Albany, N.Y. — Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to aggressively expand rapid Covid-19 testing in New York in order to reopen office buildings, arts venues and more in the months ahead.
“There is a real opportunity for the place and the people who best and most quickly adapt to the post-Covid economy,” Cuomo said today during the second part of his State of the State address from Albany. “We will seize that opportunity. The vaccine is the weapon that will end the war, but it won’t hit critical mass until June, September or even December.
“If we float along, relying solely on the vaccine, the way many states are, we are looking at months of shutdowns and the economic, mental and spiritual hardship they bring. We need to begin to act now.”
Arts organizations have been shuttered since the early days of the pandemic and many employees at companies throughout the state have yet to return to their workplaces.
Reopening offices and the arts is critical to the state’s future, Cuomo said.
Cuomo said the state is working with property owners to establish sites where people can get tested for Covid before socializing or patronizing a business. He said plans are in the works to establish a network of hundreds of popup rapid testing sites across the state.
Major commercial operators in New York with 100 million square feet of office space have already agreed to offer testing services to all their tenants on a regularly scheduled basis, he added.
The Buffalo Bills’ playoff game last weekend can serve as a model for how the state can approach reopening, Cuomo said. A total of 6,700 fans were allowed to attend the game and all had to be tested ahead of time.
A drive-thru site that performed the tests did so at a rate of about five minutes per car. So far, it appears the event was a success and didn’t lead to a jump in Covid cases, Cuomo said.
A similar approach could allow restaurants in the state’s orange zones to reopen, he said. Even theaters, big office buildings and other large indoor spaces could return.
Even with help, some office buildings won’t recover, Cuomo added. He proposed transforming some of the state’s excess commercial space into affordable housing.
The arts deserve special attention in the months to come, Cuomo said. They’re critical to the health of New York’s cities, especially with the rise of remote work, increasing crime and more homelessness.
“Cities are by definition centers of energy, entertainment, theater and cuisine,” Cuomo said. “Without that activity and attraction, cities lose much of their appeal.
“We must bring culture and arts back to life. We must act. We cannot wait until summer to turn the lights back on for the arts. We will not let the curtain fall on their careers or on the future of our cities.”
The state is working with private partners to host a series of popup art performances across New York, starting Feb. 4, Cuomo said. Arts organizations throughout the state and over 150 artists will participate, including Amy Schumer, Chris Rock, Wynton Marsalis and Hugh Jackman.
Performances will take place at outdoor sites statewide, including state parks and other properties. The state will also explore what events might make sense in large indoor spaces with the help of testing and ventilation.
Cuomo said none of his proposals would be easy, but remained optimistic.
“The show will go on,” he said. “The fans will be back. And New York will be New York again.”
Cuomo began his State of the State address on Monday. Instead of a one-day affair, the governor is delivering a series of speeches over several days.
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