By GREGORY ZELLER //
Strap yourselves in, Long Island, but keep strapping on those facemasks. And batten the hatches for some political fallout, too – Phase Four has arrived, with fireworks.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, one of President Donald Trump’s more vocal critics, pulled no punches in Monday’s daily briefing, in which the governor announced strong COVID-19 numbers across the state, confirmed that indoor dining in New York City is on hold indefinitely and essentially accused the President of the United States of aiding and abetting the biggest national threat since World War II.
Clear through the blistering politics: Nassau and Suffolk counties are on course to enter Phase Four of Albany’s reopening playbook on Wednesday, joining other New York regions that are already recirculating humans through college campuses, amusement parks and other outdoor and indoor locales deemed “low-risk” by the state.
Movie theaters, shopping malls and gyms have not been greenlighted just yet. Neither is there word on the reopening of the Jake’s 58 Casino Hotel in Islandia, shuttered since mid-March, though Cuomo did end some speculation Monday by announcing the annual New York State Fair – scheduled for next month in Syracuse – would be canceled.
But other “low-risk indoor arts & entertainment” uses have been cleared, along with low-risk outdoor entertainment uses, “media production” studios and offices, professional sports stadiums and arenas (sans fans) and – of extreme importance to the freshly minted high school Class of 2020 and tens of thousands of other Long Island students and faculty members – higher-education facilities.
The all-important go-ahead for campus life comes just in time for the Fall 2020 semester, and with Albany waving the green flag, Island schools are racing out of the gate.
Adelphi University, for instance, has announced plans to open its dormitories to students the weekend of Aug. 22, begin the Fall 2020 semester on campus (and on time) and switch to remote learning after the Thanksgiving break for the remainder of the semester.
That’s an increasingly common plan among higher-education institutions bracing for a possible second COVID-19 wave this fall. Hofstra University is doing essentially the same thing, with a twist – the Hempstead school is pushing up its Fall 2020 start date by one week, canceling its annual fall break and sending students home after Thanksgiving, with remote final examinations scheduled for the first week of December.
As of this week, Stony Brook University is planning to start Fall 2020 with a blend of on-campus and distance learning; the multi-campus state university is also gearing up a “science-based COVID-19 containment program” including testing and contact tracing, set to federal and state health standards.
Farmingdale State College, meanwhile, has announced a comprehensive molecular and antibody testing program with local biotech Enzo Biochem, ready to deploy when staff and students return on-schedule next month.
Suffolk County Community College announced this week that SUNY has approved its fairly complex reopening plan – 88 percent of courses offered on a completely remote basis, with small-group instruction, rotating in-person attendance and other “hybrids” of on-campus and distance learning filling in the gaps – and St. Joseph’s College is close to selecting one of four ready action plans, dubbed “remote,” “hybrid,” “on-ground” and “online.”
Higher-learning institutions continue to make a plethora of other pandemic-related changes. St. Joseph’s – one of several Island schools to announce a tuition freeze for the 2020-2021 academic year – said July 1 that it’s waiving standardized-testing admissions requirements at its Patchogue and Brooklyn campuses through the 2021-22 academic year.
The progress on regional college campuses and other Phase Four privileges – such as reopening zoos, museums and regional movie- and television-production facilities – wouldn’t be possible without the continued enforcement of mask mandates, social-distancing minimums and other pandemic-approved norms, according to Cuomo, who urged New Yorkers to “continue the smart practices that have made our state a national leader in combatting this virus.”
The governor said that Sunday, when he also reminded local governments that it was “their duty to enforce the standards that have made New York’s reopening safe and successful,” no matter their political opposition to the state law.
On Monday, Cuomo sounded slightly more exasperated as he defended New York’s growing list of “quarantine states” (from which travelers to New York must quarantine for two weeks), counted 38 states with rising COVID-19 cases and lamented – with some of his brawniest rhetoric to date – the lack of national leadership he believes is costing lives and deepening the country’s economic hole.
“If we do not as a nation acknowledge the COVID viral increase, it is going to continue,” Cuomo noted. “Those upward numbers don’t change on their own.”
The governor then let fly with a both-barrels attack that, among other broadside blasts, charged President Donald Trump as a “co-conspirator of COVID.”
The bottom line, according to Cuomo, is that “an outbreak anywhere is an outbreak everywhere,” and “that’s the only mentality we can have.” But Trump’s piecemeal response – encouraging states with friendly lawmakers to open faster, refusing to wear a mask, hosting large public gatherings – is making that a difficult rule of thumb to enforce, Cuomo said Monday.
The governor then made a direct plea to the president, whom he accused of “facilitating the virus” and “enabling the virus” by refusing to lead by example.
“Just wear the mask,” Cuomo said. “I’ve been asking him to do it for weeks.
“Wear the mask and say to the American people, ‘This is real and it’s a problem and we have to do our part.’”