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WNY anticipating June reopening

Wed, May 6th 2020 05:15 pm

County leaders are not counting on Erie County or Niagara County coming off Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “New York State on PAUSE” program when the executive order expires May 15.

Speaking with the New York State Association of Counties on Wednesday, and again in a daily briefing posted on YouTube, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said June 1 is more realistic. He spoke of Cuomo’s seven steps that need to be completed before a region can reopen.

Currently, Western New York meets three of the seven metrics.

“Based on the governor's own metrics, with only three of the seven having been met as of (Tuesday), it's highly doubtful we'll meet May 15,” Poloncarz said. “It's possible. Remember, they're looking at two-week rolling averages. So, if the next nine days is that much better with regards to these hospitalization and contraction numbers, then we'd have a shot.

“I am working very hard to meet the things that we can do on our end, with regards to contact tracers and ramping up the testing. But there are things that are out of our control in county government, and it often has to do with hospitalizations and deaths.

“I said a couple days ago that I thought we'd have a much better chance of opening by June 1. I'm hopeful we meet the May 15 deadline. But right now, I don't think we're there yet. And if any place did open up on May 15, it would probably be the North Country, Southern Tier and maybe the Mohawk Valley.”

Image courtesy of the Office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Poloncarz said he’s confident Western New York will soon check-off five metric boxes, as numbers of hospitalizations and new hospitalizations continue to decrease.

In Niagara County, Legislature Vice Chairman John Syracuse recently announced the formation of three working groups charged with preparing for post-pandemic operations.

On Wednesday, during her community update on LCTV, Niagara County Legislature Chairwoman Becky Wydysh spoke with Department of Economic Development Commissioner Michael Casale about “ReStart Niagara,” which is focused on helping businesses get started back up and running, accessing government programs, and providing any other support.

“I think we all understand that, while the reopening will be regionally driven … as a county, we will still have our own specific focuses and needs that we'll need to address ourselves outside of that regional group,” Wydysh said.

Casale noted the importance of Niagara County being considered as its own entity.

“We are in the Greater Niagara Region – it’s the REDC (Regional Economic Development Council) region, which includes Niagara, Erie Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany. And obviously the largest county in our region – one of the largest counties in the state, period – is Erie County; so they're going to be doing a lot of the driving. But we are making sure that Empire State Development and Kathy Hochul, who's leading the charge for the reopening of our Western New York economy, are aware of the fact that Niagara County is very different from Erie County – and we have a need to be seen as very different – knowing and understanding that Erie County is going to be driving this bus as we continue to move forward.

“So, we're making sure that ESD and Lt. Gov. Hochul are aware of everything ‘ReStart Niagara’ is doing. They are aware of it; they've been given some heads-up on some of our initial meeting notes and summaries and ideas and thoughts.”

Wydysh said, “We know from hearing the governor's briefings … that he will have a very specific plan in place as far as reopening; and a lot of those directives, of course, are going to come from the state level down to us. … It's very important for us, at a county level, to then be closely in touch with our local businesses, our local officials, and helping to share that information – and really help our businesses understand and tailor it to their own specific needs. Again, knowing that, here in our region, our region is different from our county, is different from our towns and cities, and what each will need and have to go through.

“I've spoken with Lt. Gov. Hochul about that desire to have that knowledge that Niagara County is a little bit different here than Erie County, and how that will impact our regional reopening.”

Wydysh also referenced Cuomo’s metrics. In terms of how these numbers will impact the “ReStart” group, Casale said, “It’s going to a huge impact, really, because we've got to hit those metrics. Those metrics are reflecting, again, the Western New York region. … In Niagara County, I think we're probably hitting one or two more metrics than maybe Erie County, as it were – we're at least heading in a better direction, knowing, of course, that Erie County is going to be driving the bus, because we're in that region. So, it's important for us to make sure that that we get there a bit quicker.

“But if you look at those metrics right now, it doesn't look like Erie County is going to be able to open up on the 15th of May. They're looking more like now it's going to be a May 29 date. Hopefully; we're keeping our fingers crossed. So, that would then push phase one out to May 29. And then there are two-week intervals in between each phase. Phase one is the reopening of … the construction industry and the manufacturing industry. … So, we're looking at phase one maybe closer to May 29 than May 15.

Image courtesy of the Office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo

“The whole idea, though, is while we're doing that, we're in the process of getting these subgroups together and getting reopening plans done. We want to be able to hit the ground running when we're set to reopen, and that's what this group is concentrating on.”

Wydysh said, “I think … the businesses need to be prepared, so that when they do get that green light they're ready to go. They don't want to hear that they can reopen and then come up with a plan. That plan really needs to be in place so that they know that they can open safely. And having those plans in place and being able to show that that is ready is probably going to play a factor in our region being allowed to reopen – if they know we're prepared to do so.”

Cuomo initiated “New York State on PAUSE” on March 20, closing nonessential businesses, prohibiting large gatherings and limiting restaurants to takeout or delivery service. He did this to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Western New York Business Impact Survey

Casale also mentioned some of the results of the Western New York Business Impact Survey, which was initiated through the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.

“We're nosing through the data, but the biggest thing that really stood out to me was that 93% of the businesses that responded to that survey – and there were a lot of responses – the main response, obviously, was from Erie County, but Niagara County was No. 2, right behind there. The biggest thing that that hit me was the 93% report of varying declines and revenues. Also, three out of five businesses that responded to that survey have said that they are postponing new plans, which means new development, maybe some expansions. So, those are the things that really kind of hit me.

“Some of the numbers, specifically, most report of loss of 50% or less of expected revenue. Three quarters of the respondents have applied for or plan to apply for federal business assistance loans. … More than 51% of the businesses are reducing variable costs. Another 43 are reducing fixed costs. Two of three respondents report implementing a staffing change, some temporary layoffs are possible, or furloughs; and some 60% of the respondents have implemented a hiring freeze.”

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