Officials in New York are cautiously making plans to reopen the state as the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have reached a plateau.
The U.S. state hardest-hit by the novel coronavirus now has over a week of data showing that its social distancing measures have been effective in slowing the spread of the deadly virus.
News of the increasing death toll was mitigated by an average decrease in hospitalizations and in patients being placed on ventilators.
Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference Monday morning that widespread observance of social distancing has proven humans can control transmission of the virus. He said that restrictions on non-essential workers would be lifted incrementally, as if controlled by a valve that must be turned slowly.
"The worst is over. Yeah, if we continue to be smart going forward," Cuomo said. "Because remember, we have the hand on that valve. You turn that valve too fast, you'll see that [infection rate] number jump right back."
Resuming the economy in the shadow of such a devastating pandemic has "never been done before," he added. But there are plenty of modern-day lessons from which to learn.
To determine the best way forward, Cuomo says state officials will trust experts and continue relying on data gathered from outbreaks in other countries, some of which are in the midst of fighting a second wave of infections.
He noted that the reason New York was so hard-hit was because of population density, specifically that of New York City.
But the most prescient lesson for New York, and the rest of the nation, is that the first major outbreak was not in the city but in suburban New Rochelle, NY, in Westchester County. Cuomo offered the Westchester example as proof of the highly contagious nature of the novel coronavirus.
"In New Rochelle, one person or two people who were infected were in dense gatherings with hundreds of people and [the virus] spread like wildfire," he said. "It's not just a dense city or a dense community, it's any person in a dense environment."
One of the first COVID-19 hospitalizations was a 50-year-old New Rochelle man, who worked in Midtown Manhattan. The weekend before he was admitted to the hospital with symptoms, the man attended two large social gatherings. A subsequent spike in infections in New Rochelle prompted the state to establish a 'containment zone' in the town.
Cuomo's New York PAUSE order remains in effect through April 29. He said Monday that he is optimistic about lifting some restrictions with coordination from the other governors in the region. He did not offer a timetable.
The keys to a complete return economically remain bringing testing to scale with federal assistance and a breakthrough in treatment of the disease, Cuomo added.
By Monday morning, New York reported 188,694 confirmed coronavirus cases statewide, including 103,208 in New York City. There were 9,385 COVID-19 deaths in the state and 6,898 in NYC.
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