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REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
The body of a deceased person is prepared to be transferred at the Brooklyn Hospital Center, during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 28, 2020.

Eighty-one New Yorkers died of COVID-19 complications on Friday – the first time in two months that fewer than 100 people in the state lost their lives from the virus in a single day.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Saturday the death toll remains tragically too high, yet represented a real sign of progress in New York’s effort to stop the Empire State epidemic.

The last time New York State lost fewer than 100 people to COVID-19 on a single day was March 22, when 81 deaths were reported. Within three weeks, the death toll and infection rates skyrocketed; on April 8, at the apex of the crisis, 799 people died of COVID-19.

That was in the midst of a six-day period, April 6-11, in which more than 700 died from the illness each day.

Slowly but steadily since then, the spread slowed across New York state — and so did the deaths.

During his May 23 briefing at the Executive Mansion in Albany, Cuomo recalled a conversation he had with a medical expert at the crisis’ peak about how low the daily death toll could drop to a point where the state could “breathe a sigh of relief.” That expert told him “you want to be below 100” deaths per day as it represented a more normal rate of death from other, more common illnesses.

“In my head, I was always looking to get under 100,” the governor said. “It doesn’t do any good for those 84 families that are feeling the pain [Friday], but for me, it’s just a sign that we are making progress [in battling COVID-19], and I feel good about that.”

The rate of hospitalizations, intubations and new COVID-19 cases continue to drop statewide, Cuomo said. Region by region, the state is reopening based on hitting parameters for reduced infection rates, available hospital beds and adequate numbers of contact tracers.

The Mid-Hudson Region appears poised to reopen Tuesday, May 26, Cuomo reported. Contract tracers are undergoing training during the Memorial Day weekend to be ready for the start.

Cuomo also said Long Island (Nassau and Suffolk Counties) could reopen by Wednesday if the COVID-19 continues to drop over the next four days.

If the Mid-Hudson and Long Island regions reopen by May 27, New York City would be the last remaining part of the state closed. Earlier this week, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city is on pace for an early June reopening.

Cuomo continued urging New Yorkers to get tested for COVID-19 if they exhibit symptoms or know they came into contact with individuals who wound up being infected; and to continue wearing masks while out in public.

The governor also contrasted the easing of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York with the ongoing spike in virus cases across the United States. He spoke of reports about a feared second wave of the pandemic already beginning to manifest itself in southern states that “may have reopened too fast and aggressively.”

“How these counties and states reopen can make all the difference,” Cuomo said. “Don’t underestimate this virus. We know it can rear its ugly head at any moment. But what do we need to do? It’s not rocket science: Wear a mask, wash your hands and socially distance.”

This story first appeared on amny.com.

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