Some businesses in Monroe County and the Finger Lakes region could reopen starting at the end of this week, when Governor Andrew Cuomo’s latest shutdown order expires.
During his Monday COVID-19 briefing, which he delivered at Rochester Regional Health’s Riedman Campus Training Center in Irondequoit, Cuomo said that Monroe County and its neighboring eight counties had met seven key metrics indicating they had slowed the spread of the virus and will be able to begin reopening certain kinds of businesses by Friday.
“We start a new chapter today in many ways, a new phase,” Cuomo said to an audience of reporters and elected officials, including County Executive Adam Bello, spread out to maintain physical distancing guidelines.
Construction, manufacturing, and agriculture businesses will be able to resume operations, as will retail businesses, though they’ll be limited to sales through curbside pick-up or delivery.
But Cuomo cautioned that any business’s reopening would be contingent on several factors, including its plans for distancing employees, providing them with protection and testing, so as to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Employers are developing those plans with with guidance from regional task forces. Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bob Duffy leads the Finger Lakes’ team.
"It seems like people are ready for the most part, as long as it’s done safely,” said Dan Maloney, president of UAW Local 1097 and a member of the reopening task force.
UAW Local 1097 represents workers at General Motors’ Rochester. The automaker has done extensive planning and preparation in anticipation of the workers return, Maloney said. When they arrive at the factory, employees will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms — including having their temperatures taken. They’ll be provided with protective equipment and hydrogen peroxide solution to spray down their work areas. Physical distancing will be encouraged across the facility.
In order to move ahead with reopening, the Finger Lakes region had to meet seven key criteria. It had to have a two week decline in hospitalizations and in the number of COVID-19 patient deaths, it had to meet certain hospital capacity and testing rate thresholds, and it had to have an adequate number of contact tracers.
The region’s reopening task force, which is made up of top government, academic, and health officials, will also be charged with keeping an eye on COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rates. If those rates start rising, they’ll have to slow or halt reopening efforts. New York needs to avoid the missteps of other countries that reopened too soon, or with inadequate protections, and saw infection rates spike.
"This can be a science, can be measured, and that's what we want to do. We want to demystify this entire issue,” Cuomo said.
The governor also emphasized the responsibility of individuals in reopening. People need to keep wearing masks and to keep practicing physical distancing.
"It's how smart we are,” Cuomo said. “It's our actions, our behavior."
Monroe County Executive Adam Bello, speaking after Cuomo’s briefing, echoed the governor and added that it’s going to be important for citizens to work together to make the next steps succeed.
“We have worked incredibly hard across this community,” Bello said. The hospital systems came together early and started their collaborations early on in this pandemic. the school systems came together to coordinate their responses, our local government officials came together to organize their responses."
Video from WXXI photojournalist Max Schulte:
Jeremy Moule is CITY's news editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.