The economy started to reopen at 12:01 a.m. Friday in Fulton, Montgomery, Schoharie and three other Mohawk Valley counties.
The region is one of five in the state that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is allowing to begin rolling back the economic shutdown he imposed in mid-March to control the COVID-19 pandemic. All five regions have seen relatively light impact from the virus.
The neighboring Capital Region has been harder-hit — nowhere near the degree felt by the New York City region, but enough that nonessential businesses in Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren and Washington counties remain on full lockdown for now.
In the Mohawk Valley region — Fulton, Herkimer, Montgomery, Oneida, Otsego and Schoharie counties —construction, agriculture, forestry, pickup/dropoff retail, manufacturing and wholesale trade are able to resume in Phase 1 starting Friday.
Phase 2 is professional services, retail, administrative support, real estate and rental/leasing. Phase 3 is restaurants and food services. Phase 4 is arts, entertainment, recreation and education.
Each industry has mandatory and recommended steps for physical distancing, personal protective equipment, screening and cleaning/hygiene to make workers, customers and workplaces safer from the virus.
Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort sits on the state-appointed “control room” that will monitor and regulate reopening of the Mohawk Valley Region. He told The Daily Gazette on Thursday that businesses themselves are responsible for following these requirements and recommendations.
“The important point is that the business go to the New York Forward website and complete the process of self-certification,” he said.
The public is encouraged to submit complaints about a business not complying with infection control protocols. The complaints will be investigated by local officials, Ossenfort said. He called the county’s roles a mixture of education and enforcement — helping businesses understand what is required of them and seeking out those who don’t do it.
He said reopening will be a slow process prioritizing safety over speed.
“We have to balance the economic and public health concerns,” he said “First and foremost is the risk of infection.
It’s not a 50-50 balance.”
There are four phases to the reopening, and they’re expected to be spread at least 14 days apart each. But the pandemic is sufficiently unpredictable as to render a formal timetable meaningless, Ossenfort said.
“We’re going to take it one day and one week at a time,” he said. “Even when we get to Phase 4 it’s not going to be normal.”
Every day, he takes emails and phone calls from businesses trying to figure out how to get back to work.
Every day, new challenges arise. One that’s been unique for Montgomery County, Ossenfort said, is the Amish community — how do you keep businesspeople who reject modern communication technology up to date on the pandemic and precautions surrounding it?
“How do you handle 100 people getting together for a barn raising?” he said.
The Sheriff’s Office has been bridging the technology gap with in-person outreach, he added.
During his daily briefing Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the reopening of New York state will continue as quickly or slowly as new infections and hospitalization dictate. He advised local governments to stay on top of the situation, monitoring danger signs and enforcing compliance with the precautionary rules put in place.
“Phased opening does not mean the problem has gone away,” he said. “It means we have controlled the problem because of what we did and because of our individual responsibility and individual actions and that has to be maintained and I would urge local governments to be diligent about the business compliance and about individual compliance. Then if you see a change in those numbers react immediately. If you allow this virus to get ahead of us we will have a problem.”
The state has created an online dashboard that charts the progress each of New York’s 10 regions is making to meet the seven preconditions for reopening its economy, each of them measuring severity of the pandemic within the region or ability of the region to respond to the pandemic.
A fifth region — Central New York — hit all seven metrics Thursday and was cleared to open.
The Capital Region meets five conditions, with too many people hospitalized and too many dying with COVID to meet the last two conditions.
As of Wednesday, 118 COVID-positive patients were hospitalized across the Capital Region, 31 of them in intensive care. Four more deaths were reported Thursday in Albany County.
Statewide, 343,051New Yorkers had tested positive for the virus as of May 13. The state’s official death toll, which is incomplete, stands at 22,170.