Fourth region of upstate New York cleared to slowly reopen

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A fourth region of upstate New York has met the criteria to gradually restart its economic activity as the state prepares slowly relax its pandemic-induced social restrictions …

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NEW YORK — A fourth region in upstate New York might start reopening for business. New York City launched an informational campaign about a rare syndrome afflicting children. And the city’s police commissioner rebutted complaints of racism in his department’s handling of social distancing violations.

Among the developments Wednesday in New York on the coronavirus pandemic:

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BACK IN BUSINESS?

New York’s North Country, a sprawling, rural swath that includes the Adirondack Mountains, has been added to the regions of the state poised to restart some economic activity in the days ahead as the state slowly relaxes pandemic-induced social restrictions, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

The region, which draws hikers, boaters and campers up from New York City and beyond during warmer months, met all seven benchmarks the state requires before selected businesses can be approved for reopening, according to the administration.

It joins New York’s Southern Tier, along the Pennsylvania border, the Mohawk Valley and the Finger Lakes regions in preparing to reopen in phases as early as Friday.

None of those parts of the state have been particularly hard hit by the virus, but all are within a few hours drive of still locked-down metropolitan areas where the virus has killed thousands of people.

New York’s 10 regions can start reopening once they demonstrate that COVID-19-related deaths and hospitalizations are down; that there are enough hospital beds to meet any new surge in cases; and that there is sufficient local testing and contact-tracing efforts.

The economic reopenings will proceed in phases, starting with construction, manufacturing, retail with curbside pickup, agriculture, forestry and fishing.

New York state recorded 166 new deaths from the virus Tuesday, bringing the total since March to more than 22,000. That tally does not include the more than 5,100 additional deaths in New York City that were attributed to the virus on death certificates but weren’t confirmed by a lab test.

Though hospitalizations are down, New York still averages more than 400 COVID-19 admissions a day.

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EDUCATING PARENTS

New York City is launching an ad campaign to educate parents about a rare syndrome that is thought to be linked to COVID-19 and has been diagnosed in more than 80 children in the city, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

Digital ads alerting parents to the symptoms of the inflammatory condition in children are starting Wednesday, de Blasio said, and ads on radio and TV, on bus shelters, and in community newspapers will follow.

“We have to rapidly inform families all over the city,” the mayor said.

The condition, being called pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome, affects blood vessels and organs and has symptoms including prolonged fever, abdominal pain and vomiting.

Two young boys and an 18-year-old woman diagnosed with the syndrome have died in New York state, including one in New York City.

Health officials are investigating 102 cases statewide, Cuomo said. Sixty percent of the children displaying symptoms tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, and 40% tested positive for its antibodies.

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SOCIAL DISTANCING

New York City’s police commissioner passionately defended his department against complaints of racism after videos surfaced showing officers violently arresting people of color for violating orders to maintain social distance in public.

“I will push back strongly on any notion that this is business as usual for the NYPD, or that this is ‘racist policing,’” Commissioner Dermot Shea said Wednesday at de Blasio’s news conference. “I think this could not be anything further from the truth.”

Some of the videos were “incredibly disheartening” and “frankly disturbing,” Shea conceded. At least one confrontation is being investigated internally.

One video showed an officer pulling a stun gun on a black man and violently taking him to the ground. Another showed an officer punching a man in the head as he lay pinned to a sidewalk.

And Shea also acknowledged recently released police department data showing that more than 80% of people accused of social distancing violations by police have been black or Hispanic.

But he said that police officers and their families had received death threats “over 10-second videos” where officers were dealing with habitually violent people.

“They fight with their significant others. They fight when they go to court. They have open gun cases. They are gang members, and we expect our police officers to do the best they can. That is exactly what they are doing,” Shea said.

The state attorney general on Wednesday called on the NYPD to publicly release its policies on social distancing enforcement and any detailed demographic data on related arrests or summonses.

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AID FOR RESTAURANTS

The New York City Council voted Wednesday to cap fees charged by delivery apps like Grubhub and DoorDash at 20% during the coronavirus outbreak because restaurants are relying on delivery orders to stay in business.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he will sign the bill.

Supporters of the legislation said the third-party delivery platforms’ fees of as much as 30% per order are eating into struggling restaurants’ narrow profit margin.

“These apps are killing them with these exorbitant fees,” said Councilman Francisco Moya, a Queens Democrat.

Grubhub said in a statement that the cap on fees “represents an overstep by local officials and will not withstand a legal challenge.”

David London, East Coast policy head for DoorDash, said, “We continue to have concerns about an arbitrary permanent cap that would limit our ability to power delivery for local restaurants that may not be able to stay open without it and provide economic opportunity to workers who may not have any other source of income.”

Other cities including San Francisco and Washington, D.C. have already acted to cap delivery fees during the pandemic.

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Villeneuve and Hill reported from Albany, N.Y. Associated Press writer Karen Matthews contributed from New York.

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