The north country is closing in on meeting seven different criteria that would allow the region to start reopening Friday.
Testing is the last metric that must be met before the north country can partially open during Phase I.
The region needs 30 per 1,000 residents tested for COVID-19 each month. The requirement is to reach 419 tests per day, but the region is now on average five tests short as of Tuesday with 414 tests per day, according to Scott A. Gray, chairman of the Jefferson County Legislature.
The state closed down all nonessential businesses under the New York State on PAUSE executive order after the coronavirus pandemic hit in March.
But the region won’t have to wait for two weeks until Phase II if it doesn’t hit the required number to reopen on Friday. When it gets to 419, the north country can put the wheels in motion to get back into business.
“That’s very important,” Mr. Gray said. “When we get 419, we can lift the PAUSE.”
The Control Room — made up of county chairs from seven counties in the north country and some mayors from the region — meets daily in a teleconference to discuss the progress of the reopening.
The area defined by the state as the north country includes Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Franklin, Clinton, Essex and Hamilton counties.
Phase I of the opening will include manufacturing and construction resuming, along with curbside-only retail, wholesale trade and agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting.
Several major manufacturers in the tri-county region will be able to get back on track when the region gets the go-ahead to reopen. Many companies in the region already were deemed essential and were allowed to operate during the pandemic.
In Jefferson County, Car-Freshner Corp. and Timeless Frames will resume working again in Watertown, said David J. Zembiec, deputy CEO of the Jefferson County Local Development Corp, sister organization to the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency.
Car-Freshner Corp., which manufactures the well known Little Trees automotive air freshener products and employs nearly 300, closed down when the pandemic hit, but planned to reopen. The company had a third of their employees working from home.
Timeless Frames — which also operates at the Jefferson County Corporate Park — will too get back to work with a majority of its workforce, Mr. Zembiec said.
During COVID-19, North American Tapes has been working at half capacity as an essential business, with 21 employees making medical-grade tape. By June 1, the company expects to be at its full workforce of 42, going back to being the largest supplier of hockey tape for the National Hockey League, Mr. Zembiec said.
In Lewis County, between 25 and 30 employees at Grand Slam Safety can begin making safety sport fencing for athletic fields and complexes again.
Full production at QubicaAMF Worldwide in Lowville can also start back up making bowling pins full-time. During the pandemic, the state allowed the completion of some work so that $300,000 in raw materials in the company’s yard did not get destroyed by the elements.
“They’re very eager to get back to work,” said Brittany B. Davis, interim executive director of the Lewis County Industrial Development Agency.
Patrick J. Kelly, executive director of the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency, declined to say which companies will be impacted by the Phase I opening. He said it will be up to companies in the county to decide on their specific plans to reopen.
Other local companies that have not been operating at full capacity also could get back to full strength and add employees with the Phase I opening, Mr. Zembiec said.
Each business and industry must have a plan to protect employees and consumers, make the physical workspace safer and implement processes that lower risk of infection in the business.
Once the region starts to reopen, the control rooms will be responsible for monitoring the numbers and pulling the plug or slowing down the opening if the region no longer meets one of the seven requirements.
There was also some confusion about hotels. During a recent briefing, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said hotels would reopen under Phase III. Hotels have been essential businesses and have remained open, although hotel restaurants can only serve take-out meals.
The north country regional Control Room is led by state Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid. The group, along with Mr. Gray includes St. Lawrence County Legislature Chair Joseph R. Lightfoot, Lewis County Legislature Chair Lawrence L. Dolhof, Franklin County Legislature Chair Donald Dabiew, Clinton County Legislature Chair Mark Henry, Essex County Board of Supervisors Chair Shaun Gillilland, Hamilton County Board of Supervisors Chair Bill Farber, James B. McKenna, co-chair of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council and Gouverneur Mayor Ronald P. McDougall, who is also president of the Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence Counties Central Trades and Labor Council.
St. Lawrence County Public Health Department Directory Dana O. McGuire told the Board of Legislators on Monday night that she was scrambling to get a testing site to meet the need to reopen.
“I do know from this morning’s (Monday) talk with the state, starting May 15, landscaping and kind-of gardening activities, outdoor, low-risk, recreational things, like playing tennis, and then the drive-in movie theaters, will be opening at this time,” she said.
St. Lawrence County Administrator Ruth A. Doyle told county lawmakers that County Emergency Services Director Matthew R. Denner picked up an additional 3,000 tests from Malone on Monday and that it is anticipated that tests will start heading the county’s way, but “it is going to be very quick that we overcome what our capacity is when we are there.”
“So we do need some assistance, once we complete even the nursing home component, much less the two times a week that’s anticipated under the most recent orders provided,” Mrs. Doyle said.
Each of the neighboring counties received 1,000 tests from the state Monday, Mrs. Doyle said. The counties indicated that there is great interest in pushing those test kits out to meet that need, she said.
Franklin County officials estimate they will have to conduct about 50 tests each day to help the region meets its goal.
Ms. McGuire also expressed concerns about the new state executive order requiring nursing home staff to be tested twice a week and planned to participate in a conference call this week with Canton-Potsdam Hospital Associate Chief Medical Officer Dr. Andrew Williams and all area nursing homes to discuss how this is going to happen.
She’s worried about supplies of tests to nursing homes.
Times staff writer W.T. Eckert contributed to this story.