Cattaraugus County and the rest of the Western New York region got the go-ahead from Gov. Andrew Cuomo Monday to move to Phase 4 of the state’s reopening plan.
Under New York’s coronavirus response, Phase 4 allows gatherings of up to 50 and indoor religious gatherings of up to 33% of capacity of the church or synagogue.
A federal judge on Friday blocked enforcement of the 25% capacity rule in religious gatherings when other indoor gatherings were limited to 50%.
Speaking on Monday, Cuomo set the religious gathering limit to 33% of capacity, an increase of 6%, but still short of the 50% limit of the indoor gatherings.
The New State Catholic Conference, which was not involved in the lawsuit, issued a statement saying, “Our churches will continue to voluntarily follow state guidelines.”
The Phase 4 reopening in Western New York will include low-risk indoor and outdoor activities and media production.
Not included in the Phase 4 opening are gyms, large shopping malls and movie theaters.
Cattaraugus County Public Health Director Dr. Kevin D. Watkins said Monday, “I’m happy to finally go into Phase 4. We’ve been waiting over 100 days for this. This should reopen most of the things that are still closed.”
Watkins said the large malls, gyms and movie theaters should reopen later in Phase 4, perhaps another week or so.
Mall stores with outside entrances are already permitted to open.
“Our mall is open,” Watkins said. Large stores like JC Penney and Kohl’s have entrances to the street.
“We want to make sure the transmission rates are on the decline,” Watkins explained.
As of Monday, there were 93 confirmed COVID-19 cases among Cattaraugus County residents. No new cases were reported since Friday. Eighty-five COVID-19 patients have recovered, four have died (the county’s official count) and there are four active cases being followed by the Health Department, Watkins said.
The number of tests of county residents is nearing 12,000 and 11,634 have tested negative. More test results are expected today.
Watkins warned that without the social distancing and wearing face masks that most local residents have been practicing, the region could backslide and see an increase in coronavirus and COVID-19 cases.
“People must continue to maintain a social distance of 6 feet and wear a face mask,” Watkins said.
Anyone wishing to get a test for COVID-19 can register on the county’s website at www.cattco.org or call 939-9119.
Watkins said he is still concerned about travelers coming from other states where coronavirus cases are on the increase.
People on direct flights from eight states with very high COVID-19 rates will be given a questionnaire, Watkins said. The state Health Department will have a table at New York airports where they will take the questionnaire and enter the information in a statewide database.
The visitors — or New York residents returning from a visit to one of the eight states — will be contacted by the health department in the county where they live. They will be told to self-isolate for 14 days.
What about someone returning from one of the states by car, bus or train?
“We’re hoping they will self-report to us,” Watkins said.
If they don’t self-report, Watkins said neighbors may be able to help. There is also a 24-hour call line the state Health Department maintains for people to report out-of-state travels by their neighbors. The number is (833) 789-0407.
(Contact reporter Rick Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)