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Cuomo hopes for 'new normal' by end of May

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Don't expect life to return to normal anytime soon. But for those willing to settle for a "new normal" — at least for now — Gov. Andrew Cuomo has some good news: You might start to experience it in just another month.

Cuomo unveiled some of the preliminary plans he has to reopen New York on Sunday, beginning with what could be a kickstart of some construction and manufacturing work by May 15. And if all that goes well, without pushing hospitalization and other coronavirus-related variables up in the state, even more businesses could open a couple weeks later.

"We're working through all of this with our partners in the business community and the health care community," Cuomo said during his daily briefing on Sunday. "We have an economic strategy, and we have a public health strategy. It has to work with businesses who are creative and more thoughtful."

That means businesses looking to reopen in a month will have to establish a plan that would continue to put social distancing and other measures intended to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, including ensuring that work can be done without everyone having to be in close quarters with each other.

The first phase of such a reopening could come as early as May 15, that is, if hospitalization rates continue to decline. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended to states not to even start reopening unless hospitalizations are down over a 14-day period. In New York, hospitalizations reached a peak April 12 at nearly 19,000 patients in beds, slipping down to about 12,000 as of April 26.

"The federal government leaves this up to the states, leaves it up to the governors. But they also give guidance, and in this case, I think the CDC guidance is right," Cuomo said. "So we're monitoring the hospitalization rate, we're monitoring the regional hospitalization rate."

Reopening for New York also won't be easy because regions — like upstate versus downstate — are quite different. On top of that, Cuomo wants to make sure any reopenings are done in coordination with neighboring states. While for upstate, that might mean coordination with Massachusetts or Pennsylvania. But downstate, in an area that includes New York City and Long Island, that would mean working with New Jersey and Connecticut.

Even with construction and manufacturing in the first phase, efforts will have to be made by these businesses to demonstrate to state officials how much risk those operations might have when it comes to the spread of coronavirus, and how essential their work is in terms of jumpstarting the economy.

Those variables will be carried over into the second phase, that will allow various businesses to reopen beyond construction and manufacturing. Once again, these businesses will need a plan showing state officials how they are going to continue to keep the coronavirus at bay.

"This is not a one-sided equation," Cuomo said. "We need them to be creative, thinking outside of the box. Some people even need a new economic model."

One such model would be for professional sports, which likely may not be allowed to sell tickets and invite spectators for several months at least, Cuomo said. Still, people may want the opportunity to watch games again on television. Some observers have suggested sports like Major League Baseball and others could consider a pay-per-view model as a way of selling tickets virtually.

As the weather warms, Cuomo acknowledges many might be looking to get outside, especially after spending days cramped inside their homes. But that is even more important downstate, where high density makes it difficult to do anything that doesn't involve a part of some sort.

"You can't tell people in a dense urban environment all through the summer months that we don't have anything for you to do," Cuomo said. "Stay in your apartment with your three kids? That doesn't work. It is a sanity equation here, also, that we have to take into consideration."

While a good chunk of the reopening looks to be happening within a month, Cuomo admitted that schools still need to be factored in. Because many use schools as a de facto day care, if parents have children at home, they likely won't be able to return to work.

Some districts have asked the state to consider summer school as a way to make up for lost time. Cuomo said that while he's considering such options, no final decisions have yet to be made.

While getting the economy back on track is important, it can't trump the health issues.

"In the midst of all this, we have to monitor public health," Cuomo said. "All that progress we made by flattening that curve, we could lose that in a matter of days if we're not careful. It is important that people understand what that actually means."

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