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Frustration, followed by relief as region moves into phase two

GLOVERSVILLE — City officials on Friday morning expressed frustration over the lack of information surrounding when the Mohawk Valley region would enter phase two of reopening from restrictions related to the coronavirus two weeks after entering the first phase.

A few hours later, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the Mohawk Valley and four other regions of the state could immediately begin phase two.

Mayor Vincent DeSantis during a town hall meeting conducted over Facebook Live on Friday at 10 a.m. said he learned the night before that despite the Mohawk Valley meeting all of the metrics set by the state to advance to the second stage of reopening there had been a delay.

Officials had anticipated receiving state approval to begin the second phase as of midnight on Friday, exactly two weeks after the region began the first phase of reopening.

“This has been enormously frustrating and disappointing,” said DeSantis. “I spoke to several business owners yesterday on the phone who asked me about the details of going into phase two and they’re all set to go.”

The Mohawk Valley was authorized by the state to begin the first of four stages of reopening on May 15 that allowed the resumption of construction; manufacturing and wholesale supply chain; retail for curbside pickup and drop-off or in-store pickup only; agriculture; forestry; and fishing with social distancing guidelines to be maintained and masks to be worn during close contact between staff or between staff and members of the public.

At each stage of reopening, state and local elected leaders and health officials serving on newly formed regional control rooms will monitor the rate of infection for a possible resurgence of coronavirus cases for at least two weeks before allowing regions to move on to the next phase.

If cases of the virus begin to rise or regions no longer meet metrics set out by the state to qualify for reopening, the process for reopening may be slowed or some restrictions may be reinstituted.

DeSantis noted that the Mohawk Valley continued to meet all of the state’s metrics surrounding infection rates, hospitalizations, deaths and capacity for testing an contact tracing throughout the first phase, leading officials to anticipate the region would move onto the second stage on Friday.

“This is a big step to phase two,” said DeSantis. “It was my understanding in the beginning that as long as we got through phase one and our data didn’t go crazy, that we didn’t have more positive tests, that we didn’t have more cases, hospitalizations that we would be OK to go on to phase two automatically after two weeks. But apparently there’s been a glitch somehow.”

Phase two includes the reopening of professional services, in-store retail, barbershops and hair salons, administrative support services and real estate under certain safety precautions to lower the risk of spreading the virus.

DeSantis said he was informed during a call with the governor’s representative for the Mohawk Valley region that the delay in reopening was to allow experts to review the data before greenlighting the next phase.

“In my view it would seem to me that this data could have been analyzed by these scientists day-to-day, so we were in a position to move forward,” said DeSantis. “I know people are antsy to get back into stores. I’ve never gone so long without a haircut, it’s driving me nuts. I want to get back to barbershop, but that’s a small thing for me compared to the sacrifice that you have made as business owners and people have made in the community in staying in compliance with these mandates.”

Officials with the Fulton County Center for Regional Growth during a virtual meeting of the Board of Directors on Friday morning said they too were waiting for details on when the region would be able to begin phase two of reopening after learning of the delay on Thursday.

The agency has focused on linking businesses facing temporary closures with short term funding through the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program in recent weeks.

CRG President and CEO Ronald Peters said many local business owners participating in a survey put out by the organization were able to secure support through the Paycheck Protection Program to maintain staff and most plan to reopen when allowed. He noted that most survey respondents pointed to working capital as their greatest need moving forward along with marketing support.

Downtown Development Specialist James Hannahs reported that he has learned of only one downtown business so far that has permanently closed due to the economic impacts related to the coronavirus, Fitology 360, a yoga studio that opened on South Main Street in November.

“The pandemic hit them hard,” said Hannahs. “I don’t believe there have been others, but people are experiencing decreased business.”

A few hours after the virtual meetings, Cuomo during his daily press briefing Friday at 1 p.m. announced that the Mohawk Valley, Central New York, the North Country, the Finger Lakes and the Southern Tier could begin the second phase of reopening with identified industries able to resume business immediately under certain restrictions operating locations at a maximum of 50 percent occupancy.

Before reopening, individual businesses must implement new safety precautions to lower the risk of spreading the virus and each business must submit plans for compliance with the mandated safeguards to the state online.

Required measures include adapting workplaces to allow for social distancing, requiring masks to be worn by employees who will come into contact with the public, implementing internal coronavirus screening measures, following strict cleaning and sanitization standards, limiting in-person meetings and communication to employees of all related policies and procedures.

Hair salons and barbershops are subject to additional restrictions that include limiting these facilities to providing only hair services offered solely by appointment and requiring customers to wear masks at all times. 

The regulations also require employees to wear face shields in addition to wearing masks while providing hair services, maintaining a log of all customers in the event an individual who tests positive for the coronavirus visits or works at the site to allow for contact tracing and requiring that all staff members be tested for the coronavirus at least once every two weeks.

To view a full list of guidelines for the second phase of reopening or to submit a business reopening plan visit forward.ny.gov

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