The Finger Lakes region, which includes the four GLOW region counties, is among five regions that will be able to enter into Phase 2 of reopening, according to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
The announcement was made and tweeted out on the governor’s Twitter feed during his media briefing on Friday.
But there will be stipulations, including safety measures.
“It’s not just open the door and have a party,” Cuomo said.
The Finger Lakes, North Country, Central New York, Mohawk Valley and Southern Tier regions were cleared to resume Phase 2 businesses of the state’s four-phase reopening plan for nonessential businesses Friday afternoon. Professional services including barber shops and hair salons, finance and insurance, retail, administrative support, real estate and rental leasing industries and other office-based will be allowed to reopen.
Many county and regional officials monitoring their COVID-19 hospitalization, infection and death rates were confused Thursday into Friday as they expected to start Phase II at midnight — or the expected 14 days between phases — so Friday could be the first full day of business.
Cuomo said he understood the frustration over the half-day delay, adding the afternoon announcement came after multiple international experts cleared regions to proceed with reopening after examining their COVID-19 metrics.
“Today is today,” Cuomo said during the briefing at Iona College. “I wanted to make sure we had the best minds review all the data and give us their opinion. A county expert may be very good at what they do, but they’re not an expert of viral transmission.
“...It’s stone to stone across the morass,” the governor added. “If you step on a lily pad across the morass, you will sink.”
Friday marked two weeks since the regions started phase I after the governor’s NY On Pause order first expired.
Nonetheless, Cuomo’s press conference and the jarring, back-and-forth nature of the Phase 2 approval has been like a roller coaster for many area businesses.
Livingston County Administrator Ian Coyle and county Economic Development Direct Bill Bacon were busy Friday afternoon clearing up confusion for county businesses.
“I think they are anxious,” Bacon said of local businesses.
The day began with no clearance for the area that includes the GLOW region. While many were anticipating opening on Friday, confusion began mounting Thursday afternoon.
“Thursday comes and the Governor, in a radio interview, seemed to say that Phase 2 might not hit Friday and that there could potentially be a delay,” Coyle said. “They were going to be talking to some additional experts.”
Then, during Cuomo’s Friday afternoon press briefing he announced the Finger Lakes and four other regions — Southern Tier, Central New York, Mohawk Valley, and North Country — would move into Phase 2.
“In general businesses are ready to open but the hard part has been that there is not a lot of lead up time,” Coyle said.
Businesses will reopen with 50% occupancy and requiring all employees to wear face masks. Meetings are not permitted unless socially distanced. Workers should not share food or beverages.
Barbershops and hair salons will open by appointment only. Stylists or other salon professionals must be tested for COVID-19 at least once every two weeks. The state recommends all workers get tested before reopening.
Some business owners across the state have threatened to reopen before getting the green light from state or local officials, or before their region reaches that industry’s reopening phase.
“It’s not up to you when you reopen,” Cuomo said “You have to follow the law, or you will be closed.”
State officials are examining allowing socially distanced outdoor dining at bars and restaurants, which have been restricted to takeout or delivery options since March 17.
Officials have cited the need to move forward, along with the need for continued caution.
President Scott Gardner of the Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism said the state hadn’t released the absolute details of the reopening plans, but templates were available on its “Forward.gov” website.
But he thinks there’s enough information to get started. If adjustments need to be made while the reopening develops, business owners will be able to make them.
He noted the reopening poses particular requirements for barbers and hairdressers — basically approving “hair service” but not nails and similar work.
Those would take place in a later phase.
But the economy needs to move, Gardner said.
“That’s very encouraging that we’re in Phase 2 and we’re continuing to move forward to get the economy moving,” he said. “We’ve got to get these businesses going again.”
Livingston County Board of Supervisors Chairman David L. LeFeber said in a statement that “The county supports a phased-in approach to re-opening that is grounded in science, objective facts, and agreed-upon datasets and public health principles. We do not believe that everything, at once, should be reopened.”
Livingston County and the Finger Lakes region continues to meet all of the state’s seven benchmarks for opening.
Livingston County has maintained more than 30% hospital and ICU capacity for the past six weeks and currently has its lowest positive rate of cases since the inception of the pandemic, at 3 percent, LeFeber said.
The county health department has 19 dedicated contact tracers who continue to monitor all exposure and contacts.
All objective indicators In Livingston County show a control in the spread of COVID-19 cases, LeFeber said.
“This is not carte blanche, and this is not done haphazardly,” he said.
The county does not yet meet the requirements to begin Phase 3 of reopening, which would include restaurants and food services.
“Our residents and businesses have endured the social and economic hardships of this pandemic, gritted their way through, and adjusted to this new normal incredibly well, given the challenges and circumstances,” LeFeber said. “As a county, our goal has been to protect the health of the public from Day 1 — control the spread, flatten the curve, and educate the public on public health best practices.
We have succeeded in doing that and will continue to press and push on all measures and alerts to advise the residents of this fine county on the status of the pandemic, our response, and our recommended action plans. In all that we do, public health is paramount. It must be — it has to be — and it will be.”
(Includes reporting by Brendan McDonough, Kate Lisa, Ben Beagle and Matt Surtel.)