CAPITAL REGION — With regions to the north and west starting to re-open, frustrations are growing in the Capital Region as the eight-county region remains short on two key measures in the battle to manage the spread of coronavirus.
In an executive order signed late Thursday night, Gov. Andrew Cuomo extended his emergency powers, which were scheduled to expire at midnight Thursday, until Saturday, June 13. The “New York on PAUSE” closure order was extended through at least May 28.
The situation could keep struggling Capital Region non-essential businesses shut down for weeks, unless the region can bring down the rate of daily hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19. The region meets only five of the state’s seven metrics.
The re-opening effort suffered a setback this week when the average number of hospitalizations went up, using a three-day average. That could delay the start of re-opening for up to 14 days, though Cuomo held out some hope.
“If a region hits its benchmark at any time, regardless of the order then that region can open,” Cuomo said during his daily press briefing on Friday in Albany.
The other regions still on PAUSE are Western New York, the Mid-Hudson Valley, New York City and Long Island.
Cuomo also announced that state beaches will open — with significant restrictions — for the Memorial Day weekend, in an action being coordinated with state officials in New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware. City, towns and county beaches may also open by local decision; pools like those in Saratoga Spa State State Park will remain closed.
Beaches will be limited to 50 percent of capacity, monitored at the entrances. Picnic areas will remain closed, no group activities will be allowed, and concessions will remain closed. “We don’t want long lines of people,” Cuomo said.
Beach-goers will be required to wear masks in any situations where they can’t socially distance from other people.
With five other regions of upstate — including the one containing Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie counties — starting their re-opening on Friday, Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus acknowledged some businesses feel frustrated.
“Local healthcare experts have told us that Saratoga County is ready for a Phase 1 reopening. We continue to share these facts with our federal, state, county and local leaders,” Shimkus wrote in his daily email update. “We are sharing with them the MANY calls, emails and text messages small businesses from Clifton Park to Corinth and all places in between are sending to us asking for Saratoga County to be reopened, in line with dozens of other upstate counties to our west and north.
“We understand that every day that Saratoga County’s economy is delayed from being reopened the challenges facing our locally owned businesses, in particular, multiply,” Shimkus said.
The Saratoga County Re-opening Advisory Committee, appointed by Saratoga County officials, held its first meeting on Friday. “I want to know as a businessman if we’re stuck at five out of seven, what is being done to fix the other two,” said committee Chairman Supervisor John E. Lawler, R-Waterford.
“No one can open without an executive order from the governor,” he said later.
State Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-Halfmoon, called for the region to be allowed to re-open. “The metrics utilized by Gov. Cuomo for re-opening are faulty … causing tremendous financial pain for businesses, job losses for workers, and a massive loss of sales tax revenue for local governments,” she said.
Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy, who has been working on developing a re-opening plan for the entire region, said county officials believe the hospitalization data being used by the state is wrong and they hope to persuade the state of that.
In Saratoga County, public health officials believe the state may be double-counting some hospitalized patients, a situation that can occur when a resident of one county is hospitalized in another county, as is common across the region, with hospitals in Albany or Schenectady being the primary hospitals for large surrounding areas.
Saratoga County Public Health Director Cathi Duncan said it is important for businesses and people to remain vigilant and follow public health guidelines since the illness is “widespread,” but she acknowledged people are becoming frustrated. “People are tired of being cooped up,” she said. “There are a lot of people out there who think this is a hoax.”
Also Friday, Cuomo refused to discuss the possibility of the state needing to make 20-percent cuts in its budgeted aid to schools and local governments. He said he believes Congress will eventually approve funding to help the state cover the revenue shortfall caused by the pandemic.
“I believe we will receive funding due to the political survival instinct of Washington politicians,” Cuomo said.
On Friday evening the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives approved a $3 trillion pandemic relief bill that includes $500 billion in deficit assistance for state governments, and another $370 billion for relief to local governments, whose revenues have also been devastated.
The measure, called the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or HEROES Act, passed without Republican support. The Republican U.S. Senate leadership has no immediate plans to take up the bill, which would be the fourth pandemic relief bill Congress has taken up.
U.S. Rep. Paul D. Tonko, D-Amsterdam, favors the bill. He said the HEROES Act would preserve the jobs of police, firefighters and other municipal workers who face layoffs or furloughs as local governments across the country seek to reduce spending to match their revenue losses. “It is keeping us as a nation strong and thriving,” he said of the bill. “It provides for essential workers providing essential services.”
U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, planned to vote against the measure, calling it a partisan “wish list.”
“This legislation will never become law, and Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi knows it. This political game is offensive to the spirit of the body of Congress and to the American people who are hurting and deserve bipartisan relief now,” she said.
Stefanik said negotiators need to go back and develop a bipartisan bill, but she said she supports aid to local governments and nursing homes. “I know the counties have borne the brunt of this economic crisis, as have our towns and villages,” she said, speaking by phone Friday to the Saratoga County Re-opening Advisory Committee.
The state reported 132 COVID-19 deaths on Friday, the fewest since March 20. The peak was 799 on April 8. In the Capital Region, Albany County reported one new death, which appeared to be the only new death in the immediate region.
Cuomo acknowledged the number of COVID cases is expected to rise as society starts to re-open, but said the goal of a phased re-opening is to manage the increase. “We expect it to go up, but we want it to go up at a rate we can control,” he said.