NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – New York City is still in the first phase of the fight against coronavirus, but the mayor says the city’s 8.6 million residents have the power to push things forward.
The road back is what everybody seems to be asking, and it was a hot topic among state, local and federal officials Thursday.
CBS2’s political reporter Marcia Kramer has the latest look into the COVID-19 crystal ball.
When will New York City’s deserted streets fill up like the proverbial good old days? Drivers able to honk their horns in frustration at traffic slowing to a crawl, or pack restaurants, or bustle through stores and malls.
Some say May, some say June. Everyone offers warnings.
“We want to be very careful about letting the foot off the gas,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “You know what would really screw up a recovery is if we let everyone come back to ‘normal’ so quickly that there’s a resurgence of the disease.”
De Blasio reiterated social distancing and shelter-in-place measures are helping to slow the spread and flatten the curve, but residents need to remain vigilant and “earn” their way back to a sense of normalcy.
“The last thing we can afford is to let down our guard and let this disease back in the door even more, and then see the numbers, the pain, the illness, the death spike up even worse,” de Blasio said Thursday. “Let’s take these new standards, these new approaches we’ve all learned together and really tighten them up and make them as strong as we possibly can, because that’s the way out of this – all of us together.”
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Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the decision to ease up on social distancing, to let some businesses reopen, will be a regional one. The governors of New Jersey and Connecticut will be in the loop.
It will depend on the ability to do rapid testing.
“Testing is going to be the bridge to the new economy and getting to work and restarting, right? We’re not going to go from red to green, we’re going to go from red to yellow,” Cuomo said.
Even getting to yellow Cuomo says would require help from the federal government to develop tests and treatments.
Federal infections disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci says things may ease up this summer, but it will depend on where you live.
“It’s not going to be a light switch that you turn on and off. It’s going to be differentially gradual,” he said.
But is a summer of beaches and baseball in the cards?
“It can be in the cards, and I say that with some caution,” Fauci said.
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De Blasio outlined a three phase plan to normalcy, saying we have to get to a low level of transmission before some restrictions are lifted.
The mayor said the city is still in the “widespread transmission” phase, but could reach the “low-level transmission” phase as soon as late March or early June.
So what would a low-level phase look like? De Blasio said more widespread testing, isolating cases and tracing contacts, and gradually reducing some restrictions.
“The guidelines we’re all living by – they can be adjusted when there’s real evidence… meaning better progress, more proof that we can start to open up more,” he said. “Or, bluntly, if we don’t do it right or if this horrible ferocious virus hits us in some new way, unfortunately restrictions might have to go up. Meaning, if things really get worse, we might have to tighten up further.”
City health officials are closely monitoring the number of people admitted to hospitals, the number of people admitted to ICUs and the number of positive cases to make those determinations.
The mayor said all three metrics have to “move in unison in the same direction for at least 10 days to two weeks.” Those numbers will be publicly available starting Monday, so people can see the progress in real-time.
De Blasio said, for now, social distancing is “the pathway to the next phase.”
“We used to talk about in the fight against terror, ‘if you see something, say something.’ Well right now, the enemy is a disease, the terrorist is a disease. If you see something, call it in immediately,” he said. “Crowding helps this disease to grow, and where people are not social distancing the disease grows. We need you to call 311.”
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He also acknowledged how challenging it has been for some residents.
“What you’re doing so far is absolutely on target. It’s very, very tough to do social distancing. It’s very tough to stay home and practice shelter-in-place. No one thought it would be easy. I can certainly say, I think for all of us, it’s been even harder than we imagined,” he said. “So for anyone out there who feels frustrated, who feels confused or angry that all this had to happen, I share that, we all feel it. But we also know that you’ve been finding a way in an incredibly noble, consistent manner. The people of this city have answered the call.”
“There is no set cookbook to this,” said NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot said. “May include loosening some restrictions so that different types of businesses can reopen, so that perhaps we can have some very small number of gatherings occur.”
De Blasio says he’s grappling with whether or not to reopen city schools in June. A decision on that is still several days away.