Parts of New York could move into the early stages of reopening as soon as May 15, but Long Island seems unlikely to be among them.

With the state’s stay-at-home orders expiring May 15, New York will allow some regions to move to “phase 1” of reopening some businesses – but only if they meet a strict set of requirements that aim to evaluate whether an outbreak is slowing in an area and if that region is prepared to handle another surge.

Right now, Long Island only meets two of those seven benchmarks — fewer than any other region in the state. New York City currently meets three.

“We have to do this on a regional basis,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at his daily press briefing today, where he laid out the criteria for reopening. “If upstate has to wait for downstate to be ready, they’re going to be waiting for a long time.”

The seven benchmarks are:

1. New hospitalizations: A 14-day decline in hospitalizations, or fewer than 15 new hospitalizations a day (on a three-day average).

2. Hospital fatalities: A 14-day decline in hospital deaths, or fewer than five hospital deaths a day (on a three-day average).

3. New hospitalizations, adjusted per capita. For every 100,000 residents, fewer than two new hospitalizations a day (on a three-day average).

4. Hospital bed capacity. A hospital bed capacity of at least 30%.

5. ICU bed capacity. An ICU bed capacity of at least 30%.

6. Testing. For every 1,000 residents, at least 30 residents tested per month (on a seven-day average of new tests per day).

7. Contact tracing. At least 30 contact tracers per 100,000 residents.

Long Island currently meets two of those criteria: the requirements for daily hospitalizations and for testing. When new hospitalizations are adjusted per capita, however, Long Island has the highest hospitalization rate than any other region – 5.76 new hospitalizations a day per 100,000 residents. 

That’s more than even New York City, where that number is 5.41.

No region currently meets all seven requirements. The closest right now are Central New York, the Finger Lakes region, the Mohawk Valley region and the Southern Tier, which each meet five out of seven benchmarks.

Source: NYS Governor’s Office.

The state’s regional approach includes Suffolk and Nassau counties as one region. Nassau County has so far experienced a higher infection and hospitalization rate per capita than Suffolk.

Regions that meet all seven benchmarks will be considered for reopening on May 15, when New York’s PAUSE order is set to expire. The order, implemented almost two months before that date on March 23, effectively shut down most businesses in the state, banned social gatherings for any reason and required employers to keep their employees home.

The state’s new guidelines also require the rate of transmission to stay below 1.1, which means that a person infected with the virus transmits it on average to only 1.1 other people.

New York’s current restrictions have reduced that number to .8, which leaves little room for error, Cuomo said,.

“We reopen businesses, do it in phases, watch that rate of transmission. If it gets over 1.1, stop everything immediately,” he said. “That’s where the other countries wound up. They started to open, they exceeded the 1.1, it became an outbreak again and they have had to slow down.”

Cuomo emphasized the importance of a strategic reopening to limit the amount of back-tracking the state has to do if another outbreak surfaces due to relaxed restrictions.

“If you reopen too fast, you have to stop,” he said. “And no one wants to have gone through all of this and then start, just to stop again.”

The first phase of reopening will include construction, manufacturing, wholesale supply chain facilities, and select retail with curbside pickup.

The second phase will include professional services, finance and insurance, retail, administrative support, real estate and rental leasing. The third phase will include restaurants, food services, hotels and accommodations.

And the fourth phase, which includes schools, entertainment and recreation, will look the closest to a pre-pandemic New York than any of the others.

Regions approved to enter the first phase after May 15 will be evaluated closely by the state to make sure they don’t fall below any of the seven benchmarks laid out today. 

It wasn’t clear what additional requirements will be imposed to move beyond the first phase, or when the state will begin evaluating regions to advance into the second, third and fourth phases of reopening.

Each of the 10 regions has until May 15 to meet the seven benchmarks in order to be considered for a phase 1 reopening.

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Katie Morosky
Katie, winner of the 2016 James Murphy Cub Reporter of the Year award from the L.I. Press Club, is a co-publisher of RiverheadLOCAL. A Riverhead native, she is a 2014 graduate of Stony Brook University. Email Katie