This is our daily update of breaking COVID-19 news for Friday, September 25th, 2020. Previous daily updates can be found here, and up-to-date statistics are here.

New York City is in Phase 4 of reopening now, which includes zoos, botanical gardens, museums, and gyms. A look at preparing for the spread of coronavirus is here, and if you have lingering questions about the virus, here is our regularly updated coronavirus FAQ. Here are some local and state hotlines for more information: NYC: 311; NY State Hotline: 888-364-3065; NJ State Hotline: 800-222-1222.

Here's the latest:

4:30 p.m. In a worrying sign about the upcoming November 3rd election, a New York City Board of Elections official told City Council members on Friday that he expected absentee ballot counting—which will play a larger role in this year's election given the coronavirus pandemic—would be completed sometime between December 8th and December 15th.

The remarks by Michael Ryan, the executive director of the city BOE, suggests that election officials are still not prepared to handle the crush of absentee ballots that are expected in a pivotal election year.

Ryan cited the time it would take to certify electors so that they can begin working.

"We’re working on all of that and the idea is to get it done as quickly as we possibly can," he said. "We don't want to play brinksmanship either."

Manhattan Councilmember Keith Powers had asked the question about the time it would take to count mail-in ballots.

Afterwards, he issued the following statement: “It’s important that New Yorkers have confidence in the electoral process. If the Board of Elections needs resources to make an accurate, fair, and expedient counting, then we need to know immediately.”

Over the summer, the city BOE experienced major delays in counting 400,000 mail-in ballots for the June 23rd primary. Six weeks after the election, two Congressional races were still undecided. Although the board's office remained open throughout the pandemic, there were staffing issues. Several employees died of COVID-19, Ryan said on Friday.

On top of operational issues, there was also a confusion over a state order that said mail-in ballots would be counted so long as they were postmarked June 23rd. But an unknown number of ballots across the state were improperly disqualified by the Post Office for not having a postmark.

At a state hearing last month, state BOE officials estimated that 5 million absentee ballots will likely be issued, four times the total number of ballots counted during the primary by all 63 county BOE offices. Governor Andrew Cuomo has made it easy for every registered voter in New York to apply for an absentee ballot after issuing an executive order allowing them to get one so long as they check off their concern for going to a poll site over fears of contracting the virus.

NY State Will Have Its Own Experts Vet Any FDA-Approved Covid Vaccine

New York state will establish its own panel of scientists and public health experts to review the safety and effectiveness of a vaccine candidate approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The plan, announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday, sets up a potential clash between the state and the Trump administration. President Donald Trump has repeatedly said he wanted to see a vaccine approved before the November 3rd presidential election, an aggressive timeline that has alarmed public health experts who worry that he will rush the process and jeopardize the vaccine development process.

"Frankly, I'm not going to trust the federal government's opinion and I wouldn't recommend to New Yorkers based on the federal government's opinion," Cuomo said, during a press conference in Manhattan.

The governor's remarks came one day after President Trump suggested that he may override proposed federal regulations to set a high bar for emergency approval of a coronavirus vaccine.

“That has to be approved by the White House,” he said during a press briefing on Wednesday.

“We may or may not approve it," he added.

The president accused the the FDA's plan for tougher standards of being politically-inspired, evoking previous comments he has made about a deep state of government officials plotting against him.

"Why would FDA be politicizing the approval? Between the President and the FDA, only one entity has engaged in the political process and is heading for Election Day. It's not the FDA," Cuomo said, adding, "President Trump is engaged in the political process and has an Election Day."

But some public health experts told the New York Times that Cuomo's actions may only further politicize what is expected to become a fraught vaccination effort for FDA officials.

Public confidence in the vaccine approval process has dropped to concerning levels. A recent poll from the Pew Research Center showed that the number of Americans who are willing to get vaccinated for coronavirus once a vaccine is approved has plummeted from 72% in May to 51% this month.

According to Cuomo, 54% percent of New Yorkers say they would not take a coronavirus vaccine.