The Mohawk Valley and four other regions of New York state were cleared to go to Phase 2 economic reopening Friday.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo made the announcement during his daily briefing Friday afternoon, ending a short period of uncertainty for a large swath of upstate New York trying to get back to business after the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic had subsided.
On Thursday, the governor mentioned in passing during a radio interview that as Phase 1 ended, each region would need approval by international experts to go to Phase 2. He offered no details on how long that would take.
As it turns out, review didn’t take long at all. He announced the start of Phase 2 a little after 1 p.m.
A reporter on Friday asked Cuomo about the confusion some upstate leaders had expressed about not being able to enter Phase 2 at 12:01 a.m., as they’d apparently expected.
“They wanted it this morning instead of 1 o’clock? I can understand that,” he said. “But we want to make sure the data was reviewed by all the experts. A county executive may be very good at what they do but they are not an expert in viral transmission in a global pandemic.”
Cuomo said he too lacks expertise in this area, so he wanted a qualified opinion.
He added that he’d never talked to anyone about the timing of green-lighting a phase change.
Nonetheless, upstate Republicans from U.S. Rep Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, to Frank Mauriello, minority leader of the Albany County Legislature, pounced on Cuomo over those lost 13 hours.
One Capital Region Republican — Rensselaer County Executive Steven McLaughlin — declared open defiance of Cuomo on Friday, telling most business owners in his county they could open their doors with no fear of penalty. (The state’s pandemic restrictions are enforced by local authorities.)
The expert approval of Phase 2, he said, was an “exercise in stupidity.”
“We’re opening this county, folks. I’m done with his games,” McLaughlin said on his daily Facebook Live update. “If you own a business, open your doors. We’re not enforcing any of this stuff.”
He offered two caveats: Everyone should reopen smartly, following the safety guidelines put forth by the state, and those who hold a liquor, cosmetology or other state license should hold off because state “thugs” will take away the license and put them out of business.
Later Friday in an interview on Spectrum News, Solomon Syed asked Cuomo about McLaughlin’s announcement. Cuomo said counties don’t have the authority to make that kind of decision, it’s a state law.
The Mohawk Valley region includes Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie counties. Also cleared for Phase 2 reopening are the Central New York, the Finger Lakes, the North Country and the Southern Tier regions.
A significant number of businesses were deemed essential and exempt from the economic shutdown ordered by Cuomo in mid-March.
Phase 1 allowed reopening of non-essential construction, manufacturing, pickup/dropoff retail, wholesale trade, agriculture, forestry, hunting and fishing.
Phase 2 allows reopening of offices, real estate, in-store retail (except inside larger malls), vehicle sales and leases, retail/repair/cleaning, commercial building management and hair salons/barbershops.
Each phase of reopening in each of the state’s 10 regions will last at least two weeks. The transition from one phase to the next may be slowed or halted in a region if the pandemic worsens in that region.
The Capital Region will be eligible to go to Phase 2 as early as Wednesday.
As the state approaches 2 million people tested for COVID-19, fewer and fewer infected New Yorkers are being found each day. On Thursday, 67,341 tests were administered statewide and just 1,551 positives were reported. To date, 1.94 million people have been tested and 368,284 were found to be infected. The state’s official death toll stood at 23,780 on Friday morning. In the Capital Region, one new death was recorded — a Warren County nursing home resident.