WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - The on-again, off-again start of ‘phase two’ reopening of businesses in northern New York appeared to be back on track late Thursday night.
in a Facebook post, Jefferson County legislature chairman Scott Gray wrote “Information coming on opening tomorrow and the delay on phase 2 is very short.”
“We are working through the issues this evening and anticipate the situation is back on track. We will continue tomorrow and likely have some positive news,” Gray wrote.
Gray’s post capped a wild day in which the state’s plan to reopen businesses seemed increasingly out of reach, and in which reliable information was hard to come by.
As the day began, it appeared the north country - along with other regions of the state - would move to phase two Friday morning.
That would have allowed a broad range of businesses to begin operating again: retail businesses would have been allowed to start letting customers into their stores; real estate agents would have had expanded freedom to show properties; and some professional services like barbershops and beauty salons could reopen, as could some government functions like the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Then Cuomo appeared to have changed the rules for reopening, saying experts have to review how the state’s various regions are doing and give their blessing before they can move to phase two.
“We have metrics. We have numbers,” Cuomo said during a radio interview Thursday night.
“The reopening in the first five regions ends tomorrow. When the reopening of phase one ends, we’ll give the experts all the data. It is posted on the web, but let them analyze it. And if they say we should move forward, we’ll move forward," Cuomo said.
The news that phase two would not automatically happen Friday morning came as a shock in the north country.
“The governor is issuing another EO (executive order) to extend phase 1,” Gray wrote. “There is another statewide pause. No region is moving to phase two despite being told it was a natural progression.”
After a phone call with state officials at 7 p.m. Thursday, Gray said he was told state officials were concerned about something they were seeing in the data - what, he didn’t know.
Gray was clearly frustrated by Thursday’s developments.
“We have questioned them (the state) on the progression and were assured we would roll forward without an issue. Transparency as previously mentioned has been made a farce,” he wrote.
But Gray went back to work, talking with the governor’s office at 10 p.m. After, he wrote on Facebook "It was a difficult evening and emotions were tense but once cooler heads prevailed it was a better discussion and I have always found them to listen.
"I am grateful for the relationship that allows me to be on the phone with the Governor’s office at 10 p.m. And to those folks on the call - thanks for the call, information provided and listening.
“I have a responsibility to the people of Jefferson County that I take serious and will fight for you until days end and then some. Diplomacy is still the rule of the day and it works.”
The state essentially shut down weeks ago as a way to halt the spread of COVID-19 and was reopening in phases spaced roughly two weeks apart, though Gray said Thursday night the state is abandoning the “two week” model and will now move from phase to phase through executive orders issued by Governor Cuomo.
Also, late Thursday night north country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik slammed Cuomo’s decision to put the brakes on phase two.
“I have heard from hundreds of frustrated and upset local officials and small businesses who are understandably outraged by the unacceptable and arbitrary decision by Governor Cuomo to move the goal posts for re-opening,” said Stefanik in a press release.
“Small businesses are barely hanging on and have invested in COVID-19 preparations to safely update their operations. Our North Country businesses and communities have worked hard to meet the metrics laid out for Phase 2 required by New York State and our region should enter Phase 2 of re-opening as planned.”
State Sen. Patty Ritchie also took aim at the governor, saying that businesses had worked tirelessly to be ready to reopen.
"Now though, at the 11th hour, the Governor has chosen to impose new reopening criteria that will prevent Central and Northern New York from moving on to Phase Two. This lack of communication isn’t just irresponsible—it’s disrespectful to hardworking business owners and the tremendous effort they have put forth to comply with state guidelines.
"These people have been through enough. So many of the businesses they have worked hard to build are hanging on by a thread. Many of these business owners and their employees have yet to see a dime of unemployment benefits from the New York State Department of Labor. To say they are frustrated would be an understatement.
“Our region has met the metrics to move on to the next phase. Businesses have worked tirelessly to implement safety measures to safely reopen tomorrow. To tell them tonight we aren’t moving on to Phase Two—just hours before they expected to reopen—is indefensible. Businesses cannot wait any longer and I support efforts for them to safely move on to the next phase, as promised. Furthermore, this underscores the need for the Legislature to take immediate action to restore its powers as a co-equal branch of state government.”