Empty Spaces

Mark Gutman/Daily News Stores in the plaza near Tops remained closed for business in early May. The Finger Lakes Region entered Phase One of the state's reopening plan on May 15. Phase Two, which allowed more businesses to resume, began May 29.

ROCHESTER — As residents and businesses wonder if the region will reopen for Phase 2 on Friday, the answer may not be what they want to hear.

It was still unknown as of Wednesday, said former Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy during a Zoom update.

“The region is hanging in there, really doing well,” he said. “All of the areas are still within the metrics the governor is looking for. But again, the governor defines when Phase 2 begins and what’s in Phase 2 ...

“There’s no certainty whether it will start Friday or not,” he continued. “We don’t know. We’ll probably find out in the next day or so. We’re looking forward to that. But he has made no statements and I’ve learned one thing: Don’t get in front of the governor and let him make his decision.” Duffy, who’s now the president and CEO of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, was appointed last month by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to help guide the Finger Lakes region’s reopening. The area includes Genesee, Orleans, Wyoming and Livingston counties.

Friday will be two weeks since the region started Phase 1 of its reopening, which included construction, manufacturing, agriculture and limited retail. Phase 2 would include professional services, retail, financial services and administrative support among others.

But Duffy said it would take two, or possibly three weeks to register any COVID-19 impact stemming from Phase 1.

He said a nine-county, bipartisan group is working on the issues. He also recommended that businesses be prepared for when the reopenings happen.

“Maybe Friday will come with some good news and perhaps not,” Duffy said.

Officials want to get business started again, but it has to be done safely, he said. They’re daily tracking hospital bed and ICU availability as part of the region’s metrics.

The Finger Lakes region so far hasn’t seen a big upswing in coronavirus cases since Phase 1, he said — the only spikes have been localized to nursing facilities and elective surgery patients.

“It has not come out of construction, manufacturing or retail,” Duffy said. “That is a great sign right now for us. But then again, I’m not an infectious disease expert. It does take two weeks or so before you begin seeing (an upswing) and we may see the results in a week or so from what happened in Phase 1.”

Masks, social distancing, hand sanitizing and disinfecting practices will remain a crucial part of the reopening process, helping to keep infection rates low.

He said it’s a day-to-day issue in the Finger Lakes.

Asked whether nail salons, tanning and waxing, would be allowed, Duffy said Cuomo has so far only indicated barbershops and hair salon as part of Phase 2.

He said he believes Cuomo will wait to the last minute before describing what’s safe to open, based on the public health factors.

“The overwhelming majority of people in this region, and across the state, favor wearing a mask,” Duffy said. “Do I like wearing a mask? No. Is it uncomfortable? Yeah.

“But I do it,” he said. “It’s necessary. Does a seat belt restrict me? Yes. Do I wear a seat belt? Yes. Why? Because it’s a safety issue. These are things we just do and don’t think about.” Everybody wants to reopen, but the last thing anybody wants to do is reopen and pull back, Duffy said. The prospect would include all kinds of prospects nobody wants to see.

But he also noted that returning to “normal” is scary for a lot of people.

“We have to build that confidence back step-by-step,” he said. “You do that with great plans, great reopening plans, thoughtful practices to protect employers ... and reinforcing.” He recommended giving local businesses as much business as possible when the reopen.

“I do think we’ll hear something, an announcement, in the next few days from the governor stating when this will happen, be it this week or beyond, which we should hear fairly soon,” Duffy said. “But I don’t want to put words in his mouth. He is going to make his announcement when he is ready.”

Johnson Newspapers 7.1