LITTLE VALLEY — Cattaraugus County and the rest of Western New York began the process of reopening businesses under Phase 1 on Tuesday.
As manufacturers, construction businesses, wholesale trade, agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting and curbside pickup at retail outlets began the process of reopening, businesses in Phase 2 are asking what they need to do to be ready to reopen.
So are businesses in the third and fourth phases of reopening.
Those in the next line of businesses set to reopen as early as June 1 include professional services, hair salons and barber shops, retail, administrative support and real estate, rental and leasing.
Cattaraugus County Administrator Jack Searles, who directed the county’s efforts to get to the Phase 1 reopening, said subsequent phases of reopening will be similarly staged two weeks apart — provided the region continues to meet state metrics.
The state, he said, is already issuing guidance for Phase 2, and is expected to release templates on best practices for Phase 2 businesses by the end of the week.
At the end of the two-week period for Phase 1, if the region meets the state metrics, it will get the green light to proceed with Phase 2, said Searles.
“If there are no major increases in COVID-19 cases, them we will look at moving into Phase 2,” he said.
Searles said businesses will have to complete a reopening plan following state templates and affirm to the state that they have to meet the parameters for reopening. The document must be posted in the business for employees and customers to see.
Then, the two week-period between the reopening phases is designed “to provide some breathing room before you bring the next phase online,” Searles said. A spike in COVID-19 may slow the next phase.
“As you progress through the phases, increasingly more people will be in one place at a time,” Searles said. The Phase 1 businesses will find it easier to meet social distancing requirements. As the region goes toward Phase 4, the number of people involved increases.
For example, in Phase 3, restaurants and food service companies as well as hotels and accommodation businesses could reopen as early as June 15, provided the region continues to meet COVID- 19 metrics.
In Phase 4 — the end of June at the earliest — arts, entertainment and recreation; education and church services could reopen if they meet state requirements.
“The fourth phase is the most risky,” Searles added.
The state’s requirements and industry-specific templates are listed at forward.ny.gov.
Camping with self-contained recreational vehicles without access to campgrounds facilities is still permitted. It’s unclear when tent camping might be added, Searles said.
He is optimistic about how manufacturers and construction firms planned to protect their employees and customers, noting that they are spending time developing their plans and are asking the right questions.
“Everybody wants to be open,” Searles said. “We are going down the path to the new normal. We are going about it slow and methodically.”
Crystal Abers, county director of Economic Development, Planning and Tourism, said the number one question she’s getting these days is when can hair salons reopen.
“People are already calling wondering if we have guidelines for them,” she said.
Also in the Phase 2 reopening mix are professional services like attorneys and banking; retail, administrative support and real estate, rental and leasing.
Abers’ department still gets a fair number of complaints about not being able to reopen.
Abers said she thinks the Western New York region can learn some things from regions that open four or five days earlier after meeting the state metrics.
She said the reopening of manufacturing and construction will put a good number of local residents back to work at a low risk. She said the curbside retail in Phase 1 will give small businesses a way to “inch their way back” to a full opening in Phase 2. In Phase 1, there is no browsing inside a store — customers may only come for pickup only.
Abers said it’s important to build confidence on the part of residents as to when it’s safe to go out.
“A lot of people are still concerned that more people aren’t wearing masks when they are out,” she said. “A lot of people are concerned. They are cautious.”
Abers added, “We have to be smart. Social distancing and masks are a must. You still need to protect yourself, your family and everyone else.”
It’s also important to keep an eye on the metrics, she said. They include: a 14-day decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, a decline in new hospitalizations, keeping 30% of hospital beds for coronavirus cases, 30,000 contact traces per 100,000 population and increased testing.
“We have to watch those metrics,” Abers said. “We have to be cautious so we don’t set ourselves back.”
Businesses will have to confirm with the regional State Economic Development office that they have met the requirements to reopen, as well as post the steps they have taken to reopen safely.
“We have furnished a lot of businesses with information. They want to do it right to build confidence for customers to come back in and shop,” Abers said. “They want to get out there safely. That’s the key.”
(Contact reporter Rick Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)