How soon and how safely can the Rochester area’s economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic? That was a topic explored in a live forum on WXXI-TV, radio and online Thursday night by officials and area business people.
"We hold the future in our hands." That’s the way Monroe County Commissioner of Public Health Dr. Michael Mendoza views how quickly and safely the region can reopen.
Mendoza and County Executive Adam Bello both emphasized again, the need to maintain practices like physical distancing and face masks, to keep the infection rate down.
And Mendoza says despite the fact hospitalization rates for COVID-19 have gone up recently, that is related partly to new regulations that require people from nursing homes to stay in the hospital longer until they no longer test positive for the virus. And Mendoza does see hopeful signs in other metrics.
"The good news is that the ventilator number has gone down overall, we have a good explanation for all the new cases and so, in spite of the numbers that may look concerning at first, I think overall, our community is doing much better than it was even a week or two weeks ago," Mendoza said.
Among the business owners on the program last night, Willie Lightfoot, the City Council Vice President who also operates a barbershop and is president of the United Professional Barbers and Cosmetologists Association (UPBCA), Inc. He says there will have to be changes when shops like his can reopen in Phase 2.
“People will probably have to wait in their car, they’re going to have to go by appointment only, you're going to have to have one person per chair, going to have to distance the chairs at least 6 feet apart, you’re going to have to wear a mask, customers may have to wear a mask, gloves may be included, I’m not sure, but these are things we’re going to have to restructure how we conduct our services," Lightfoot said.
Restaurants have been facing particular challenges during the pandemic, and Janine Caschette, an owner of Avvino Restaurant in Brighton would like relief from regulations which make it difficult for her to have a tent outside her restaurant so that they can space their tables further apart when sit-down restaurants are allowed.
"We have 16 tables and if we go down to 50% capacity we would have 8 tables, which I just said is not sustainable, or a viable model, so we want to be able to add 8 tables outside and with Rochester weather we can’t just do that without some sort of temporary structure," Caschette said.
Bob Duffy, President of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce believes that officials will need to look at ways of helping small businesses deal with regulatory hurdles.
“I think one thing we have to do is look at is how can we help and support these businesses as they re-emerge, and certainly there are regulatory issues, I think one example could be State Liquor Authority rules, can they relax some of those for outdoor dining? As Janine mentioned, having the restaurant have some extra capacity outside," Duffy said.
No one was making predictions on when the next phase of the reopening will happen exactly, with Duffy, who also advises Governor Andrew Cuomo for the Finger Lakes region, saying that any new steps in reopening will be done very cautiously by the governor.