New York’s COVID-19 fatalities reached at least 21,279 on Wednesday — up from 21,113 Tuesday…
WATERTOWN — Northern New York will be cleared to reopen by the end of the week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Wednesday at Jefferson Community College.
The north country region has met all seven metrics required to begin Phase I of the state’s regional phased reopening plan when the New York State on PAUSE executive order expires Friday.
The last metric the region needed to meet was 30 per 1,000 residents tested for COVID-19 each month. Previously, the region had been just shy of the cutoff of reaching 419 tests per day, but on Tuesday hit 454 tests per day, according to Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa.
She added that the governor’s office is working with local leadership to make sure test kits and the reagents needed to stay above that 419 number will be provided.
Regions are cleared to open after meeting seven criteria about an area’s coronavirus hospitalization, infection and death rates, available hospital beds, testing and tracing capacity.
The north country area — which includes Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Franklin, Clinton, Essex and Hamilton counties — joins the Finger Lakes, Southern Tier and Mohawk Valley regions in meeting all seven metrics to begin the reopening process.
If the trend continues, these four regions can begin opening businesses for Phase I, which includes construction; manufacturing and wholesale supply chain; retail for curbside pickup and drop-off or in-store pickup; and agriculture, forestry, and fishing.
“As the numbers continue to decline and we are coming down the other side of the mountain, a lot of attention is now on reopening,” Gov. Cuomo said. “We’re doing something in this state that no other state is doing. We are having a transparent discussion about the reopening operations because it only works if people understand it and are part of it. New Yorkers will know exactly what is happening in their region and in their county on a daily basis, and the state will continue to monitor these metrics to determine when regions are ready to reopen and if we need to adjust the reopening plans.”
Jefferson County Board of Legislature Chairman Scott A. Gray was informed Thursday that the authorized reopening for Phase I businesses is 12:01 a.m. Friday, rather than Saturday, as he had previously stated.
“This is excellent news today (Wednesday), but comes with a reminder that we have other phases to go through, and we need to be mindful of that until we’re fully operational,” he said. “It’s a victory for today with work to do tomorrow. We had an intense buildup to this and we’re happy we’re open, but we proceed with caution and it’s still important to continue the measures in place for social distancing and masks so we’re not held up moving into the next phases.”
At Wednesday’s briefing, Gov. Cuomo cited testimony from Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, warning of more suffering if the U.S. reopens too soon, and said that rates of transmission must be monitored closely for each county in each region.
Gov. Cuomo said individuals will know if their region is reopening too soon and if people aren’t taking the necessary precautions if the virus is seen to be spreading.
“This is a function of the actions of every individual and every family,” he said. “Make sure those businesses are complying, make sure people are complying, and watch it day to day. And that has to be done on a region-by-region basis.”
In response to Gov. Cuomo’s announcement Wednesday, Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, released the following statement:
“After working diligently with our local, county, and state elected officials — as well as community leaders — our region has met all of the metrics laid out by New York State, it is imperative for small businesses and hardworking families that we start the process to safely re-open our North Country economy,” she said. “I want to applaud our healthcare workers and county health departments for their courageous and essential service to our communities that helped our region get here today. ...It’s important that we remain safe and vigilant in order to keep moving in the right direction so people can continue to get back to work and provide for their families.”
David Zembiec, deputy CEO of the Jefferson County Local Development Corp., said the organization is pleased about the reopening and will do what it can to support local businesses going forward and provide guidance if needed to protect employees and customers.
“We’ve been talking amongst ourselves trying to monitor what’s going to be needed, it’s going to be a challenge,” he said. “We’re seeing if we need to adjust in terms of providing financial assistance, talking with counterparts in other counties to stay on top of it to see if there’s anything we can do. We don’t know what that might be yet, but anything we can do to help get these businesses back on their feet.”
With regards to Fort Drum already announcing the reopening of things like barber shops and childcare centers, before the PAUSE order had been lifted, Gov. Cuomo stated that he understood the pressure to reopen and feels it each day. While he said he cannot speak to what Fort Drum is doing specifically because he is not aware of all the details, he did say the state is working to hit all criteria laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and will continue to follow that criteria.
On Tuesday, California announced that state colleges will not open for the fall semester. All classes will be held online, at least until January. While New York has a similar structure, Gov. Cuomo does not yet know whether SUNY schools will follow suit.
“Where are we going to be in September? I don’t know. I don’t know where we’re going to be in August. I’m trying to figure out June,” the governor said. “I understand schools need a lead time and they need to plan. We’ve told our schools plan on how you will reopen for the new normal. I want to see what happens between now and then, get some more data, get some more information respectful of the time the schools need to actually plan.”
Ty A. Stone, president of Jefferson Community College, a SUNY school, who was among those in the front row at the governor’s briefing Wednesday, said the announcement is exciting for the north country.
“I think this is showing him that we are here, reminding him of the great resource that we have, certainly the college has to this community, and that we need him up here,” she said. “We don’t know how this pandemic is gonna play out, and so we’re being cautious and we’re being very conservative because like him, I don’t want to have a situation where we are putting people’s health and their lives at risk. So, we’re doing everything we can to keep our staff and our students safe.”
While it is a milestone for the north country to be able to open as one of the first regions to meet all seven criteria, he cautioned that individuals cannot get lax once the region reopens.
“We hit all the metrics, that’s the seven out of seven,” Gov. Cuomo said. “But that doesn’t mean, ‘okay, we’re done.’ Look at those numbers every day, see what’s happening with those numbers every day and respond to those numbers. If people get cavalier, people get cocky, people get arrogant, they forget the pain we just went through, we’ll be right back in the same situation.”