MOHAWK VALLEY -- Local leaders in the Mohawk Valley, including Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort and Gloversville Mayor Vince DeSantis, took to social media Friday to explain the first phase of reopening the region's economy.
Attempting to explain the intricacies of the reopening, however, is easier said than done.
"I'm going to try to clear up some confusion, the Phase 1 reopening begins today," Ossenfort said during a video briefing broadcast on Facebook Friday. "The governor has issued executive orders throughout this process that override any county law, any county emergency order, so there's been some confusion out there as to the fact that [Montgomery County] still has an emergency order in place, yet we're starting a phased reopening. Those two things are not mutually exclusive. [Our local] emergency order will likely remain in place for the foreseeable future, and we will adjust it as needed so it reflects what is coming out of the governor's office, but, whether you like what we have to say here today or not, we are here to enforce what the governor is saying."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's executive orders have shut down all "nonessential" businesses in the state since March 20 in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic and the disease it causes, COVID-19. As of Friday, COVID-19 has killed at least 22,170 people in the state; at least 132 people died in New York on Thursday.
The Mohawk Valley — defined as Fulton, Herkimer, Montgomery, Oneida, Otsego and Schoharie counties — is one of five economic regions in New York state that has met all seven of the health metrics laid out by Cuomo's executive order allowing the partial economic reopening. The partial reopening was authorized after the number of daily deaths, new positive cases and hospitalizations have declined across the state and region.
The health safety criteria includes:
- A 14-day decline in net COVID hospitalizations or fewer than 15 new hospitalizations per day on a three-day average;
- A 14-day decline in hospital deaths or fewer than five deaths per day on a three day average;
- Fewer than two percent new hospitalizations per 100,000 residents per day;
- At least 30% of hospital beds must be vacant;
- At least 30% of ICU beds must be vacant;
- At least 30 out of each 1,000 residents must be tested each month;
- At least 30 infection contract tracers must be hired per 100,000 residents.
Having met those seven criteria, the Mohawk Valley is allowed to enter Phase 1 of the reopening. If it can maintain those numbers for 14 days it will be allowed to move on to Phase 2, and then Phase 3 after another 14 days.
In brief, these types of Phase 1 businesses were allowed to begin reopening Friday: Construction, manufacturing, retail with curbside pickup, wholesale trade, agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting.
A more complete list of the Phase 1 reopening business categories is available at this web address: forward.ny.gov. That website also includes printable forms that reopening businesses must use to create safety plans to prevent the spread of the virus. These plans must be displayed at the businesses that reopen in order to stay in compliance with the state's executive orders.
"Every business has to self-certify," Ossenfort said.
Ossenfort said so far six businesses in Montgomery County had contacted him to tell him that they would begin the reopening process
Friday: Alpin Haus, Helmont Mills, Breton Industries, the Executive Group, Mohawk Signs and Power Pallet.
Phase 2 of the reopening is set to include professional services, retail, administrative support, real estate/rental and leasing. Phase 3 will be restaurants and food services and Phase 4 will be arts, entertainment and recreation, including activities that would include gatherings of more than 10 people.
Ossenfort said he doesn't know how long it will take before the state allows Phase 4 to happen, and speculated it could be longer than six months.
Both Ossenfort and DeSantis were asked by viewers of their social media broadcasts when hair salons, barber shops, tattoo parlors and massage therapy businesses will be allowed to reopen.
"I've been getting a lot of questions about salons and hair cuts, we've all been having fun talking about how awful our hair looks. Right now, salon and hair has not been assigned a phase, so per the governor's executive order for the Mohawk Valley Region, that is not allowed now, it will not be allowed next week, and it likely will not be allowed for weeks to come," Ossenfort said. "And there is a strict no-mass gatherings rule in place, so that's a point of emphasis."
DeSantis, who served for years as Gloversville's city court judge, speculated that he thinks barbers and hair salons might be allowed to reopen during Phase 3.
Maintaining progress with reopenings depends on a region not falling back on any of the seven health metrics.
