NEW YORK, April 13, 2020 (AFP) - New York's governor declared Monday that the "worst is over" for its coronavirus outbreak, despite deaths passing 10,000, as several states began devising a plan to reopen their shuttered economies.
Andrew Cuomo said lower average hospitalization rates and intubations suggested a "plateauing" of infections in America's coronavirus epicenter but warned the outbreak could worsen if restrictions are lifted too quickly.
"The worst is over if we continue to be smart going forward. I believe we can now start on the path to normalcy," Cuomo told reporters.
The governor, a Democrat, said 671 people had died in New York in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of deaths in America's hardest-hit state to 10,056.
It was the lowest single-day toll in New York since April 5. The highest of 799 was reported on Thursday of last week.
Cuomo, and the governors of neighboring New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Rhode Island, later held a joint conference call where they announced a taskforce to come up with a reopening plan.
On the West Coast, the governors of California, Oregon and the state of Washington also announced an agreement on a shared vision to reopen their economies and prevent the spread of the virus.
Details about their plans were expected on Tuesday.
Earlier, President Donald Trump tweeted that any decision to end shutdowns rested with him, even though it was individual governors who rolled out the lockdowns in the first place.
America's federal system of government delegates powers to the governors of the 50 states, but the president in theory can use his powers to oversee a coordinated national strategy.
Cuomo said 18 officials, three from each of the six east coast states, would start work immediately on a "coordinated" proposal to get businesses and schools open again.
"We didn't start with a timetable but we'll say to the group, 'We want it ASAP but we want it smart,'" Cuomo explained.
He said at his earlier press conference that the reopening would be gradual, would involve easing isolation measures and could start with recalibrating who is an essential worker.
It would also require an increase in testing to monitor infection rates and would be based on data and the advice of health experts, not politicians.
"This is a delicate balance," Cuomo said.
"It's not going to be, we flip the switch, and everybody comes out of their house, gets in their car, waves and hugs each other, and the economy will start."
The governor described restarting New York's shuttered economy as like "opening a valve," and implored people to "do it carefully, do it slowly and do it intelligently."
"If you see that infection rates start ticking up, which would be undermining everything we have accomplished thus far, then you know you've opened the valve too fast," he said.
Cuomo encouraged New York's 19.5 million inhabitants to continue to follow social distancing guidelines, saying "two or three days of reckless behavior" could set the fight against the pandemic back.
New York state -- the epicenter of the US outbreak -- accounts for almost half of the country's more than 23,070 deaths, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University.
The virus has particularly spread among Latino and African-American communities living in deprived neighborhoods where many residents work in service sectors and often lack comprehensive health insurance.