Following a Thursday night and Friday morning filled with confusion over whether regions in New York state would be allowed to move into the second phase of the economic reopening process, Gov. Andrew Cuomo now has given five regions the green light to do just that.
At his daily coronavirus public briefing Friday afternoon, Cuomo said that after final review of data by global health experts, five regions — Central New York, Finger Lakes, Mohawk Valley, North Country and Southern Tier — can now expand their openings.
The announcement came after the governor said during a radio interview the day before that, despite expectations expressed by regional and county officials that the second phase would start on Friday, no regions yet had clearance to start the new reopenings. He said "international experts" first had to review the data and determine whether the regions should move forward.
"We are going to ask them to analyze it and if they sign off and say go to phase two, andiamo," Cuomo said. Andiamo is Italian for "let's go" or "we go."
That sparked bipartisan outcry from officials around the state who were expecting the second phase to start Friday morning.
Cuomo was asked about those concerns at the afternoon briefing and defended how the transition from the first to second phase was handled.
"I want to make sure that the data was reviewed by all the experts," he said. "A county executive may be very good at what they do, but they’re not an expert on viral transmission in a pandemic."
The state has also launched a new data tracking dashboard available online that it says "was developed in consultation with internationally-known experts who have been advising New York State."
The global experts Cuomo consulted with included Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota; Dr. Samir Bhatt, senior lecturer in geostatistics at The Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at Imperial College London; Dr. Eli Rosenberg, associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at University of Albany; Michael LeVasseur, assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Drexel University; and Dr. Noam Ross, a disease modeler at the non-profit research group EcoHealth Alliance. The governor's office issued a press release Friday afternoon with quotes from each praising the state's system for tracking data.
The list of industries now cleared for reopening includes administrative support, professional services, real estate, rental and leasing, and most retail. Barbershops and hair salons also can reopen in phase two with limitations.
The state posted additional guidance on phase two rules Friday morning. It said indoor shopping malls could not open during this phase, but that mall stores with external entrances could. Retail establishments cannot exceed 50% of their occupancy capacity, and they must ensure 6 feet of social distancing between individuals is followed "unless safety or core function of the work activity requires a shorter distance." Employees must be provided face coverings, which must be worn by workers at checkouts. Hand sanitizer must be available throughout the store for shoppers and employees.
Businesses that remain closed or limited during the phase two include dine-in restaurants, which are still allowed to provide takeout and delivery service, gyms and fitness centers, movie theaters and amusement parks.
The state's reopening process, which the Cuomo administration has dubbed NY Forward, provides for at least two weeks between phases. That means the soonest Central New York and the other four regions could move to the third phase is June 12.
In addition to the announcement about regions moving to the second reopening phase, Cuomo said the New York City region, by far the hardest hit area in the state, is on track to enter the first reopening phase by June 8.
The reopening announcements followed a day of confusion that had businesses in several upstate regions making plans to welcome customers Friday — only to be told late Thursday they could not.
County leaders learned on a 7 p.m. call with state officials that public health experts hired by the state would have to sign off on the next phase of reopening, but it was unclear when that would happen, Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente said.
While some businesses delayed their reopening plans, others opened as planned, before the state gave the official OK, Picente said by phone Friday, adding he told them he would not move to stop them.
“These are businesses that have spent a great deal of money in preparing for a reopening, and then to tell them at the 11th hour ... that different criteria was being looked at or that some other experts were going to look at data — we didn't know any of that," the Republican county executive said.
Annette Knapp, owner of Salon Bellezza in Syracuse, had lined up eight clients for Friday, the first at 9:15 a.m., but canceled them while awaiting clarification, afraid of putting her operators’ license at risk.
“It’s like you’re having a baby. You get to the due date, you want to have that baby,” she said. “Any day after is frustrating.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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