This is our daily update of breaking COVID-19 news for Saturday, June 6th, 2020. Previous daily updates can be found here, and up-to-date statistics are here.
Read our guide to understanding New York on PAUSE, NY’s stay-at-home order, as well as what the upstate reopening means (NYC is expected to move into Phase 1 on June 8th); a look at preparing for the spread of coronavirus is here, and if you have lingering questions about the virus, here is our regularly updated coronavirus FAQ. Here are some local and state hotlines for more information: NYC: 311; NY State Hotline: 888-364-3065; NJ State Hotline: 800-222-1222.
Here’s the latest:
The number of people testing positive for coronavirus is continuing to decline and has reached its lowest level since March 16th, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced at a Sunday press briefing. Out of over 60,000 tests conducted statewide on Saturday, there were just 781 people who tested positive, making for a positivity rate of approximately 1 percent.
2,500 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 statewide, and for the third straight day fewer than 50 people were confirmed to have died from coronavirus on Saturday.
Cuomo called the 1 percent testing rate “very, very good news” and said the Hudson Valley and Long Island regions would advance to Phase 2 of reopening on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. The second phase allows for places of worship to operate with 25 percent of their usual capacity, and financial businesses, real estate and retail establishments to reopen with safety measures and reduced capacity, but not shopping malls.
As a result of the continued downward trajectory, Cuomo said he would allow outdoor, limited capacity socially-distanced graduation ceremonies starting June 26th, on the condition that the regions continue to make progress in slowing the spread of the virus.
And to celebrate what Cuomo called “an extraordinary accomplishment,” the governor said landmarks across the state would be illuminated in blue and gold on Sunday night, including Grand Central Terminal.
Regarding NYC, Cuomo said there would be 35,000 coronavirus tests conducted citywide per day as the city begins the first phase of reopening on Monday. But Cuomo said he continues to be concerned that the ongoing mass protests against racist police violence would accelerate the spread of COVID-19, and urged anyone who participated in a protest to get tested.
“I would act as if you were exposed, and I would tell people you are interacting with ‘assume I am positive for the virus,'” Cuomo said, referring to protesters. “Because you could be infecting other people. Please get the test. That is the one variable in this equation that we’re not sure of. We’ve tested everything else, everything was going fine, then we had these large number of protests, and we don’t know what the effect of those protests are.”
Cuomo announced the state will open 15 testing sites dedicated to testing protesters for coronavirus. You can find a testing location through the state health department here.
Some Upstate NY Counties Unhappy With Cuomo’s Contacting Tracing Program
As New York City finally heads towards reopening on Monday, the state will have reopened all of its regions after nearly three months of stay-at-home orders intended to slow the spread of COVID-19. One of the key requirements for any of the ten regions to enter Phase 1 (and remain opened) is to have a robust contact tracing program—at least 30 contact tracers per 100,000 residents, or based on infection rate. But now some upstate regions are abandoning the state’s contact tracing plan, citing “glitches” and a desire for control.
In April, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg would lead a COVID-19 tracing “army” for the state—hours after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city would have its own contact tracing program. A critical mass of contact tracers would be able to investigate where coronavirus infections are being reported and, hopefully, identify hot spots of infection so public health officials and other leaders can determine whether an area needs to be locked down.
NYC has stuck with its city-run contact tracing plan, one that has seen its share of problems, but now regions that have reopened appear to be rebelling against the state: According to the Times Union, “The widening mutiny grew animated Thursday evening during a statewide conference call involving county health leaders, including many who have raised questions about the reliability of the software program developed by CommCare, a company retained by the state, and the counties’ ability to maintain control of their own tracing efforts.”
One email, sent on behalf of numerous county health leaders expressed a lack of confidence in the software handling the program, “CommCare does not seem to be ready to operate with efficiency and accuracy.”
Chautauqua County executive Paul Wendel told the Times-Union, “The information is that CommCare was not designed to do disease investigation, and we’re trying to implement … a new means of contact tracing in the midst of a pandemic. And quite frankly, our staff has been doing an exemplary job of contact tracing.” (The state health department already has contact tracing, albeit on a much smaller scale, for other communicable diseases.)
Wendel pointed out that his county is made up of communities that might not be able easily reachable by contact tracers with little familiarity with the region: “How is somebody from Long Island or Queens or the Bronx going to be able to contact an Amish family in Chautauqua County?”—the Amish do not use telephones or computers—”We don’t have ‘1-800-AMISH.’ … We have ways to contact trace with them through our channels and through communication and through good relationships. Somebody on the phone won’t be able to get them, and they will be extremely reluctant to rely on somebody that they do not know.”
Larry Schwartz, a top adviser to Cuomo who has been his ally on the MTA board, said he is unaware of the software issue. “It’s only a few weeks old and like any piece of new technology, there’s always little, kind-of glitches and also each county’s learning how to use it for the first time,” he said to the Times Union. “It’s not unnatural for someone to say I feel uncomfortable with the new system … ‘why can’t I just stick with the old system?'”
He added, “We wanted to have a unified system for the entire state… we’re working through them with the counties.”