County officials: We’re ready to re-open

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, wearing a mask, is seen above before a Monday press conference in Irondequoit, Monroe County. Cuomo unveiled his “NY Forward Re-opening” plan.

Gov says CNY ‘close’ to getting green light

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Oswego County leaders have “high confidence” the central New York region will qualify to start opening certain sectors of the economy later this week after a nearly two-month closure due to COVID-19.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a Monday press conference said central New York as a region, including Oswego County, had met six of the seven criteria required to start the first phase of a post-coronavirus re-opening. Since Cuomo announced tentative reopening plans April 28, the state has shifted focus from an all-out effort to curb the spread of the virus to a deliberately slow restart of the economy.

“It’s an exciting new phase,” Cuomo said Monday of the prospect of businesses opening this weekend for the first time since March. Cuomo’s NY on PAUSE executive orders pegged the earliest re-opening date as May 15 — this upcoming Friday. “We’re all anxious to get back to work,” he added. “We want to do it smartly. We want to do it intelligently.”

Cuomo said all corners of the state should start to prepare for the return of economic activity.

The central New York region, which in addition to Oswego includes the counties of Cayuga, Cortland, Madison, and Onondaga, has successfully met all the state’s metrics for hospital and intensive care unit availability, hospitalizations, declining deaths and capacity for contact tracing.

State data indicated, however, the region is just shy of the testing requirements needed to reopen. Regions are mandated to test on average, over a seven-day period, the equivalent of 30 people per 1,000 monthly.

Central New York joined the North Country with six of the seven requirements met, while the Finger Lakes, Mohawk Valley and Southern Tier regions met all of the seven requirements identified by the state.

Local officials said the region would meet the testing requirements by the end of the week, and may have already reached the threshold set by the state.

Oswego County Administrator Phil Church said county officials would do whatever it takes to meet all the criteria to open. Church said Oswego County and local health care provider Oswego Health are working together to do everything possible to meet all seven of the state’s metrics.

“It can’t come soon enough,” Church said of the region reopening. “It’s what the people want and need.”

In the five-county central New York region, the 30 people per 1,000 per month would equal about 775 people a day, according to state data. Cuomo on Monday indicated the region had been testing an average of 647 people per day, or about 128 individuals per day short of the requirements.

“We have high confidence we’re going to meet these numbers and we’re going to be opening on Friday,” said Oswego County Legislature Chairman James Weatherup, R-Central Square. “Very, very high confidence.”

Weatherup called the testing requirements “the big thing” that would need to be addressed, but noted central New York leaders held a teleconference Monday and believe the region has already met the testing requirements. He said reporting to the state may be slightly delayed, which led to the discrepancy.

“Onondaga County has been reporting their data to New York state, but there’s a lag time between when the state compiles it as I understand it,” Weatherup said, noting the region is heavily reliant on Onondaga County due to the majority of the region’s population residing there. “So we actually feel, and (Onondaga County Executive) Ryan McMahon was quite positive that our numbers are there as far as meeting these numbers.”

Weatherup said the regional leaders still had some work to do to reconcile their data with the state’s numbers, adding  the testing numbers should meet the state’s requirement for re-opening “hopefully as soon as tomorrow.”

Oswego County as of Tuesday afternoon has tested 2,149 individuals, according to county health department data. Over the past month, more than 1,200 individuals in the county (with a total population of roughly 117,000) have been tested.

In terms of the types of businesses that could start opening as soon as this weekend, Cuomo identified construction, manufacturing, wholesale trade, select retail for curbside pickup only, agriculture, forestry and fishing.

Phase two would go on to include professional services, finance and insurance, retail, administrative support and real estate. Restaurants and food services are part of phase three, while a fourth and final phase includes education and arts, entertainment and recreation.

Businesses are also required to consider protections for employees and customers, such as social distancing requirements and other methods aimed at reducing density. Employers may also be required to consider changes to physical workspaces, such as cleaning and sanitation.

Throughout the four re-opening phases, Cuomo has said regional leaders would have to monitor several indicators, including the COVID-19 infection rate and hospital capacity in a region.

Under the state’s plan, if the infection rate exceeds 1.1 — meaning each infected person infects more than one other person — the re-opening would be halted. The same would occur if hospitals in a region exceed 70 percent capacity.

Cuomo previously noted attractions or businesses that would draw large numbers of visitors from outside the local area cannot be opened. During an April 28 press conference, the governor said large events, such as the New York State Fair, would likely not be able to occur this year.

The state’s plan also called for an oversight board, or “control room,” to monitor the previously mentioned indicators as well as personal protective and other equipment usage and stock.

The central New York board includes Weatherup, McMahon, state Thruway Authority Director and former Syracuse mayor Matt Driscoll, current Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh, CNY Labor Federation President Ann Marie Taliercio, CNY Regional Economic Development Council co-chair Randy Wolken and the chairs of the Cortland, Cayuga and Madison county legislatures.

The state reported 161 COVID-19 deaths on Monday, a significant decrease from the nearly 1,000 deaths per day reported at the peak of the outbreak. More than 21,600 New Yorkers have died of the coronavirus, according to state data, with more than 337,000 confirmed cases of the virus throughout the state. 

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