Gov. Andrew Cuomo at his daily press briefing June 6. Courtesy photo: Gov. Andrew Cuomo

As new infections and hospitalizations in New York fall to the lowest levels since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, state officials are easing restrictions and accelerating reopening for some businesses and activities.

In the past week, the state has accelerated a limited reopening for restaurants and bars, houses of worship, barbershops and hair salons. The state has also allowed in-person special education services and instruction in school districts for the summer term. And summer day camps can reopen statewide June 29.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo yesterday signed an executive order clarifying his announcement on Wednesday that outdoor dining would be allowed at restaurants and bars in regions of the state that have entered Phase Two of the four-phase New York Forward reopening plan.

Clarification: Outdoor dining includes table service

After the governor’s announcement Wednesday, many restaurant owners remained perplexed about whether table service would be allowed in Phase Two or whether their business would still be limited to takeout and delivery, with takeout patrons allowed to sit at outdoor tables provided by the restaurants.

Yesterday’s executive order clarified that point, stating that the governor’s March 16 executive order — which limited restaurants and bars to takeout and delivery services only — was modified “to allow a restaurant or bar to serve patrons food or beverage on-premises only in outdoor space, provided such restaurant or bar is in compliance with Department of Health guidance.”

That guidance requires tables to be spaced six feet apart and requires restaurant staff and patrons alike to wear face coverings.

Houses of worship can reopen in Phase Two

Churches, temples and mosques in regions that have entered Phase Two are allowed to open for “non-essential gatherings,” under the executive order signed yesterday. Indoor occupancy for such gatherings are limited to 25% of the building’s rated capacity.

By an executive order signed Tuesday, the governor allowed barbershops and hair salons to reopen in Phase Two.

An executive order signed Friday allows in-person special ed services and instruction to be provided in person for the summer term in school districts.

All activities are subject to State Health Department guidance for social distancing as well as the mandatory face covering requirements established by executive order on April 15.

Face coverings required, temperature checks authorized

Commercial building owners, retail store owners and building and business managers have been granted discretionary authority to require individuals to undergo temperature checks prior to being allowed admittance to buildings or businesses, under the governor’s executive order signed Friday.

The owners or managers also have the discretion to deny admittance to any individual who refuses to undergo such a temperature check and any individual whose temperature is above that proscribed by New York State Department of Health Guidelines. Under an executive order signed April 28, building and business owners and managers were granted discretionary authority to deny admittance to individuals who are not wearing face coverings.

Cuomo’s 39 executive orders since March 7

Closings and restrictions on activities statewide began after the governor, on March 7, declared a statewide “disaster emergency” in response to the COVID-19 pandemic with the execution of Executive Order 202. In the 13 weeks since that initial declaration, the governor has signed 38 executive orders modifying EO 202.

The executive orders form a sweeping — though patchwork and often confusing — set of rules pronounced by the governor under his emergency authority, suspending certain state laws and regulations, closing or imposing restrictions on businesses, shutting down government offices and court buildings and restricting or banning social activities, including the “non-essential” gathering of individuals.

The pandemic’s as-yet unknown economic damage

The shutdown created financial devastation across a wide swath of the state’s economy, leaving millions unemployed. In Suffolk County, the unemployment rate climbed to 16.4% in April — compared to 3.2% a year ago.

Data released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed nonfarm payroll employment rose by 2.5 million in May, and the unemployment rate nationwide declined to 13.3%.

“These improvements in the labor market reflected a limited resumption of economic activity that had been curtailed in March and April due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and efforts to contain it,” the bureau said in a press release. In May, employment rose sharply in leisure and hospitality, construction, education and health services, and retail trade. Employment in government continued to decline sharply.

While the permanent economic damage of the pandemic is yet to be fully assessed — and federal, state and local officials agree the recovery will depend on whether there is a “second wave” of the virus in the fall — forecasts remain bleak.

An analysis prepared for the state in April suggests the total impact on New York’s economy will be $243 billion over the course of the long-term recovery (through 2025), equivalent to 14% of the state’s 2019 GDP. It projects a state government revenue shortfall of $13.3 billion in the current fiscal year alone.

A report released by Suffolk County this week projects county government revenues — from property and sales taxes, state and federal aid and other sources— will decline by at least $469 million from the projections in the county’s 2020 adopted budget.

Town government revenues have taken a major hit that cannot yet be fully calculated. Building, zoning and planning fees alone are projected to be at least $1.1 million less than projected in Riverhead Town’s 2020 adopted budget.

New deaths reach lowest number since pandemic struck

Much remains unknown in the still-evolving situation, including whether the public health crisis has actually and finally subsided.

But new infections, hospitalizations and deaths continue to decline in the state and in the Long Island region, which is scheduled to move into Phase Two on Wednesday.

Statewide, the number of total hospitalizations was down on June 5 to 2,603 from a record-high of 18,825 at the peak of the pandemic in mid-April. New COVID-19 fatalities had dropped to 35 people, down from a record-high of 800 people eight weeks earlier. In all, there have been 24,212 reported COVID-19 deaths of New Yorkers, since the state’s first death was reported in New York City on March 14.

In Suffolk, daily fatality reports have dropped into the single digits. Total COVID hospitalizations have dropped to 200 county-wide, with 53 patients in ICU beds. A total of 1,970 people have died of the virus in Suffolk. Of those, 1,923 were county residents.

Downstate regions moving forward with reopening

New York City, the epicenter of the outbreak in the state, with more than 206,000 confirmed cases and over 15,300 deaths, is the last region of the state to begin reopening. It is scheduled to enter Phase One tomorrow.

The Long Island and Mid-Hudson regions are the only regions of the state that are still in Phase One. Mid-Hudson is set to enter Phase Two on Tuesday and Long Island should be entering Phase Two on Wednesday, pending analysis of the regions’ metrics by international health data experts, the governor said.

Some local businesses are urging the state to allow the East End to immediately enter Phase Four, the final phase of reopening. Such a move would allow restaurants and bars to fully reopen, with inside seating, as well as the reopening of entertainment and recreation venues, including theaters and the L.I. aquarium.

The region is currently on track to enter Phase Four — if Phase Two and Three reopening do not cause a surge in the virus — on July 8. The loss of both the Memorial Day and Fourth of July holiday weekends would devastate the East End economy and could force many local businesses to permanently close their doors, according to the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.