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Cuomo urges caution on NYC reopening plans, won't commit to timeline for rest of the state

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at a briefing in Buffalo Thursday


Gov. Andrew Cuomo, facing resistance to lingering COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, said Thursday that the virus is not yet conquered, and urged caution on reopening society too quickly.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, saying vaccinations are increasing and infection numbers are going down, announced on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe"  that the city would fully reopen on July 1.

“Our plan is to fully open New York City on July 1,” said de Blasio, who added that includes restaurants, retail stores and theaters, though he says Broadway shows will likely be delayed until September.

For much of the pandemic, Cuomo has been calling the shots on when businesses and arts venues must close down and when they can reopen. He said the state continues to have authority over the decisions, which are being made using science and data.

“I am reluctant to make projections because I think they are irresponsible,” said Cuomo, who added that it’s too early to know what July will be like.

“What happens in May, what happens in June?” he said.

De Blasio, like most leading Democratic and Republican office holders in New York,  continues to call for the Cuomo’s resignation over several scandals, including accusations of sexual harassment and a cover-up of nursing home death numbers during the pandemic, allegations that Cuomo has denied.

The governor, who has long feuded with the mayor, dismissed de Blasio’s opinion.

“The mayor of New York, I don’t know what he’s indicative of,” Cuomo said with a chuckle.

The governor said New York City and the rest of the state could open up sooner than July, but he said there’s still a way to go before enough New Yorkers are fully vaccinated. While over 70% of state residents 65 and older are now vaccinated, younger populations lag behind. Only 34% of those 16 to 25 have received the shot. Access to the vaccine for younger New Yorkers began earlier this month.  

“We’re making progress, I know, but we’re not home yet,” Cuomo said. “And we have to keep up with the precautions.”

Cuomo, at an event in Buffalo, said that region’s public transportation system would offer free bus fare to vaccination clinics for youths who are seeking doses.

The state Legislature also acted this week to end other pandemic restrictions, including the repeal of an executive order that required bar and restaurant patrons to order food whenever they ordered an alcoholic drink. Cuomo, hours before the vote, announced the rule would end in May. He also lifted controversial curfews on restaurants and bars.

He also reacted to a New York Times story detailing a months-long effort by Cuomo and his aides to withhold from the public the total number of nursing home residents who died of COVID-19 by not releasing the number of residents who died of the disease in hospitals.

The report said a scientific paper written by health department officials that showed the total number, including the hospital deaths, was never published, and that two letters to state legislators disclosing the total death count were never sent. The delays came while Cuomo was writing and promoting a book on his successes in managing the pandemic.

Cuomo, who has denied that there’s any connections, continues to say that any accusations against him are politically motivated and began when the justice department under former President Donald Trump began an inquiry into the nursing home deaths in states led by Democrats.

“We didn’t want to release a number that was inaccurate because that would fuel the politics,” Cuomo said.

He said the total number of deaths from COVID-19 has always been accurately measured, but the number of deaths of nursing home residents was not always separated out of that data.

The governor released the nursing home death numbers in late January, after a state attorney general’s report found, correctly, that the deaths had been underreported by 50%. Since then, federal prosecutors have opened up a new investigation into whether there was a cover-up.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.