Released: 5/11/2020 12:33:02 PM
By Mark Somner
Published May 10, 2020, 7:09 p.m.
Western New York is making progress in combating Covid-19, but it's still too early to say when the first phase of reopening will occur, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said Sunday.
Hochul, put in charge of the region's recovery last month, said benchmarks have been met so far in several criteria, including testing and contact tracing, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo said would have to be met to start reopening businesses in the first of four planned phases.
But Hochul said more progress is needed in several areas and success will depend in part on the public's willingness to continue wearing masks and practice social distancing and good hygiene.
"We are in a far better place in Western New York than we had been even a week ago," Hochul said. "We need to hit a few more benchmarks and metrics and a lot of that comes down to community spread and how the transmission is going. I can't control that, but the public can.
"We're on the right path," Hochul said, "but we're only going to stay on the right path if people keep doing what they've been asked to do. That is how we will get there and protect the public health, which is our number one priority."
Hochul also announced the formation of a regional "control group" to monitor progress daily, one of the requirements laid out by Cuomo before reopening. Western New York has been defined for the sake of reopening to be Erie, Niagara, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties.
The members include Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino, businessman Howard Zemsky and Chautauqua County Executive PJ Wendel.
Hochul said the regional rate of hospitalization has dropped to 1.64%, below the 2% threshold established by the governor.
She said that while there are more sites to be tested and testing has gone up, she hopes more people will do so.
"We are finding that as we have more capability for diagnostic testing we're not getting the number of people we anticipated at some of these sites," Hochul said.
Guides are expected to go out soon to workplaces for the construction and manufacturing businesses that would be part of phase one.
Phase two calls for professional services, finance and insurance, retail, administrative support and real estate and rental leasing. The third phase is for restaurants, food services and hotels. The last of the four phases will reopen arts and entertainment, recreation and education.
Information for all businesses will be on a state website when ready, she said.
Cuomo has said businesses must enact certain safety precautions to be in compliance with new standards, Hochul said.
"You can start preparing your worksite right now," Hochul said, noting PPE equipment, cleaning and disinfecting products, social distancing procedures and information where employees with a temperature can go to be tested and screened.
Hochul acknowledged that knowing what's to happen with certainty was frustrating, but she said it can't be helped.
"There's nothing I would love more than to give certainty, it's how I'm hardwired as an elected official," Hochul said. "But we're dealing with something that has eluded us for a long time. We have not been able to calculate with any precision on what this virus is going to do."
She suggested the rate of spread could see a spike from Mother's Day, depending on whether people practiced social distancing and other safety measures. Those results won't be known for several days, she said.
"We want people to know this is being done very thoughtfully based on data, metrics and the numbers and not on emotion," Hochul said. "A lot is out of our control."