Cortland County, Central New York and much of the rest of upstate New York, will begin reopening their economies today, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday, as Cortland city and county officials met Thursday afternoon to coordinate the phased reopening. “Last night (Wednesday) the state provided guidance for businesses opening in
Phase 1 as to what Cuomo measures the state wants to see in businesses reopening plans,” said Robert Haight, the executive director of the Cortland County Chamber of Commerce, in a Zoom meeting with about 30 community leaders.
Cuomo, at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, said the Central New York region — which includes Cortland, Cayuga, Madison, Onondaga and Oswego counties — can begin Phase 1. Businesses that can reopen are construction, agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting, manufacturing, wholesale trade and retail with limited curbside or instore pickup or drop off.
Business reopening info
Much of upstate New York, including Tompkins County in the Southern Tier, the North Country, the Mohawk Valley and the Finger Lakes — would also start reopening today.
“Phased reopening does not mean the problem has gone away,” Cuomo warned, urging local officials to monitor new cases of coronavirus and take action to restrict activities, if necessary.
“When you have the data, react immediately,” he said.
“I cannot stress this enough: If employees and workers that are working in the Phase 1 plan do not follow the direction and guideline they will hold back the rest of our Cortland County community from going back to work, so please do the right thing,” county Legislature Chairman Paul Heider (R-Cuyler, Solon, Truxton) said later Thursday during the Legislature meeting.
Haight said he and Garry Van Gorder, the executive director of the Cortland County Industrial Development Agency/ Business Development Corp., have been pushing out the state guidelines to Phase 1 businesses.
Some of those measures include:
Keeping a 6-foot distance between personnel unless a shorter distance is needed for a core function.
Wearing masks if 6-foot distancing cannot be met.
Limiting confined spaces like elevators to one person at a time.
Placing 6-foot markers in commonly used areas.
Providing protective equipment.
“I think the most important message is people need to take it seriously and really perform the plan because we don’t want to go backward,” Van Gorder said.
“We don’t have to go quickly,” Cortland Mayor Brian Tobin said. “We have to go smartly, but not quickly. If you’re not ready to go on Friday, push it ‘till Monday.”
Haight said businesses not included in Phase 1 can still begin working on their reopening plans, using the Phase 1 measures as a starting point, though specific measures are not yet available.
But reopening the county and the region has raised some concerns.
“I’m just wondering where we are with PPE (personal protection equipment) and if people have PPE needs and how that’s being addressed, especially for the retail establishments?” asked Lisa Hoeschele, the executive director and CEO of Family & Children’s Counseling Services, and a candidate for the 125th District Assembly seat.
Van Gorder said the county Emergency Response and Communications department said they secured 9,000 masks that will be available.
“For those that need it I think, that’s the place to contact,” Van Gorder said.
Hoeschele also asked at what number of increased cases could the county and region expect to put a hold on reopening plans — known as a circuit breaker.
Tobin said the governor has not specified what that number would be, but expects the state may touch on that topic in the next few days.
Tobin said another big concern to address is child care needs, because schools remain closed even as parents go back to work.
“If you’re a parent, you got young children, what are you going to do with your kids if you have to go back to work?” he said. “There’s going to be some challenges that have to be addressed either by the region or maybe just within our county and right now some of these questions are still hanging out there.”
Van Gorder said “it’s a real thing” to be concerned about getting the work force back, especially since some people can get more in unemployment benefits with the additional $600 a week than they would at their job.
However, Van Gorder said that benefit only runs through July.
“Who knows if it will be extended,” he said.
Also, he said, businesses that have the Payroll Protection Program loans but can’t bring back 100% of their work force won’t be penalized.
The chamber’s website offers a variety of COVID-19 resources for businesses, Haight said, and businesses that are not chamber members can still sign up there to receive information.
“Our attitude is, we’re going to get through this together,” he said. “We’re helping every local business regardless of if they’re a member or not.”
“Since this has never been done before, we all need to be reminded of that and be a little patient,” said city Alderman Bruce Tytler (D-3rd Ward). “We are going to run into some bumps and some problems we haven’t anticipated.”