Governor Cuomo Explains Why Malls, Movie Theaters and Gyms Still Aren’t Open

The full audio of Governor Cuomo’s Briefing can found near the bottom of this page.

On June 26, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo explained how concerns over proper air filtration systems are stalling the reopening of gyms, malls and movie theaters during the state’s recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

Various regions of the state have already been transitioning from one phase of reopening to another with some having just entered Phase 4 and NYC, being the last, having just entered Phase 2. With each phase, different industries are allowed to open to varying degrees. What’s been made clear very recently is that malls, gyms and movie theaters would not be part of any region’s phase 4 reopening.

During his opening statement he explained how there are concerns over such venues in other states.

“There has been information that those situations have created issues in other states. If we have that information, we don’t want to then go ahead until we know what we’re doing, right … Logic suggests if you see a problem in other states that you explore it before you move forward in your state,” said Mr. Cuomo. “Our Department of Health is trying to determine if there is any filtration system for an air conditioning system that can successfully remove the virus from air circulation. Is there a filter that can be added to an air conditioning system that we know will filter out the virus. The issue they’re looking at is, are these air conditioning systems recirculating the virus, and you’re not getting a high percentage about the air, the air conditioning system is recirculating and could be recirculating the virus.”

I had the opportunity of posing a question to the Governor.

His mention of looking to information from sources outside of New York State before venturing forward in our recovery struck a chord in me. It brought to mind that which I’ve wondered for some time. Why were the malls opened (at limited capacity) during Connecticut’s Phase 1 reopening and yet never to be opened in New York State? Was the Governor simply keeping an eye out for what Connecticut’s health metrics would reveal? My thoughts on this began immediately after my visit to the Danbury Fair Mall on the second day of its reopening on May 21.

My question:

“I’ve been to the Danbury Fair Mall in Connecticut a number of times since they opened up a while back, but I wonder if that’s part of that which you’ve mentioned? That is, in as far as seeing first how their metrics work out in that regard. Would such outside metrics help in determining when we go beyond the 50% capacity guidelines here in NY?”

Governor Cuomo:

“Yes, Yes, and those are the things we’re looking at. We slowed on the malls, movie theaters, gyms. These states that have stayed open they’re making findings – businesses themselves are making findings in some of these areas – and so, we incorporate that data.”

“These interior spaces with large numbers of people that have recirculating air conditioning systems pose an issue and I’ve spoken to a number of engineers about it. You get a movie theater, you get a mall, you have a large number of people – so there’s a possibility that you have the virus in the air because you have a large number of people. The air conditioning system recirculates the air. When most air conditioning systems, just about all air conditioning systems filter the air, the filter that they use have different densities and some filters are better at taking out fine particulate matter than other filters. That’s always been the case. Some filters claim they filter viruses out of the air. This is a different virus as we’ve all learned and the question is, do the filters take out – can they filter out the Coronavirus.”

“So the Department of Health is working on that and Robert Mujica, Budget Director has been talking to a number of engineer firms and filter companies. If we could find – and Rob is doing this personally, I asked him to – Rob is looking to see if we can find filters that we knew with a degree of certainty that could actually take – filter out the COVID Virus. That could really be helpful, not just to New York but across the board. Apparently, what Rob has found out so far is that requires a density of a filter that’s actually hard for an air conditioning system to operate – because it restricts the air flow to such an extent. I’m not an engineer and I’m exhausted of everything I know about air filters. So those are the kinds of issues we’re talking through now. “

Based upon this exchange, one might surmise that yes, New York is waiting on the health metrics of other states before venturing forward beyond the 50% capacity guidelines that’s applied repeatedly to businesses, venues, institutions and other locales.

The Governor would later be asked about gyms. He would express his concerns over folks not wearing masks since it would not allow them to breathe properly. In turn, every heavy breath sent into the air leaves the related air conditioning system liable to recirculating the contaminated air – and thus, concerns over proper air filtration systems arises yet again.

I once wrote about the new reservation system for staggered workouts being employed by one gym in particular. I’ve no clue if the Governor’s considered such a thing and whether any gym with that sort of idea would be looked upon more favorably by the state. I imagine the question of air filtration would arise once more.

It’s also not clear whether any positive findings from outside sources, such as the aforementioned state of Connecticut, would convince the Governor to open malls, and possibly other locales, at least to a limited capacity.

Governor Cuomo also stated, “So that’s the issue that we’re exploring on that, and if anybody knows of a filter that successfully filters out the coronavirus, that we can add to an air conditioning system, that would be very helpful.”