ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo erected a new hurdle Monday shopping mall operators must clear before they reopen, saying ventilation systems must be equipped with top quality filters capable of preventing the coronavirus from circulating into the air.
Cuomo noted microscopic droplets of the virus can be trapped by high efficiency particle air filters, known in the marketplace as HEPA filters.
The Cuomo administration has allowed mall store with doors that lead outside the plazas to reopen though the interiors of malls — where hundreds of stores across the state are located — must remain closed even as upstate regions entered Phase 4 of the sequence in restarting the economy.
That has led to complains from mall operators such as the Pyramid Management Corp,which owns a string of malls across the upstate region, including Destiny USA outside Syracuse.
The malls and their advocates contend it is unfair for the state to keep them closed while some big box department stores that also sell groceries — such as Walmart and Target stores — have been allowed to remain open throughout the public health crisis that reached New York in March.
The state had initially planned to let malls, theaters and gyms open as part of Phase 4. But the Cuomo administration abruptly changed that schedule last week, with the governor saying there are concerns involving the health risks when airborne particles of the virus are present in those facilities.
The concerns with indoor gathering stem in part from recent outbreaks of the contagion in other states that Cuomo said moved too rapidly in reopening their economies. Those concerns have led to new considerations about reopening restaurants in New York City. New Jersey, meanwhile, has scrapped its plan to reopen restaurants Thursday because of similar concerns.
But Cuomo suggested reviews of the ability of equipping ventilation systems with high quality filters "offers promise."
He said the state is urging all businesses with offices to "explore the potential" for updating their air-conditioning units.
While some experts have suggested the role of ventilation in spreading the contagion is unclear, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers issued guidance in April indicating that ventilation, air-conditioning and heating systems "can reduce the airborne concentration of SARS-CoV-2 and thus the risk of transmission through the air.” the statement said. “In general, disabling of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems is not a recommended measure to reduce the transmission of the virus.”
On another front, with police in numerous communities being flooded with complaints about illicit bursts of fireworks, state troopers have launched an effort to intercept illicit fireworks beings smuggled into New York from Pennsylvania. That effort is slated to continue through Friday.
Cuomo, as a result of a measure enacted in March, has broad powers to manage the state's fiscal crisis as well as the public health emergency, a situation that has reduced state lawmakers to spectators as major directives get issued by the governor's office.
Those powers won't end for another 10 months, though state GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy on Monday visited Albany to insist that the Democratic leaders who control the two chambers of the Legislature undo the special powers ceded to Cuomo.
"They should be part of the discussion," said Langworthy, noting the state was facing a $13 billion deficit before the fiscal damage wrought by the pandemic has been calculated. "What's the sense of having these legislative elections if they are going to let him be the emperor until April?"
New York has imposed 14-day quarantine orders on people entering the state from regions with high infection rates, a move that Senate GOP Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, said is having a harsh impact on New York members of the military Reserves and National Guard who have been training in North and South Carolina.
"After long training periods away from their families, these individuals deserve to be welcomed back to civilian and professional life — not sequestered because they trained in a certain state," Ortt said in a statement.
Cuomo said he does not know how many people have been placed in quarantine because of his orders, nor does he have information on the number of people who have been turned away from New York because of the order aimed at people coming from states with high infection numbers.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com