ALBANY — As the governor and the mayor of New York City bicker over whether to close the nation’s largest school district for the rest of the year, upstate schools and businesses are still in limbo.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo did acknowledge, during his daily briefing Saturday, a different situation in upstate as far as the number of COVID-19 cases, but fell short of saying it would factor in his decision when it comes time to open schools and “non-essential” businesses.
“There is a little bit of a different situation upstate than downstate and hopefully it stays that way,” he said.
He did say the opening schools and businesses should happen together, and in a coordinated manner that spans municipal, state and school district boundaries rather than one entity at a time. He would not give a timeframe, but said the decision would not be made over the next few days.
“When we closed the schools we closed it not just for metropolitan areas, we coordinated it statewide and when we closed, different schools were doing different things,” he said. “There is local flexibility, a snow day in buffalo doesn’t mean there is a snow day on Long Island. This is different. You’re asking a society to stay home.”
About two hours prior to Cuomo’s his daily press briefing, New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced schools would remain closed for the rest of the school year. Cuomo said he appreciated the mayor’s “opinion” but the decision was his to make and it was not made yet.
On March 15, the state closed schools in the greater metropolitan area which includes New York City, Long Island and Westchester County. A few days later, upstate schools were closed until the end of May. It was extended statewide to Mid-April, and then to the end of April. Any change to that status, Cuomo said, would be up to him and include at least the entire greater metropolitan area and include opening businesses too.
“We need to coordinate schools and businesses and we need to coordinate them geographically. The application does not follow geographical jurisdictions,” he said hoping to add New Jersey and Connecticut to the mix as well. “How do I tell businesses in one area to open unless businesses are open in the next area.”
He did acknowledge there are far less cases of COVID-19 in upstate counties. That fact is due, in large part, because there is much less people spread out over much more area, said Dr. Elizabeth Whalen, head of the Albany County Health Department, during a previous briefing.
Still, while the governor specifically mentioned the metropolitan area, he did not definitively say upstate would open before downstate. And he categorically shot down DeBlasio’s intent to open city businesses in May.
“I talked to all the county executives, they are all elected by their constituents and they all have their opinions. Some say we should open businesses in two weeks, some think we should open businesses in May, like Mayor DeBlasio, some think we should open in June. The truth is I don’t know what it’s going to look like in June. I don’t know what it will look like in May.
“At the end of the day, the decision must be made for a minimum the metropolitan area, hopefully statewide and ideally regionally with Connecticut and New Jersey.”