How Central New York businesses will reopen after shutdown

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a statewide shutdown March 22 in response to the coronavirus pandemic, closing all nonessential businesses and urging residents to stay home and practice social distancing.

The governor ended the shutdown May 14, announcing a four-phase plan for reopening the region that is designed to restart the state’s economy while preventing the spread of the virus. Central New York entered the first reopening phase May 14 and the second phase May 29.

Here’s a breakdown of what the state’s reopening plan will mean for central New York:

What are the different reopening phases?

Each phase of the reopening process allows different types of nonessential businesses to resume operating with certain restrictions.

Even after reopening, businesses must still abide by social distancing measures and conduct a self-assessment of how equipped they are to operate during the pandemic.

In the first phase, businesses in the construction, agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting, manufacturing and wholesale trade industries are allowed to reopen. New York City –– the epicenter of the outbreak in New York state –– was the last region to enter phase one and is the only region that has not yet moved to the second phase.

All other regions in the state have entered or surpassed phase two. During the second phase, professional services, real estate, rental and leasing companies and finance and insurance may reopen. Hair salons have also reopened during phase two in some regions.

While the state allows nonessential retail stores to reopen in phase two, many local malls remain closed, including Destiny USA.

Onondaga County is currently in the third phase of the reopening process, allowing restaurants to reopen for indoor service. Businesses in the “personal care” industry, such as tattoo parlors and nail salons, can also resume operations.

Phase four, the final phase of the reopening, allows the arts, entertainment, recreation and education industries to reopen.

Cuomo has said that schools and universities across the state can reopen in phase four under strict social distancing guidelines. Activities that attract larger crowds –– such as weddings, concerts and golf tournaments –– may also resume.

While no region has entered phase four yet, County Executive Ryan McMahon has said he expects Onondaga County to enter this phase in the next two weeks as long as its COVID-19 hospitalization and infection rates stay low.

Which regions get to reopen, and when?

New York state is reopening on a regional basis, allowing nine different regions to enter the four phases at different times based on their COVID-19 data. Onondaga County is in the central New York region.

For a region to transition into a new phase, its COVID-19 infection rate must be “sufficiently low” and the area’s healthcare system must be prepared to absorb a potential new wave of cases. The region’s testing capacity must also be high enough to pinpoint and isolate additional cases and contain the spread of the virus.

The state will continue to collect data on individual regions and allow those regions to reopen based on their own statistics, Cuomo said.

What about schools?

While schools and universities will be allowed to resume in-person instruction in phase four, many have already begun easing some restrictions for faculty and staff.

Syracuse University announced June 12 that it would loosen restrictions on university-sponsored travel for some essential faculty and staff. The university also released plans to bring students back to campus one week early, mandating regular COVID-19 testing for all students and alternating between in-person and virtual classes.

Colleges must file reopening plans with the state detailing their plans to monitor and contain coronavirus cases on campus. The plans must also outline how the schools plan to shut down if an outbreak occurs on campus.

Cuomo has said he will release additional guidelines that universities must adhere to if they wish to reopen in the fall.

Several other colleges across the state, including Ithaca College and Le Moyne College, have announced plans to reopen with a modified semester schedule, similar to SU.

Cornell University has five different options for how it may proceed, including a normal calendar with online-only courses and a modified schedule that includes both online and in-person instruction. Hamilton College developed a three-phase reopening process that began June 15.

The governor said that while he believes schools should start developing reopening plans, whether or not colleges will reopen ultimately depends on coronavirus case numbers and data.

What other restrictions will remain in place?

Even as the state moves forward with the reopening process, individuals and businesses must continue to follow social distancing guidelines to prevent further spread of COVID-19.

Cuomo has ordered all New York residents to wear face coverings when they are within six feet of others or when social distancing is not possible. McMahon issued an executive order April 14 requiring all businesses in Onondaga County to provide masks for employees who come in direct contact with customers, including restaurant staff.

Several schools and universities, including SU, have also said that students, faculty and staff must keep masks on when in shared spaces, such as classrooms.

Businesses in the state must also maintain six feet of distance between employees and customers. Restaurants can only operate at 50% capacity indoors and must ensure that tables and bar seating are kept at a safe distance.

What happens next?

Once a region enters a new phase, a regional control group will monitor the area’s infection rate and determine if it should return to a previous phase with stricter social distancing measures. Regions must also monitor how businesses comply with the reopening guidelines.

While many regions, including central New York, have progressed through the phases in two-week increments, the state evaluates each region’s numbers independently and makes individual determinations on whether they should advance to a new phase.

If COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations or deaths spike in a specific region, that area may have to close certain businesses again to prevent further spreading.

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