Lawmakers ask governor take regional approach to reopening NY

Updated: Apr. 17, 2020 at 12:48 PM EDT
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ALBANY, N.Y. (WWNY) - Some north country lawmakers are urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to consider relaxing restrictions sooner in parts of the state that have had relatively few COVID-19 cases.

Elected representatives sent a letter to the governor Friday arguing that the region shouldn’t subjected to the same restrictions as population-dense New York City and its suburbs.

The letter is signed by Sen. Patty Ritchie, Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush, Assemblyman Mark Walczyk, Jefferson County Board of Legislators Chair Scott Gray, Oswego County Board of Legislators Chair James Weatherup, and St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators Chair Joseph Lightfoot.

“We believe it is critical that we move forward with a regional approach that reflects the differences in population density and COVID-19 infection rates,” the lawmakers write.

The politicians argue that Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, and Oswego counties combined have had 200 confirmed COVID-19 cases, yet the region shares the same restrictions as New York City, which has had more than 123,000.

“I think the governor will read them and consider it. But in this crisis we need to get our economy open and our sales tax up, but we have to do it safely, don’t get me wrong,” said Blankenbush (R. - 117th District).

At his briefing Friday, Cuomo said he agrees with the overall premise of opening up parts of the state with low infection and hospitalization rates.

“If you have less of a problem, you can reopen faster,” he said, but added that working out the details will be a challenge.

He said that opening up some areas would draw people there from places with higher infection rates, which could make things worse.

“We fear that continuing to hold this region to the same standards as New York City when it comes to reopening will only create further hardship for the hardworking people of our region,” the letter says.

The lawmakers say that the upstate economy is already fragile and many people whose businesses were closed by the statewide shutdown fear they may not reopen and those with seasonal businesses are worried they may not open at all this year.

They also say that area hospitals – which have not seen many cases – are being forced to lay off hundreds of workers because they cannot perform the elective surgeries that help them stay afloat financially.

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