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North Country cleared for Phase 1 reopening Friday

Region clears all hurdles set by state

Gov. Andrew Cuomo provides a coronavirus update during a press conference Wednesday at Jefferson Community College in Watertown. (Provided photo — Mike Groll/Office of Gov. Cuomo)

The North Country is preparing to “un-pause” after Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that the region has cleared all the hurdles to reopening businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic and that certain businesses can begin opening Friday.

Cuomo’s New York State on PAUSE order, which had put a freeze on many businesses and told residents to stay at home, was started in March and expires on May 15 for regions such as the North Country. Phase 1 businesses can begin opening on Friday, according to Rich Azzopardi, a senior advisor to the governor.

There are seven COVID-19-related criteria each region of the state needs to meet in order for New York to deem it safe to reopen. The last one for the North Country — getting 30 per every 1,000 residents tested for COVID-19 each month, which factors out to 419 tests per day — was met Wednesday, as the region could conduct 454 tests per day.

The requirement of having 30% of all hospital beds available was well exceeded, with 52% open in the North Country, and 68% of all intensive care unit beds.

The requirement of having 30 contact tracers for every 100,000 residents in the region was also met.

The North Country includes all or part of Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Franklin, Clinton, Essex and Hamilton counties.

The regional panels will track the number of hospital deaths and regional rates of transmission, and may recommend adjustments to openings if necessary.

Reopening is a

four-phase process

Phase 1 includes construction, businesses in the manufacturing and wholesale supply chain, and select retail stores, which will do curbside pickup.

Phase 2 includes professional services, finance and insurance, all retail, administrative support and real estate/rental leasing.

Phase 3 includes restaurants and hotels.

Phase 4 includes arts, entertainment, recreation and education.

On Wednesday, Cuomo said retail will be able to begin curbside pickup this weekend, and “low-risk” services like landscaping, gardening, tennis and drive-in movie theaters will be opened statewide.

If the regions continue to hit state-imposed benchmarks, the next phases of reopening would happen every two weeks if they continue to meet state criteria.

Even when regions reopen, the way business will operate will be altered. They will be required to adjust hours and shift design to reduce workplace density, restrict non-essential employee travel, require all employees and customers to wear masks if in frequent contact with others, clean, social distance, enact health screening processes to enter the workplace and develop liability processes.

Reaction

State Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, said this is “encouraging news” but that continued success relies on people doing their part and following health guidelines.

“The team overseeing this for our region is very good. Like so many people eager to see things start moving, I’m very concerned about our economy and our small businesses,” she wrote in a statement. “How quickly and effectively we do move forward depends on people wearing a face covering, not crowding other people and hand washing. We’ve all heard these messages over and over. By and large, most people are doing their part. I am hopeful our region can do well, that people can stay safe. We just need to (be) vigilant.”

State Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Plattsburgh, said the North Country economy will take longer to recover than other regions, and said it has suffered “devastating impacts” from the governor’s PAUSE order.

“I, along with my North Country colleagues, have consistently advocated for more testing availability so we could begin a regional reopening,” Jones wrote in a press release. “Now that the North Country has surpassed the necessary metrics for phase 1, I want to thank all the local leaders and congratulate the region on meeting this goal.

“It’s critical now more than ever that we support local small businesses as we begin the reopening process. Returning to normalcy will take time and patience, and it’s crucial that we all remain vigilant and continue to protect our fellow New Yorkers.”

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