New York will begin to open certain regions of the state on Friday. Right now, leaders from each designated region are coming together to plan for Phase 1 of reopening.
The Mohawk Valley Control room is chaired by New York Commissioner of General Services RoAnn Destito, and includes county and municipal leaders from Fulton, Herkimer, Montgomery, Oneida, Otsego, Schoharie Counties, and economic development officials.
The region is largely rural but includes the city of Utica. With the leaders taking daily calls before the May 15th lifting of the New York On Pause order, Utica’s Democratic Mayor Robert Palmieri is seeking a cautious approach.
Oneida County, where Utica is located, has had 686 COVID-19 cases, the highest concentration in the Mohawk Valley region
“The last thing we want to do is open up to the point where we have to stay in the Phase 1 for a period of time because we haven’t done our due diligence,” said Palmieri.
Palmieri said he’s bringing ideas to the table from Utica’s city council as well as the city’s religious community.
Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort also advises slow going as restrictions lift. Ossenfort, a Republican, has made regular live-streamed appearances with Montgomery County’s Public Health Director over the last two months. Since the county has an older population, Ossenfort has stressed the need to protect seniors from COVID-19. He said a challenge in reopening will be communicating to seniors and the county’s agricultural community, which includes Amish farmers.
“From a back-end perspective, there’s going to be a lot of action happening to try to get that information out to people, so that when we do start this Phase 1 that everyone’s on the same page and understands the rules in which we are trying to operate,” said Ossenfort.
Montgomery County has seen 68 positive cases of coronavirus to date.
As they have across the country, some protests from conservative groups demanding reopening sprang up locally over the last few weeks.
On May 1st, a small rally was held in the Fulton County community of Broadalbin. Still, Fulton County Administrative Officer Jon Stead said most county residents responded well to the emergency measures. The county has had 140 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including several cases at the Fulton Center nursing home in Gloversville.
“I think we’re been quite satisfied with, generally, the public response. There are folks that after a couple months of this I know are getting antsy and would like to see a reopening. So it is being done but it is being done on a very slow, gradual, rolled out fashion over the next month-and-a-half or so,” said Stead.
The officials were pleased that New York’s regional approach to reopening involves the same officials who work together through the Regional Economic Development Councils, with relationships already established.
Phase 1 of reopening involves businesses and industries that can most easily maintain social distancing while having the most economic benefit – including construction, manufacturing, and agriculture. There are four phases, with the last including schools, arts, and recreation including theaters and venues.
Again, Matt Ossenfort.
“I just think that we all need to be patient and focus on trying to be better human beings and treat other with respect. And I think if we can do that, focus on our vulnerable populations, and try to communicate and get the protective equipment out there, I think we’re going to be OK. But it’s going to be a long grind this year. And even once we are into Phase 4, life is still going to be inherently different until we get a vaccine,” said Ossenfort.
A portion of the Mohawk Valley Region is represented in Congress by Anthony Brindisi, a Democrat from the 22nd district.
Brindisi says he’s worried about other states that are moving ahead with reopening without meeting CDC standards, which include stepped up testing, contact tracing, and hospital capacity. He spoke on WAMC’s Congressional Corner.
“One thing I am afraid is we don’t follow the advice of public health experts and do something too quickly, which could result in a second wave of this pandemic coming through, and then even further damage to our economy,” said Brindisi.
The Mohawk Valley is one of four regions in New York that have met the state’s requirements to begin opening on Friday.