In an early US coronavirus hot spot, business slowly reopens

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Pedestrians pass a barbershop that displays a sign advertising haircuts by appointment only, Tuesday, May 26, 2020, in New Rochelle, N.Y. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

NEW YORK (AP) — The suburbs north of New York City eased outbreak restrictions, and the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange opened for the first time in two months, as the state focused more intently Tuesday on restarting its economy.

More on those and other coronavirus-related developments in New York:

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FOCUS ON REOPENING

After weeks of declining deaths and hospitalizations, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said it was time to focus on relaunching New York City’s moribund economy.

The Democratic governor laid out a plan that included accelerating major infrastructure projects and tackling transmission of the virus in the hardest-hit neighborhoods after ringing open the Stock Exchange.

“We’re going to turn the page on COVID-19, and we’re going to start focusing on reopening,” he said during a briefing at the exchange.

The mid-Hudson Valley, including the city’s northern suburbs, on Tuesday became the latest region of New York state to begin slowly phasing in economic activity. Long Island was expected to follow Wednesday, which would leave New York City as the only region awaiting the start of reopening.

Cuomo said the state will direct outbreak-fighting resources to 10 city ZIP codes that account for many of the new hospitalizations. Those cases are coming from mostly lower-income and predominantly minority neighborhoods, he said.

Citing the need for infrastructure spending to boost the economy, Cuomo announced accelerated timelines for improvement projects at the city’s Penn Station and LaGuardia Airport. He said the state would need help from the federal government for other projects and that he planned to travel Wednesday to Washington and meet with President Donald Trump.

Statewide hospitalization rates continue to decline, with about 200 new cases a day. The number of deaths reported Monday dropped to 73, the lowest number since late March.

“In this absurd new reality, that is good news,” Cuomo said.

New York state has recorded more than 23,000 deaths from the outbreak, a figure that does not include another 4,749 “probable” deaths in New York City that haven’t been confirmed by a lab test.

The largely suburban counties north of the city entered the first phase of the state’s four-part reopening process after meeting criteria for reopening including declining deaths and hospitalizations.

The region now easing restrictions includes Westchester County, where New York’s first major outbreak happened in early March. That led the governor to restrict activity in a “containment zone,” a precursor to his statewide order.

Kemesha Salmon had her door open Tuesday at TP Toys on North Avenue in New Rochelle, the site of the outbreak, for the first time since March 12.

Because she sells educational toys, she was deemed essential and could still sell, but thinks only her most loyal customers were aware. Now, passersby will know she’s back.

“A lot of people did not know that we were doing contactless shopping all this time,” she said. “I’m looking up.”

There have been more than 1,300 deaths so far in Westchester County and nearly 500 in the nearby Rockland County. Both have had more fatalities per capita than Manhattan, where restrictions are expected to stay in place at least into June.

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STOCK EXCHANGE OPENS

Traders cheered as Cuomo rang the opening bell of the Stock Exchange, which had been closed since March when the state shut down.

Under rules put in place to prevent a resurgence, traders will be required to wear masks and stay 6 feet apart. Anyone entering the exchange will be asked to avoid public transportation.

“We will respect the sacrifices of frontline workers and the city at large by proceeding cautiously, limiting the strain on the health-care system and the risk to those who work beneath our roof,” NYSE President Stacey Cunningham wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

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CONTACT TRACERS

New York City has hired 1,700 contact tracers who will monitor infected people and reach out to their close contacts, de Blasio said Tuesday.

“This is a huge new piece of the puzzle,” de Blasio said at his daily coronavirus briefing. “This is when we go on the offensive and we put in place something that really changes our whole fight against the coronavirus.”

Under Cuomo’s guidelines, the city would need 2,500 contact tracers to enter the first phase of reopening its economy. De Blasio said he expects to meet that target in the first two weeks of June.

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LEGISLATURE BACK TO WORK

The state Legislature was going into session Tuesday for the first time since the virus forced lawmakers home after passing the budget in April. Most lawmakers will participate digitally from home.

Work Tuesday was limited to committee meetings, which were publicly streamed. Lawmakers plan to go into session Wednesday to consider numerous coronavirus-related assistance bills including the Emergency Rent Relief Act calling for the state to use federal funds to provide emergency assistance vouchers for tenants unable to pay rent due to the pandemic.

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LYFT, UBER LAWSUIT

Four Lyft and Uber drivers and the New York Taxi Workers Alliance are suing New York and officials over unemployment benefits.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in Manhattan federal court, they say the state is making them wait months rather than weeks to learn whether drivers get benefits.

The delay “is devastating to thousands of drivers and their families, the overwhelming majority of whom are immigrants,” according to the plaintiffs.

Jack Sterne, a spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said some Uber and Lyft drivers have already received benefits.

“During this pandemic emergency, we have been moving heaven and earth to get every single unemployed New Yorker their benefits as quickly as possible — including Uber and Lyft drivers who are treated no different than any other worker,” he said.

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Associated Press writers Brian Mahoney in New Rochelle and Michael Hill in Albany contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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