Cuomo allows visitors at New York hospitals and group homes as coronavirus death toll hits a new low

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New York Gov. Mario Cuomo during a news briefing in Albany, N.Y., on Tuesday, June 16, 2020. - Darren McGee/Office of Governor/TNS

NEW YORK — New York hospitals and group homes can begin allowing visitors this week as the coronavirus crisis continues to wane in the Empire State, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday.

Visits at hospitals can begin immediately, the governor said, as long as safety measures are in place, while group homes certified by the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities can begin taking visitors Friday.

“This was always a balance of public health versus the personal relationships, and people were in hospitals who desperately want to see loved ones,” Cuomo said during a briefing in Albany. “Obviously we need to be careful.”

The state has yet to make a determination on visits to nursing homes, as “there is still a high risk,” he added.

The announcement comes as the state reported its second straight day with just 25 deaths from COVID-19.

The governor hailed a new low in the three-day average of deaths from the virus since New York became the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S. over the past three months.

“You want to talk about something to celebrate, this is a number that we can celebrate,” Cuomo said. “We went up the mountain and now we have come down the other side.”

The governor said the U.S. Open tennis tournament will be held as scheduled starting in late August, albeit without fans.

“It’ll be on TV but I’ll take that,” he said.

Cuomo punted on questions about protests against the continued closure of playgrounds in New York City.

“I’m not going to second guess the decisions that have been made at the local level,” he said.

He said the massive testing program in the state reveals that the virus is still under control. Just 1.2% of people in NYC tested positive for coronavirus, a dip from 1.7% at the beginning of last month.

The results of a new round of antibody tests, which show if someone has already been infected at some point, revealed that about 22% of people in the five boroughs have had COVID-19. That’s only a modest increase since the previous round of antibody tests on May 1 when results showed 19.9% of people had antibodies.

The Bronx had the highest positive antibody rate at about 30% meaning almost a third of the people in the borough have had the disease. Brooklyn is next at 21% and Queens at 20%.

In all, the state surveyed 12,000 people for coronavirus antibodies over the course of six weeks. The results found that as of June 13, 13.4% of those tested had antibodies for the infection statewide.

Cuomo boasted that the numbers prove New York was right to proceed cautiously with its phased-in reopening process. He noted that other states that rushed to reopen are driving higher test rates and that the increased level of interaction has pushed up projected death tolls by tens of thousands of people.

“Those are not Democratic numbers, those are not Republican numbers, those are just numbers,” the governor said. “New York has the lowest rate of infection, these are not theories any more. These are just undeniable facts.

“Stay the course. We were right and it works. We all have to stay responsible,” he added.

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©2020 New York Daily News