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Saratoga County Business Community Leaders Answer Questions As Phase Two Nears

From left to right: Pete Bardunias, Cathy Medick, and Todd Shimkus
Saratoga County Office of Emergency Services/Facebook
From left to right: Pete Bardunias, Cathy Medick, and Todd Shimkus

The Capital Region could enter Phase Two of reopening next week. On Wednesday, Saratoga County business leaders answered questions from the public about what to prepare for in the days ahead.

Saratoga County, part of the eight-county Capital Region, could enter the second phase of reopening as early as next Wednesday. As confirmed new daily infections of COVID-19 have dropped, Cathy Medick, the county’s Public Health Director of Patient Services, said it’s up to the public to keep those numbers down.

“We have succeeded in flattening the curve. But that just means we are keeping the virus at a manageable level. We will have more cases. We will probably have more clusters. And unfortunately, we will have more death. It is important to know that there is still that risk and all, we need to continue practicing social distancing, good hygiene…”

And to cooperate with contact tracers. Medick said retailers should be ready to take steps to keep track of potential customers. She said big box stores that have remained open have sometimes relied on information from digital receipts or frequent-shopper cards.

As of Wednesday’s Facebook Live event hosted by the county’s Office of Emergency Services, there were 464 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19, up two from the day before. Of the total number of cases, 403 patients have recovered and 15 have died in Saratoga County. No new deaths had been reported in over a week.

A common question has been about how to accommodate customers while observing social distancing.

Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus said he’s communicated with community leaders across the region who say they are open to bringing business outdoors. Shimkus asked business owners to get creative.  

“Are there outdoor spaces that could be used by retailers in the way farmers’ markets are done? That could be used by restaurants for outdoor dining so you could expand your capacity, you could expand your market potential, you could expand your sales. Because for a while, we’re all going to be limited as to how many people can gather, how many people can be in your workplace, your restaurant, your shop, your store,” said Shimkus.

While there are several published state guidelines related to Phase One reopening, which included agriculture, manufacturing, construction, and other sectors, guidance on Phase Two is lacking, according to the panelists. Saratoga County has collected reopening guidelines on its webpage.

Shelby Schneider, President of the Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership, said businesses should take advantage of all available state and federal funding. She said if you’re still waiting for a lender to return a call about an SBA Paycheck Protection Program loan, be proactive.

“If you haven’t heard back from your back, you might want to give them a call, give them a nudge. They are not experiencing the same amount of volume that they did additionally. And if that doesn’t work, there will be other SBA-qualified lenders that are willing to take new customers,” said Schneider.

In addition to the PPP program, the SBA is also overseeing the Economic Industry Disaster Loans, which were extended to farmers. But for businesses that cannot obtain a federal loan, New York State this week launched its own $100 million Forward Loan Fund.

The state plans to focus on minority and women-owned businesses and entities with 20 or fewer employees and less than $3 million in gross revenues.

Businesses are also being asked to develop written safety plans. The plans do not need to be approved by the state but should follow state guidance. By having a safety plan in place, it could also reduce the risk of liability as the future of the virus remains uncertain.

Peter Bardunias of the Capital Region Chamber of Commerce said businesses that cannot operate as normal right now can focus on marketing to draw the attention of potential customers in the future.

Looking forward, Bardunias said now is the time to educate the next generation of workers and business owners about how to improve a supply chain that has been disrupted by the pandemic.

“We have the ability now to train our young people to learning something that so that our food will be on the table when it needs to be, so that our cleaning products will arrive when they’re supposed to be, so that industries can thrive, and so that we can have a robust state going further. I’m very excited about the future, but I’m also very mindful of what it took to get to this point,” said Bardunias.

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Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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