The show must go on: Gov says theaters can open 

Still frame from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Oct. 17, 2020 press conference

“We wear a mask, we socially distance. I urge everyone to do it, because to me it’s the exact opposite of harshness,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo. 

ALBANY COUNTY — After being closed for seven months, movie theaters in Albany County will be allowed to open on Oct. 23.

Governor Andrew Cuomo made the long-awaited announcement on Saturday.

Outside of New York City and outside of a dozen counties currently with higher rates of COVID-19, theaters can reopen at 25-percent capacity with no more than 50 people allowed in front of each screen.

The theaters will be subject to rigorous state guidance and enforcement, Cuomo said.

Theaters will be closed in counties with a positivity rate over 2 percent on a 14-day average or if they have cluster zones. Currently, theaters cannot open these counties: Allegany, Broome, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Chemung, Cortland, Greene, Orange, Rockland, Schuyler, Steuben, and. Tioga.

Among those pushing for the reopening was Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, a Democrat representing a large part of Albany County. In September, Fahy released a letter signed by 16 of her colleagues, calling for movie theaters to open, stating that 42 states have allowed a limited reopening of movie theaters and that theaters are a critical part of downtowns and local economies.

The legislators’ letter to the governor answered various concerns that had been raised about theaters reopening. For example, it said an average movie runtime is 96 minutes while restaurateurs plan on allowing between 105 and 120 minutes for diners.

Also, the letter said, unlike restaurant customers, theater-goers would wear masks and would be seated to face in the same direction rather than facing each other. The letter also went over the air systems typically used in theaters with separate filtration units for each screening room, lobby, and bathroom.

Many of those components are part of the state’s guidance for theaters reopening. Assigned seating and social distancing are required and masks must be worn except when patrons are seated and eating or drinking. Also, theaters must meet standards for air filtration and hire additional staff to control required occupancy and seating.

 

“Micro-cluster strategy”

In a free-ranging press conference in New York City on Saturday, Cuomo said the state hit a new record on Friday for test results in a single day — 159,972 — and that this ongoing testing is essential for managing small outbreaks of COVID-19, which he called micro-clusters.

As predicted for the fall, with schools reopening and people, including restaurant diners, gathering inside, the rates of infection are going up across the country, Cuomo noted.

Cuomo also noted that people from across the  country come to New York. “And we have states on a quarantine list and we have people in the airports and questionnaires, but it is an imperfect system with the state protecting its boundaries,” he said.

Cuomo went on, “For the fall, we are going to deploy what we call a micro-cluster strategy …. Rather than looking at it on the state level or regional level or even a county level or even a neighborhood level, we are now going to analyze it on the block-by-block level. We actually have data that is so specific that we can’t show it because it would violate privacy conditions but we know exactly where the cases are coming from.”

Cuomo then went over the Cluster Action Initiative, which he announced on Oct. 6. The strategy defines a “red zone” at the center of the cluster, where schools are closed, gatherings are prohibited, and only essential businesses are open. Surrounding the red zones are orange zones, with lesser restrictions, and finally outlying yellow zones with still fewer restrictions.

This strategy is currently being used in Orange and Rockland counties as well as in neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens in New York City.

“It’s more effective. It’s also less disruptive,” Cuomo said of the zoned approach. He again stressed the importance of compliance and enforcement.

“The devil is in the execution, not in the details ...,” said Cuomo. “Almost by definition, if you have a cluster, it means there was a lack of compliance ... If people are following the rules the virus does not spread.“

Cuomo said the system is working, pointing out that, in the Queens zone, the positivity rate had been 1.59 percent and is now 0.4 percent. The zones can be reshaped as the numbers improve, he said, “because we want the least disruption possible.”

As of Saturday, the percentage of people tested in the red zones with positive results was 4.3 percent. The rest of the state, without the red zones, had a rate of 1.02 percent. The statewide rate, including the oversampling in the red zones, was 1.1 percent.

Cuomo concluded by saying, “We have COVID fatigue,” himself and his staff included.

He went on, “But we don't have the luxury as a society of operating under fatigue. If you allow the fatigue to take over, and you don't follow the rules, the virus will spread. It is that simple. We know how to control it. But you can’t get tired when the virus isn't tired.”

 

Newest numbers

The Capital Region, of which Albany County is a part, had an infection rate of 0.6 percent, based on Friday’s test results. Half of the state’s 10 regions are at or over the 1-percent target.

The highest is the Mid-Hudson region, home to Rockland and Orange counties, at 1.6 percent. The lowest rate is 0.3 percent, for both the Mohawk Valley and the North Country.

As of Saturday morning, Albany County has 3,287 confirmed cases of COVID-19, an increase of 12 since Friday, according to a release from Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy.

 Among the 12 new cases, eight had close contact with someone infected with the disease, one is a healthcare worker or a resident of a congregate setting, and three did not have a clear source of infection detected at this time.

The county currently has 1,058 residents under quarantine, down from 1,067. The five-day average for new daily positives increased to 20 from 19.6. There are now 111 active cases in the county, down from 118 on Friday

So far, 14,425 county residents have completed quarantine. Of those, 3,176 had tested positive and recovered.

Ten county residents remain hospitalized with COVID-19 with one in an intensive-care unit. The county’s hospitalization rate is 0.30 percent.

Albany County’s COVID-19 death toll remains at 136.

More Regional News

  • “Albany County departments provide many of the services LEAD uses and this money is a game-changer during a financially challenging time and one in which mental health and addiction issues have increased,” said Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy.

  • To present a balanced spending plan for 2021, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy’s budget relies on tapping the county’s $60 million rainy-day fund for $3 million, reallocating $5 million that would have otherwise been appropriated toward paying off county debt, and $5 million in salaries and benefits savings from 72 employees who each accepted a $15,000 early-separation payout.

  • Governor Andrew Cuomo announced an expansion of food stamps, now called SNAP, to nearly 75,000 low-income college students who are enrolled in career or technical education courses.

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