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Cuomo: Salons, barbershops, and gyms in orange zones can reopen 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday unveiled details of what he calls the “winter plan” aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 in New York state and avoiding further economic shutdowns.

The governor emphasized that he does not want another massive shutdown like the one the state experienced in the spring when New York was the epicenter of the worldwide pandemic. He added that it’s up to New Yorkers to voluntarily limit in-home gatherings in the coming weeks.

Cuomo said new data reveals that many places once considered dangerous sources of virus spread — including hair salons, barber shops, gyms and places of worship — are now among the lowest sources of spread, based on information collected by contact tracers on a portion of total infections.

The biggest source of transmission — at 74 percent — is small, private indoor gatherings. Cuomo has taken to calling the trend "living room spread."
click to enlarge Gov. Andrew Cuomo - PHOTO PROVIDED BY THE OFFICE OF GOV. ANDREW CUOMO
  • PHOTO PROVIDED BY THE OFFICE OF GOV. ANDREW CUOMO
  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo
"Compound that by the holiday season," said Cuomo, who acknowledged that it’s a "natural" time to want to have friends and family over. “That is what is driving these numbers.”

Cuomo said schools have been found not to be super-spreaders of the virus, as previously thought, and should remain open if there are no major outbreaks in a school.

Though the governor said it's up to local districts to decide whether to open, he disagreed with a decision by Buffalo Public Schools, the state’s second-largest school district, to continue all-remote learning until Feb. 1. Western New York’s COVID-19 infection rate is among the highest in the state.

The latest data also finds that restaurants and bars account for just 1.43 percent of virus spread. Nevertheless, Cuomo is ordering indoor dining in New York City to be banned, starting on Monday. Restraurants in the city are currently required to operate at 25 percent of a dining room’s capacity.

Cuomo said he’s following the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, which recommends that any indoor activity where masks are not worn should be avoided. Cuomo’s chief of staff, Melissa DeRosa, said there’s no way to eat and drink while wearing a face covering.

“By definition of what the activity is, you cannot be wearing a mask,” DeRosa said.

Cuomo is continuing the microcluster hot zone strategy to try to keep the rate of infection down. But he said there will be some changes going forward. Gyms, hair salons and barber shops will now be allowed to remain open in orange zones, but at reduced capacity and with more frequent testing of staff.

The governor said indoor dining in New York City will be banned, starting Monday, but that the limited indoor dining that’s still available in orange zones outside of New York City will continue for now. State officials will reevaluate that rule after the weekend, he added.

The restaurant industry said the further reductions and prohibitions on indoor dining will be the death knell for thousands more restaurants and bars.

“Shutting down indoor dining in New York City makes little sense based on the state’s own numbers, and to make matters worse, we are offered no plan for survival to get through this shutdown,” Melissa Fleischut, president of the New York State Restaurant Association, said in a statement. “Today’s news will do nothing more than incentivize more unregulated indoor household gatherings, which have accounted for a whopping 73.84 percent of exposures.”

Cuomo is extending a ban on commercial evictions for eateries that have been unable to pay their rent, and he is asking them to hang on for a few more months. The governor has said Congress needs to act to provide financial relief for the restaurant industry.

Meanwhile, owners of gyms and fitness centers are pleased with the changes.

Bill Lia, chairman of the New York State Fitness Alliance, said in a statement that “fitness centers have proven that by following strict protocols, including mask wearing at all times, New Yorkers can work out without contributing significantly to the spread of the virus.”

The governor said he will not order a total shutdown of the state or any of its regions unless the trends show that hospitals will become overwhelmed in 21 days. He said so far, while the hospitalization rate for COVID-19 patients is on the rise, most hospitals have the ability to expand to take in more patients, or can make more beds available by suspending elective surgeries.

“If we see that we’re on a glide path toward overwhelming the hospitals, you have no choice but to close down the economy,” he said. “You cannot overwhelm the hospital system.”

The governor said despite all of the concerns, the highest virus rates in the state are still lower than those in 44 other states. New York’s overall positivity rate for Thursday was 4.98 percent, and 87 people died of COVID-19.

Karen DeWitt is Albany correspondent for WXXI News.

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