Moving to Phase 2, ‘something to celebrate,’ public health director says

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 30 May 2020 at 9:44 am

Pettit urges businesses to work on plans for reopening: ‘My advice is everybody should be ready’

Paul Pettit

Paul Pettit, the public health director for Genesee and Orleans counties, said start of Phase 2 for the two counties and the Finger Lakes region is “something to celebrate,” especially in the wake of discouraging news about so many community festivals and events being cancelled.

“I want to thank the residents of Genesee and Orleans counties,” Pettit said on Friday during a weekly press briefing. “It’s not easy. It’s not anything anyone wants to do.”

Pettit was speaking about residents being encouraged to stay home as much as possible the past 10 weeks. They have needed to adhere to social distancing and now must wear masks or facial coverings when in stores.

Pettit said residents have overwhelmingly met a new challenge of civic duty.

The public health director knows the restrictions and the shifting guidelines from the state can be frustrating for the community. Friday was much anticipated as the start of Phase 2 for the region. But the announcement from Gov. Cuomo didn’t come until 1 in the afternoon.

Pettit said the local officials often find out the governor’s directives during his daily press conferences. There typically isn’t any lead time for the public health officials, and then they have to wait a few days for more details from the state. Pettit said the frequent directives, with clear guidance, “makes it very challenging” for the local officials.

The businesses that open in Phase 2 will do so differently than before the Covid-19 pandemic. They will have to reduce capacity of people inside their businesses by 50 percent, and will need to insist that people wear masks and maintain social distancing. There needs to be hand sanitizer available and business owners will need to frequently clean spaces used by the public.

The Phase 2 businesses include offices; real estate; in-store retail; vehicle sales, leases and rentals; retail rental, repair, and cleaning; commercial building management; and hair salons and barbershops.

Pettit urged local businesses to have plans ready that include precautions to protect employees and the public from Covid-19.

“To reopen, every business or organization needs to have a plan to reopen,” Pettit said. “The plans need to incorporate all aspects of social distancing, capacity, face masks, and enhanced cleaning to protect employees and people who use the facilities.”

The plans need to be customized to reflect the layout and square footage of the buildings and the public spaces.

“My advice is everybody should be ready,” Pettit said.

Four other regions besides the Finger Lakes also moved to Phase 2: Central New York, North Country, Southern Tier and Mohawk Valley regions.

Local officials from the five regions were vocal in criticizing the state for how Phase 2 was unveiled. The officials said the governor should have given more notice so businesses could schedule employees, order inventory and be ready.

Cuomo, speaking at his news conference on Friday, said experts were continuing to study the data to make sure the Phase 1 opening from May 15 didn’t lead to a spike in hospitalizations from Covid-19.

“Their data has been reviewed and the experts say to us it’s safe to move forward, because people have been smart and you haven’t seen the spike,” Cuomo said about the five regions.

Orleans County Legislature Chairwoman Lynne Johnson on Friday afternoon, during a weekly news briefing, said she looks forward to seeing the economy be reopened.

“We are feeling the economic devastation here,” she said. “We have a lot of mom and pop businesses. It’s going to take a long time to recover.”

She praised local agencies that are organizing food distributions and trying to meet peoples’ basic needs. Many people, who have been self sufficient, are lining up at the food distributions, she said.

Bob Duffy

Bob Duffy, the former state lieutenant governor with Cuomo, is leading the Finer Lakes control room, made up of officials from nine counties.

He responded to criticism about the governor’s roll-out of Phase 2.

“The governor always said it would be at least two weeks in between phases,” Duffy said during a Friday afternoon call with reporters.

He said Cuomo wanted to study the data to make sure it was safe to move to Phase 2, without a surge in cases that could overwhelm the hospital system.

Duffy urged the community to continue social distancing, wearing a mask and taking other precautions.

“I think we are on a roll right here,” Duffy said. “We just have to keep going.”

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