People sit in circles meant to encourage social distancing in Domino Park in Brooklyn, N.Y. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images)
As governors across the country wrestle with when and how to fully reopen their states, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his state’s capital region would reopen on Wednesday and that Long Island could soon follow. And he said he intended to allow team sports to resume — albeit without spectators.
Speaking at his daily news briefing Tuesday, Cuomo said he was encouraged by an increase in testing for the novel coronavirus. He also touted the decline in the daily death rate in some parts of the state as proof that his emergency restrictions on gatherings and businesses, though devastating for the state’s economy, were working.
“On Long Island we were losing about 100 residents per day — we’re now down to about 13,” Cuomo said, citing one example.
“When someone asks, why did we go through all of this pain for two months, three months? Because we saved lives, that’s why. And if we didn’t do what we did, that number of 100 per day would’ve kept going up,” he said.
“Did it work? You’re darn right it worked. We’ve saved many, many lives. You look at the curve in New York versus the rest of the nation. We’re going down. Many parts of the nation the curve is still going up.”
More than 28,500 people in the state have died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University. In the U.S., the death toll surpassed 91,500 on Tuesday.
Cuomo said the state is considering allowing some hospitals to resume allowing visitors.
And New York officials are taking steps to allow professional sporting events to take place without fans in the stands, he said, following up on statements he made about allowing large-scale athletic events on Monday.
Cuomo spun the idea of crowd-less games as a good thing, “another reason, frankly, to stay home” and prevent the spread of the virus.
The approaching Memorial Day holiday weekend presents a new challenge when it comes to slowing the spread of the virus, but Cuomo said the state will allow vehicle parades as well as gatherings of 10 people or fewer to honor fallen soldiers. He’s leaving it up to local leaders to impose further restrictions if they see fit.
Looking ahead to the likely long road to recovery for the devastated U.S. economy, Cuomo had a stern warning for larger employers in his state and beyond. The federal government should make sure that major companies receiving taxpayer-funded financial aid protect workers as they restructure their operations, he said.
“It would be such a scandal if corporations now took taxpayer dollars and then laid off workers and reopened,” the Democratic governor said. “If you take government funds, you must rehire the same number of employees you had pre-pandemic. … Don’t think taxpayers are going to pay you to lay off employees.”
In Texas on Tuesday, a federal judged issued a ruling that allows all registered voters in that state, regardless of age, to apply to vote by absentee ballot during the outbreak.
Judge Fred Biery ruled in favor of voters and the Texas Democratic Party, who claim the state’s existing law is too restrictive, given the public health threat posed by the virus, because it only permits absentees, people over 65 and those who are disabled to cast mail-in ballots. Democrats argued the law effectively disenfranchises voters who have safety concerns about voting in person.
In his ruling, the judge quoted from the preamble to the Declaration of Independence: “Two hundred forty-four years on, Americans now seek Life without fear of pandemic, Liberty to choose their leaders in an environment free of disease and the pursuit of Happiness without undue restrictions.”
“There are some among us who would, if they could, nullify those aspirational ideas to return to the not so halcyon and not so thrilling days of yesteryear of the Divine Right of Kings, trading our birthright as a sovereign people for a modern mess of governing pottage in the hands of a few and forfeiting the vision of America as a shining city upon a hill,” he added.
Texas Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton said he planned to appeal the ruling.
In tourism-dependent Nevada, the economy is a major worry. Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak has eased restrictions on some businesses in recent weeks, but the outlook for the 63,000 workers in the state who’ve been temporarily laid off by MGM Resorts remains grim, according to a report in the Reno Gazette Journal.
The company warned state officials last week that an unknown number of the workers, who’ve been furloughed since early March, may permanently lose their jobs in coming months, the paper said, citing a letter from MGM to the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.
Half a million people in Nevada have applied for jobless claims so far this year as tourism ground to a halt during the outbreak, according to state data. The jobless rate now sits at about 20%.
The Las Vegas Strip, which has been shuttered and deserted since March, is expected to start coming back to life on June 1, which is when the 7,000-room Venetian Resort says it will start welcoming guests again, the resort tweeted on Tuesday.
The resort complex includes three hotel towers, the Venetian, the Palazzo and Venezia. The Venetian will reopen first, followed by Palazzo and Venezia, all with safety measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the company said.
Confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Nevada climbed past 7,000 on Tuesday, with the total number of deaths topping 360, state public health officials said.
In other states, including Michigan and Oregon, Democratic governors are facing a backlash from some residents and organized conservative groups to their stay-at-home orders, leading to a flurry of lawsuits claiming the restrictions infringe on constitutional rights.
In another dramatic decision Monday night, Oregon’s Supreme Court halted a ruling by a judge in the eastern part of the state that nullified Democratic Gov. Kate Brown’s extension of stay-at-home orders, in particular her restrictions on church services.
State Supreme Court Presiding Justice Thomas A. Balmer wrote that the hold will remain in place until jurists can review the state’s request to dismiss the lower court’s ruling.
In Hawaii, where beaches, shopping malls and other retailers have been allowed to reopen with social distancing rules in place, Gov. David Ige acknowledged the difficulty in deciding when is the best time to reopen. He laid out plans to allow more establishments to start operating again in early June, including “medium-risk” businesses such as salons and barbershops, movie theaters, restaurants, houses of worship and museums.
Under the plan Ige announced Monday, “high-risk” businesses such as bars and nightclubs would be among the last establishments to reopen.
Ige also said he would extend until June 30 his policy of requiring anyone coming into the state, as well as people traveling between islands, to self-quarantine for 14 days. And he extended his moratorium on evictions until the end of next month too.
The governor said his plan would help the residents of his state “live with COVID-19” while restarting the economy, which has shed 20,000 jobs because of the outbreak, or nearly a third of Hawaii’s workforce, according to an analysis by CBS MoneyWatch.
Hawaii’s Department of Health says there have been 640 cases of COVID-19 and 17 deaths since the outbreak began. There were no new confirmed cases on Monday.