ROCHESTER — Bob Duffy said the Finger Lakes economic development region earned the right to be one of the first in the state to begin reopening a limited number of businesses.
Now is not the time to relax, the president of the Rochester Chamber of Commerce cautioned.
“To get to phase 2 (of the business reopenings) we have to keep these numbers going down,” said Duffy, speaking to a maxed-out webinar hosted by the Chamber Friday morning that also included Monroe County Health Director Dr. Michael Mendoza, Monroe County Executive Adam Bello, and Vinnie Esposito, Empire State Development’s Finger Lakes region leader.
Duffy stressed that people should not expect the region to move into the next round of business openings in two weeks given that the first phase, which includes all construction and manufacturing, only began Friday.
“We cannot define who is in phase two and when that happens,” said Duffy, noting that haircutters and barbers are hoping to be among the businesses in that phase, which includes professional services, including retail and real estate.
Esposito said salon and barbershop businesses openings are the concerns ESD hears most about, and Cuomo said Friday that they will be included in the second phase.
At this point, said Mendoza, hospitals in Monroe County have not endured a “surge” period where they were overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. Under the metrics outlined by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the region cannot exceed 15 new COVID-19 hospitalizations or five new deaths on a three-day rolling average.
“Our greatest number is 11,” Mendoza explained. “We are in the deceleration phase.”
Duffy warned that can change if people start changing recommended safety habits that health officials believe has stymied the spread of the virus — like wearing masks in public and keeping proper social distancing. And it’s key, Duffy continued, that businesses that are reopening do so in accordance with state guidelines — and then some.
He suggests that when feasible, businesses should continue to have employees work remotely when possible to not only stop the spread of COVID-19, but also to keep employees and customers safe.
Under the regional control room concept outlined by Cuomo May 11, Duffy, Mendoza, Bello and board chairs from each of the counties will be monitoring the metrics for the region to examine infection and hospitalization numbers during the first phase of the reopening and throughout the process. The control room members communicate daily, Mendoza said.
Cuomo’s goal is to reopen the state’s businesses, recreation and cultural institutions in a manner that does not lead to higher infections, hospitalizations and deaths. He has extended the New York State on PAUSE order until May 28 for regions that were not allowed to open Friday — although those regions can begin the first phase of reopenings as soon as they meet the required conditions.
Mendoza said the region’s testing capabilities are growing and that there are sufficient contact tracers to hopefully track down where and how COVID-19 patients were infected and who they might have been in contact with before and after the infection.
As for businesses allowed to be open in the first phase, Duffy noted that each of them must create a safety plan that outlines how employees and customers will be protected, from the wearing of masks to proper distancing between employees and customers to workplace-disinfecting measures. The plans will not need state approval, but they must be available for inspection by the state health department or other safety agencies.
The state will not be approving the plans, Esposito noted, but they must inform the state that they have received the state safety plan guidance. The safety plan must be communicated to employees.
He said it behooves businesses to follow protocols because they affect employees, customers and ultimately, their bottom lines if people get sick.
Individual responsibility for safety and hygiene is paramount with the gradual loosening of shutdown measures, Mendoza said.
Duffy and Esposito stressed that this reopening process will be a long one, given that people are still being infected.
Duffy doesn’t know when events with large gatherings — anything from weddings to baseball games to concerts — will be allowed, given these are the places where the virus can spread rapidly. Mendoza stressed that close proximity with people for 15 minutes or more poses a “very high risk” for infection from this highly contagious virus, for which there is no vaccine yet available.
“Large gatherings of people are going to be the last thing,” Esposito said.
“Executive order or not,” Mendoza emphasized wearing a mask makes sense in the workplace or in public spaces if we want to control the outbreak long-term.