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Questions on reopening New York’s economy baffle businesses

May 29, 2020 Carolyn Thompson and Marina Villeneuve Associated Press
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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — While New York City businesses remain shuttered, parts of the state currently reopening may provide a hint of what’s to come when restrictions are finally lifted.

Some upstate New York business owners who made plans to reopen Friday as the state gradually loosened restrictions put in place during the coronavirus crisis remained closed amid last-minute confusion over whether their region indeed had the OK to move forward.

County leaders learned on a 7 p.m. call with state officials that public health experts hired by the state would have to sign off on the next phase of reopening, Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente said at a Thursday night news conference.

“It’s an insult to every business in this community that has been struggling,” said Picente, a Republican. “It’s a lack of respect for the business community.”

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Annette Knapp, the owner of Salon Bellezza in Syracuse, had lined up eight clients for Friday, the first at 9:15 a.m., only to find out at 10 p.m. Thursday that she couldn’t open.

“I’m sure some people are still opening today,” she said. “It’s like you’re having a baby. You get to the due date, you want to have that baby. Any day after is frustrating.”

As New York tries to get its economy going again, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has divided the state into 10 regions that can start to reopen businesses in phases.

All of the state except for New York City is now at a phase that allows manufacturers to bring employees back to work and lets retailers operate with only curbside pickup.

The next phase is more expansive, allowing offices to bring back more workers, hair salons and barbershops to reopen and retailers to bring some customers into stores.

The governor’s executive orders leave it up to his administration to decide when a region has met the state’s standards for lifting restrictions. The rules guiding exactly when counties can move from one reopening phase to another have been less clear, though the state set the minimum amount of time between phases at two weeks, saying that gap was needed to let officials monitor infection rates.

Last week, Cuomo announced the hiring of two experts to analyze the data and consult on reopening decisions.

“We’ll give the experts all the data. And if they say we should move forward, we’ll move forward,” the Democrat said on public radio Thursday.

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said Thursday that data indicated that his central New York county, which includes Syracuse, meets the state’s phase 2 reopening benchmarks, but acknowledged he had yet to get the green light from the governor’s office

“Nobody has ever said phase two isn’t a go for Friday,” McMahon said. “Everybody has been talking about Friday since we got to phase one.”

Transit fears

New York City is on track to begin loosening restrictions on June 8, Gov. Cuomo said. But residents who don’t yet feel comfortable commuting by subway may have to improvise, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday.

“We are trying to get the subways and buses to be as clean and safe as possible in a really, really imperfect situation,” de Blasio said. “If people want to use cars because that’s what makes them comfortable, and obviously there still is a lot less traffic on the road, then they’re going to use cars.”

De Blasio said the city is on target to enter the first phase of the reopening process sometime in the next two weeks, which would bring an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 people back to work.

Businesses normally rely on public transportation to get their employees to work in a city where fewer than half of households own a car.

Fears of the coronavirus have sent ridership on city buses and subways plummeting, but a return could mean crowded cars again and little hope of social distancing.

De Blasio said the city is providing 2 million masks for businesses reopening and will also offer training and a worker protection hotline.

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