Ossenfort said the apparent COVID-19 outbreak at the Fulton Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare in Fulton County has not included enough cases, hospitalizations or deaths to hold the Mohawk Valley region back. The Capital Region, however, which includes Schenectady and Saratoga counties, remains stuck with too many hospitalizations to enter the Phase 1 reopening.
As of Friday, Montgomery County's daily COVID-19 news release indicated there have been 64 lab-confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 among county residents, with 54 having recovered, 8 on home-based monitoring isolation, 1 under medical care and 1 fatality.
The New York State Deptartment of Health numbers continue to differ slightly from the county's numbers, reflecting county residents who have been tested in other counties. The NYSDOH website shows 72 total positive cases for Montgomery County, with three new cases as of Friday.
The NYSDOH shows 145 total positive cases in Fulton County, with one new positive as of Friday and 47 total cases in Schoharie County, with no new cases Friday.
The state lists 14 total COVID-19 deaths for Fulton County residents, with 10 ocurring inside the county; four deaths of Montgomery County residents, with three occurring inside the county and two Schoharie County residents, with both deaths occurring outside that county.
Ossenfort is one of 11 officials in the Mohawk Valley, including Fulton County Administrator Jon Stead, who will meet as the "control board" via a conference call every day to monitor the seven metrics and report back to the New York State Department of Health to ensure the region is preventing an outbreak of the virus.
Celebrations, farmers markets, Amish and tennis
During their Friday briefing, Ossenfort, Montgomery County Public Health Director Sara Boerenko and Montgomery County Sheriff Jeff Smith all wore masks while they spoke.
Boerenko said all activities at any of the school district properties in Montgomery County, and throughout the state, have been shut down until at least June 30, so people should not be using school fields, tracks or other facilities until then. She said she knows that people want to engage in celebrations, such as "parades" or "motorcades" to honor people's birthdays or graduations. She said all celebrations must be done with caution and with logic.
"A lot of schools have been delivering signs to seniors and children, and while that is wonderful, it has caused an issue in the county now where a school district has a group of individuals who will not be allowed to participate in activities and has to be tested for COVID-19 and has to be on quarantine because they came in contact with an individual through one of these events who was positive," she said. "This is the reason we have to wear our masks. This is why we have to be mindful of social distancing."
DeSantis was not included on the control board, although he was the only high ranking local official in Fulton County to conduct a Facebook live broadcast Friday, although Jon Stead did issue a news release Friday directing businesses to use forward.ny.gov to obtain information about the Phase 1 reopening.
DeSantis said tennis will be allowed at the Darling Field tennis courts during the Phase 1 reopening, because the city owns that land not the school district. He said the Gloversville Farmers Market at the Elm Street Pavilion will reopen Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., although it will only have two vendors and no music for the foreseeable future.
DeSantis said the city's fire department has been allowed to participate in a motorcade honoring healthcare professionals. Earlier this week, several council members questioned a planned "parade" of city vehicles when the mayor had not been told the event was going to take place.
DeSantis said the motorcade, conducted Friday, was a good idea and after the details were explained to him, he gave permission for it to occur. He said honoring health care workers during the pandemic is as important as honoring soldiers in a war.
Smith said he has received multiple complaints about Amish people in Montgomery County not complying with social distancing rules for their schools and farm activities.
"We have sent staff out, and we've developed a much better contact list for the [Amish] elders," Smith said. "I have spoken to them directly, personally and they've agreed with their schools, they understand with their churches, and they're trying to obey the orders.
They responded initially by saying they understand there was a pandemic, but nobody had really told them what they have to do, so now we've talked to them they are more in compliance. Now, that doesn't mean we won't continue to receive complaints and we'll investigate them, and at some point there may have to be some action taken, but right now we are in communication with them and they understand there are rules they have to abide by."
While Smith said the Mohawk Valley is better positioned than any other region in New York state to have a safe reopening of the economy, it will take public cooperation to maintain that status.