Next on the state closure list: Shopping malls

James Ness/photographerNew York shopping malls, like Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls USA, are being required to close Thursday night under a directive from Gov. Andrew Cuomo as part of the state’s response to the novel coronavirus outbreak. 

ALBANY — New York shopping malls are being required to close Thursday night while many businesses face a new directive to reduce the number of staffers reporting to work sites by at least 50 percent in moves aimed at slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Gov. Andew Cuomo issued the orders Wednesday as New York’s total number of infected people grew to 2,382, an increase of 1,008 cases in 24 hours.

The percentage of infected people who are hospitalized also increased, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo pegging that rate at 23 percent.

New efforts to thin population densities included a move by New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania to order the closings of all shopping malls beginning at 8 p.m. Thursday. Also ordered to shut are bowling alleys and amusement parks.

“It is critical that we remain on the same page as our neighboring states, and so far we are the only region in the country partnering to create uniform, regional density reduction policies that prevent ‘state shopping,’” Cuomo said.

He added: “We will continue working together to update our regulations and guidance as the situation evolves while keeping a consistent standard across the region.”

As for the workforce reduction order, Cuomo said it does not apply to essential services, such as grocery stores, health care facilities, pharmacies, transportation and banks and other financial institutions. Also exempt are media companies, utilities and warehouse operations.

Cuomo said his administration crafted the new restrictions after consulting with the Retail Council and the Business Council of New York State.

A similar directive was imposed on municipal governments across the state, requiring local governments to reduce staffing in public buildings. Gyms, movie theaters, bars and restaurants have also been closed indefinitely, though restaurants can sell takeout.

The firms being impacted by the new directive have the option of letting workers telecommute.

The governor predicted the directives from New York and similar steps taken by other state will have economic impacts.

“Let’s deal with the crisis at hand, and the crisis at hand is a public-health crisis,” the governor declared. “Once we get past that, then we’ll deal with the economic crisis.”

Cuomo’s announcement came after President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. and Canadian governments have jointly decided to suspend crossings of the U.S. border with Canada. That directive pertains to all “non-essential” traffic and, according to Trump, will not impact international trade.

To address consequences virus-related quarantines and workforce reductions are having, Cuomo signed measures Wednesday night that allow workers to get paid leave if they have to miss work due to the pandemic and qualify them for immediate jobless benefits should they be laid off.

While the bulk of New York’s infections are in the downstate region, there were fresh indications it has been transmitted to people in rural upstate New York.

Counties that previously did not have a person infected by the virus but do now include: Chenango, Essex, Hamilton, Warren and Washington, according to state data.

While the state did not mention Niagara County in the updated data, the Niagara Gazette, quoting Niagara County officials, has confirmed that one person from Niagara County has now tested positive for the virus.

Meanwhile, officials said a resident of the town of Cobleskill in Schoharie County is being treated for a COVID-19 infection.

The first upstate resident to die from the virus was identified as an employee of Rochester General Hospital. A local television station, WHEC, identified the man as Alvin Simmons, 54, who had worked in the hospital’s housekeeping department for less than a month.

Cuomo said the increase in the number of infected people reflects an increase in the availability of tests for the virus.

Cuomo also said Trump has arranged for a Navy hospital ship, the U.S. Comfort, which is equipped to treat at least 200 patients, to assist New York’s effort by mooring the vessel in New York Harbor.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com.

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