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Officials prep for Phase 2 of reopening

Cuomo says next steps are ‘a judgment call’

Boats put in on a hot sunny Tuesday afternoon at the public launch on Lake Placid lake. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

The North Country region is on track to meet the requirements for Phase 2 reopening this weekend.

Phase 2 reopening includes hair salons and barber shops, insurance and financial services, real estate and rental leasing, retail and administrative support. To trigger this phase, the region has to continue to see a 14-day decline in net hospitalizations and deaths, the number of new people who are hospitalized needs to remain under two per 100,000 residents on average every three days, the total number of available hospital beds and intensive care unit beds needs to stay above 30%, there need to be at least 30 contact tracers for every 100,000 residents or enough tracers based on the infection rate, and the number of tests processed needs to continue meeting a set threshold.

Local and state officials believe the North Country region — which includes Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, St. Lawrence, Lewis and Jefferson counties — will meet all those state-imposed criteria and would then move to the second phase of reopening its economy as soon as Friday.

“I think as long as our new cases stay down, as long as our hospitalizations — and God willing, our death rates — stay down, I think we’ll move into a new place,” state Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, said Tuesday on a conference call hosted by the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism.

Phase 2 reopening will be different from the first in that the decision to move forward will be “more of a judgment call,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during his daily press conference on Saturday.

A paddleboarder enjoys spending time on Mirror Lake Tuesday afternoon. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

“Phase 2 is more of a judgment call of, when have the numbers stabilized?” he said. “Can you explain an increase, or is the increase problematic?”

Reopening safely

The state appointed regional “control rooms” — essentially local advisory committees — to provide on-the-ground insight, keep a close eye on the data and make recommendations for when a region is ready to move forward into the next phase. ROOST CEO Jim McKenna, of Lake Placid, is on that committee for the North Country.

“We anticipate that we are going to follow the metrics and we will go into Phase 2 at the end of this week,” he said. “We can’t emphasize enough that individual businesses, as well as residents, follow the guidelines.”

Altogether, Essex County has seen at least 37 test-confirmed and 15 suspected cases since March. Franklin County has seen 16 test-confirmed and 94 suspected cases. As of Tuesday, there was one active case in Franklin County. Essex County had five active cases as of this past Friday, the last day statistics were available. Neither county has recorded a death from COVID-19.

“We have some of the lowest infection rates in the state,” McKenna said. “To maintain that, we have to set an example for people coming into the area.”

McKenna stressed the importance of promoting mask-wearing and social distancing to curb the spread of the virus, and he referenced his agency’s “Politely Adirondack” campaign, which is designed to encourage those precautions in a positive way.

ROOST is not currently marketing this area to tourists, but Chief of Staff Mary Jane Lawrence said the number of people who visited the Adirondacks over Memorial Day weekend shows that people still want to come to the Adirondacks.

Seeing as there were many reports of people walking around without masks, there’s a need for marketing to show what this region expects of its visitors in terms of taking precautions, she said.

“We saw this weekend that it was a mixed bag,” Lawrence said. “That’s something we really have to focus on as a region and as a community.”

What businesses need to know

Although the North Country has been in Phase 1 for more than a week, in Essex County, few businesses have signed documents required by the state to self-report compliance with safety guidelines and this let them stay open, according to Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Shaun Gillilland, R-Willsboro.

Business owners who have reopened operations in Phase 1, whether partially or fully, have been asked to visit forward.ny.gov, read the state’s safety guidelines and notify the state they have read them, then post their business’ safety plan in a public place.

“As these guidelines come up, businesses need to make sure they do the business affirmations that they’ve met all the requirements,” Gillilland said. “So far, the response of Phase 1 businesses has been light. As we get into Phase 2 and Phase 3, and the public will have more face to face interactions and more chance of spreading the virus, it will be more important to do these postings.”

Lodging such as hotels, as well as other businesses deemed essential before the first phase of reopening, will also have to visit the same website and go through the same process, according to McKenna.

But according to Kristy Kennedy, vice president of marketing at the North Country Chamber of Commerce in Plattsburgh, the state hasn’t yet posted the forms essential businesses need to fill out.

“You will see it roll out,” she said, “but it’s not there yet.”

Tourism

The governor’s executive order limiting gatherings to 10 people or fewer remains in effect. That order doesn’t apply to short-term vacation rental properties because they fall under the category of lodging, according to McKenna.

As the economy slowly reopens, amenities many visitors may be used to — such as the town of Keene’s shuttle to the Garden trailhead — likely won’t be open for a while.

Keene’s shuttle, as well as the new hiker shuttle system Essex County was set to launch this summer, are on hold until it’s safe, according to town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson Jr. The town’s frontcountry stewards and mountaintop summit stewards aren’t out in the field yet, either.

“We’re trying to adapt on the fly to educate the hikers and the visitors,” he said. “We just don’t have the tools, resources and staff that are typically out in the High Peaks.”

Gillilland said a lot of people visited the North Country, and Essex County specifically, over the holiday weekend.

“We’re going to get more and more visitors here; ergo, we’re going to see more chance of infection,” he said. “We’re not out of the woods yet.

“Please make sure that all of these requirements and procedures that are laid out are followed.”

Testing, more information

Local hospitals continue to conduct COVID-19 testing around the region.

There are no out-of-pocket costs for COVID-19 testing for those with health insurance. For those without health insurance, the cost varies depending on the hospital. Saranac Lake’s Adirondack Health is testing uninsured people for free. At Alice Hyde Medical Center in Malone, the cost would be between $125 and $130, plus the cost of a visit with a primary-care physician to obtain a testing order.

Those without health insurance can apply for it during a special enrollment period through nystateofhealth.ny.gov through June 15.

Anyone who wants to be tested in this area is encouraged to call their primary care physician to get a health order for testing. Call Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake at 518-897-2462 to schedule an appointment at the main clinic or one of its upcoming mobile testing sites. Elizabethtown Community Hospital can be reached at 518-873-3069; its Ticonderoga campus can be reached at 518-585-3927. Alice Hyde Medical Center in Malone can be reached at 518-481-2700. Mountain Medical Urgent Care, with offices in Saranac Lake and Lake Placid, also has tests available; its main phone number is 518-897-1000. The statewide COVID-19 hotline is 1-888-364-3065.

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