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Holding COVID in check, region enters Phase 3

From a staggering peak of 50 deaths a day due to COVID-19, Westchester County did not lose a single person to COVID-19 on Wednesday or Thursday.

Tangible progress like that marked the June 23 opening of Phase Three of the Mid-Hudson Region, a region that includes Westchester.

“We continue to show the diminution of the COVID outbreak here in Westchester,” said Democratic County Executive George Latimer during a Friday press briefing at Saxon Woods Pool in White Plains. “That is now basically two-plus months of a reduction [in] numbers.”

On June 23, County Executive George Latimer joins Rosanna Scotto of FOX’s “Good Day New York” for a cup of coffee from the Townhouse Diner in White Plains to discuss Phase Three of Westchester’s reopening.

There was 536 remaining active cases across the county, as of June 26. But overall that number continues to steadily decline since a dangerous peak in early April. There were 1,174 active cases just three weeks ago.

Testing has continued to ramp up as well with the county closing in on testing 25% of its estimated population of 1 million. “One out of four people have been tested,” Latimer said. “The more we test the lower the percentage of people coming up positive of COVID. The trend line continues to be a good trend line for us.”

New York state, which has made testing a priority, has conducted more than 3 million—tops in the nation —since March. And New York, also with the lowest infection nationally, is one of only three states on track to contain the virus, according to COVID Act Now, a team of experts that provides disease intelligence in the U.S.

The daily death toll has also plummeted from a peak fatality rate of roughly 50 people a day to no more than one to two people on average recently. “For the second straight night no one died from COVID-related illness, “Latimer said on Friday.

But the county has faced a staggering amount of loss to the pandemic. As of June 23, 1,416 Westchester residents had died due to COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.

Latimer was in Somers on Wednesday in coordination with the next step in a four-pronged reopening plan shepherded by New York state, known as “NY Forward.”

Phase Three reopens personal care services including nail salons, waxing, tanning, tattoo parlors, acupuncture and massage therapy. Phase Three also allows for public gatherings of up to 25 people, an increase over Phase Two’s 10-person limit. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, announced on Wednesday that the size of public gatherings could increase to 50 people once in Phase Four.

Newly opened businesses are required to ensure strict social distancing measures, the use of facial masks for both employees and consumers, and should conduct business by appointment only.

Phase Three also reopens indoor dining for restaurateurs. Any restaurant that utilizes indoor dining will be restricted, however, to 50% capacity. Latimer stressed that this addition would complement the expanded outdoor dining, which has been operational since June 9.

On June 23, County Executive George Latimer joins Rosanna Scotto of FOX’s “Good Day New York” for a cup of coffee from the Townhouse Diner in White Plains to discuss Phase Three of Westchester’s reopening. Photo/Christian Falcone

Since Cuomo completely shuttered the New York economy to all non-essential businesses on March 22, many restaurants and food service establishments have struggled to survive, only able to offer takeout, delivery and curbside pickup options. “It maybe keeps the lights on but it’s very difficult to make a go of it,” said Latimer, acknowledging the hardships the industry has suffered.

Gyms, indoor shopping malls and movie theaters remain in limbo.

Cuomo has delayed plans to reopen those establishments—initially slotted into Phase Four—so the state Department of Health can conduct a review of indoor viral transmission.

The Mid-Hudson Region was the eighth region in the state to reopen its economy. All but the New York City Region—the nation’s epicenter for the virus—are in Phase Three with five upstate regions scheduled to being Phase Four on Friday.  New York City entered into Phase Two this week.

If things remain on schedule, the Mid-Hudson would move into its Phase 4 on July 7.

At that time, Latimer plans to conclude his daily COVID briefings; he would only provide updates on a need basis.

“There’s a pent up demand of people to get together,” he said. “It’s just the human element for us to connect as people and we certainly want that to happen.”

CONTACT: chris@hometwn.com