NEW YORK — The guidelines for Phase 4 of New York's reopening plan — for which five of the state's regions qualify, not including Mid-Hudson and Long Island — allow higher education, low-risk outdoor and indoor arts and entertainment and film and television production to start up again. Notably missing are malls, theaters and gyms.
During a telephone news conference Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state is still looking at the science and data on malls, theaters and gyms.
"There has been information that those situations have created issues in other states," he said. "If we have that information, we don't want to then go ahead until we know what we're doing."
A concern is whether air conditioning systems are actually recirculating the virus.
Cuomo said the state health department is trying to determine whether an air filtration system exists for an air conditioning system that is known to filter out the new coronavirus.
One early finding, Cuomo said, was that the density of a filter that actually would stop the coronavirus would make it difficult for an air conditioning system to work.
The state's hesitancy could put a real crimp in the plans Regal Cinemas and AMC Theatres announced recently. Regal said it was opening its theaters Friday, July 10, and AMC said it was opening almost all its theaters Wednesday, July 15.
Both chains announced that its guidelines ensure the safety of the customers and employees.
Even if the governor's concerns could be put aside, Phase 4 guidelines for "low-risk indoor arts and entertainment" limit the workforce and customer presence to no more than 25 percent of maximum occupancy, along with mask-wearing, social distancing and other restrictions.
Under Phase 3, only stores that have outside entrances and exits can allow customers inside to shop. All other stores in the mall are still limited to curbside service.
Pyramid Management Group called the indefinite shuttering of malls "both unfair and unjustified."
Pyramid is the owner of 16 properties in New York and Massachusetts, including the Poughkeepsie Galleria.
A statement from the management group said that bar and restaurant patrons being crowded into tight venues without the requirement of masks or social distancing is not in any way comparable to a "vast open shopping center with millions of square feet available to socially distance.
"We and our tenants understand and respect the focus on public health," the statement continued. "However, there is no documented link between HVAC systems and the spread of COVID-19 in malls.
"And the fact is that we already have engaged HVAC professionals to increase fresh air flow into the building, change filters and follow other recommendations," Pyramid said.
"We stand prepared to re-open safely," the company said.
Kyle Stewart, executive director of the Alliance of New York State YMCAs, said his organization was very disappointed by the decision to still prohibit gyms from opening in those regions already in Phase 4.
He said some of the branches upstate had asked furloughed employees to return to work in anticipation of reopening, Democrat & Chronicle reported.
Stewart said the member Ys have been "figuring out what our plans are when we reopen" ever since they closed.