OSWEGO — Gov. Andrew Cuomo confirmed Friday central New York and four other regions have entered phase two of the post-coronavirus economic restart after an evening and morning marred by uncertainty.
Many local businesses throughout the week planned for a Friday re-opening but on Thursday the state had not yet made an announcement or issued guidance for phase two commerce. Clarification came Friday as the state published guidelines for barbershops, hair salons, real estate and other industries, and Cuomo officially launched phase two in an afternoon press conference.
“The five regions that have been in phase one (since May 15) can now move to phase two,” Cuomo said, adding the state had provided no specific time as to when on Friday businesses could reopen. “Today is today.”
Phase two businesses include office-based jobs, real estate services, in-store retail shopping and limited barbershop and hair salon services, according to state documents. Phase three businesses include bars and restaurants and a fourth and final phase includes arts, entertainment, recreation and education.
Non-essential businesses have largely been closed by state mandate since March in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. Manufacturing, construction and limited retail operations were allowed to re-open starting May 15 as part of phase one of the state’s New York Forward program to restart the economy.
Despite all signs pointing to central New York, including Oswego County, as likely to receive state approval to enter phase two this week — and local leaders pushing that message throughout the week — Cuomo in a radio interview Thursday afternoon caught many off guard when he said phase two would not start until “international experts” reviewed the state’s data.
“I wanted to have the best minds review all the data to give us their opinion, and they signed off on it,” Cuomo said Friday of the phase two launch. “The experts say it’s safe to move forward.”
Local leaders were confused by the lack of direction and communication from the state Thursday. Some local authorities told phase two businesses that they would not get in the way of their re-opening, as state officials did not offer the extensive guidance and guidelines for phase two until early Friday morning — after some phase two businesses had already decided to open their doors.
Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, the highest-ranking upstate Republican in Albany, called Thursday night into Friday morning “chaotic and confusing.”
“Central New York and other upstate regions should be relieved and excited that phase two can begin. It represents another milestone, and another critical step in what is expected to be a lengthy recovery,” Barclay told The Palladium-Times Friday evening. “However, the drama and chaos created by the governor’s office yesterday was absolutely unnecessary and completely disrespectful to the businesses and employees in these regions. There’s a long road ahead, and we need a strategic approach to reopening that delivers more clarity and less confusion.”
Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow was one of several leaders in upstate New York saying Thursday night it was time to move forward — shortly.
“The city of Oswego will be in phase two tomorrow,” Barlow told The Palladium-Times late Thursday night, noting the area continued to meet the seven metrics set forth by Cuomo weeks ago. “Our data puts us, in my view, in an even more favorable position now, allowing us by every measure to proceed into phase two as planned and that’s what we’ll be doing.”
Oswego County Legislature Chairman James Weatherup, R-Central Square, said local leaders were “totally blindsided” by Cuomo’s Thursday statement that international experts would be reviewing the data before regions were given the go-ahead to enter phase two. Weatherup, who is a part of the regional control board that monitors and makes decisions related to the re-opening, described an evening clouded by uncertainty and confusion as the anticipated re-opening guidelines had still not arrived long after midnight.
With the latest hurdle behind them, Weatherup said county officials are pleased to enter phase 2 and move forward with re-opening plans.
“We’re encouraged and hopeful that our numbers maintain so we can enter phase three in a timely manner,” Weatherup said. “We meet all the metrics and we have been meeting them. We’re going to move forward, and we’re very confident we will meet phase three objectives.”
Testing and contact tracing quantity would be a major component to continue moving forward, Weatherup said, noting he has high confidence in the health department’s ability to meet the state’s objectives and mandates. Testing locally has increased dramatically in recent weeks, with more than 5,500 individuals tested as of Thursday evening.
Oswego County COVID-19 cases topped 100 for the first time Thursday, with a total of 102 cases confirmed since testing began in March. County officials listed only 20 active cases of COVID-19 in Oswego County as of Thursday afternoon.
Following Cuomo’s Friday update, Barlow said he was pleased the region is officially entering phase two, adding he believes the city is ready.
“Hitting this benchmark is critical to really get the economy unlocked and moving, and allowing our businesses to begin opening and bringing in revenue,” the mayor told The Palladium-Times. “I applaud our businesses and the public who have been fully cooperative and compliant for the most part, and encourage them to continue the good work to ensure we stay open and continue to work through the phases.
Barlow said the city stands ready to assist with clarifying state guidelines and rules, and to help businesses develop their re-opening plans.
Two months into the coronavirus pandemic crisis, Cuomo said the state has seen a “dramatic drop” in cases and hospitalizations, but is continuing to track the virus daily to inform reopening decisions. He said many states and countries have re-opened too early and made mistakes throughout the process, noting some were forced to close again, “which is the worst situation.”
For more specific guidelines and requirements for phase two businesses, visit https://forward.ny.gov/phase-two-industries.