, testing and testing.

Cuomo extended his statewide shutdown for two more weeks, now lasting until at least May 15, with an order that just about anyone out in public wear some kind of face covering beginning Friday at 8 p.m. But with new positive cases for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 — along with hospitalizations — appearing to plateau statistically, the governor is taking a long hard look at what it will take to reopen the state.

"Everyone asks the same two questions," Cuomo said during his daily news briefing on Thursday. "When is it over, and how do we get there? How do we start to make our way from here to there?"

Fully going back to normal would most likely require the development and rollout of a full vaccine — but that's something that could take at least a year, if not more, Cuomo said. But helping the economy slowly reopen would be continued reductions in infections, new treatment to help those who are infected, and testing to see who has the virus, who they are exposing, and who had the virus in the past.

"You stopped everything, how do you now restart that machine in a coordinated way that doesn't drive up the infection rate?" Cuomo asked. "That is the balance that we're trying to strike."

There won't be a flood of businesses opened at once, the governor warned. In fact, it more likely will be some businesses currently deemed non-essential who will be allowed to reopen, provided they can function within many of the current social distancing guidelines. Also, any "opening of the valve" so to speak will likely be coordinated with a group of surrounding states that have formed a sort of informal coalition — Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

"Coordinating with other states doesn't mean we'll always be in lock step," Cuomo said. "But we'll talk through everything first and hopefully we're not doing anything that is contradictory to another step, at minimum. So far so good on that exercise."

The news comes as President Donald Trump seemingly backtracked on a position that he has the "ultimate" authority on when states can reopen in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. On Thursday, however, he said such decisions would be left to the governors of those states. However, he later clarified that if he doesn't like the decisions governors are making, he'll override them. 

It's not clear if Trump has the authority to override governors. He has talked about re-opening many states as early as May 1, even though many states have not yet reached what is expected to be peaks in coronavirus infection rates and deaths. As of early Friday morning, of the 2.16 million confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 worldwide, more than 670,000 have been found in the United States, three times more than the country with the second highest total, Spain.

There have been 145,533 deaths worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University & Medicine, with nearly 35,000 of those in the United States.

That doesn't mean New York — or even the country — has to shut down indefinitely, Cuomo said. Getting the economy reopened again is going to require something New York has done far more than other states — but at a level that is still not enough: testing.

"It is the single best tool to inform decisions and to calibrate all this," Cuomo said. "This new testing world is a new frontier for all of us."

New York has now tested 500,000 people — more than California, Florida and Michigan combined — but that's still just a fraction of the 9 million workers looking to get back to their jobs, and 19 million people overall. To get more tests, however, it comes down to supplies, Cuomo said, as well as coordination with private labs to complete the tests. 

Without strong federal leadership, there are 50 states — plus Washington — all competing for these labs and these supplies, the governor said. 

"This has to be figured out," Cuomo said, "and it can only be figured out in partnership with the federal government."

Cuomo also addressed the fact that New York's numbers are now projected to be a lot lower than previously anticipated. The reasons behind that, he said, was because there were many unknowns about the virus, even just a few weeks ago. One of the biggest unknowns? How effective social distancing and other protocols would be in slowing the rate of spread.

And early on, there was reason to be concerned. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned between 2.4 million and 21 million people would require hospitalization nationwide, Cuomo said. Considering the United States only has 925,000 hospital beds in total, even the low estimate was twice the capacity the nation's hospitals could handle.

"We slowed the infection rate by our actions," Cuomo said, "and that is why we're in a better position today. We're not there yet, we have to continue what we're doing."

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