HUDSON — The Capital Region is entering Phase 2 of the state’s economic reopening process Wednesday, allowing offices, in-store retail, hair salons and barbershops, car dealerships, commercial building management and real-estate services to reopen their doors.
There are four phases to the reopening plan, with economic regions waiting about two weeks between phases to monitor the infection rate and spread of the virus. Columbia County is part of the Capital Region.
“[Phase 2] is probably the biggest group of businesses that would be reopening since the governor initiated the shutdown,” said F. Michael Tucker, president and CEO of the Columbia Economic Development Corporation.
But there are restrictions in place, so Columbia Comeback hosted a video conference to help elected officials and business owners understand the guidelines established by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Columbia Comeback is a countywide initiative created to assist businesses in the county with reopening in alignment with state guidelines in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tucker and Jeffrey Hunt, president and CEO of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, outlined rules Tuesday that will be in place for businesses that reopen Wednesday.
“We are scheduled to open Phase 2 starting tomorrow,” Hunt said Tuesday.
Tucker outlined some of the guidelines that will be required of businesses that reopen, including safety, communication and virus screening regulations.
“With each and every phase of the reopening, as well as for businesses that are essential businesses, each company is required to review a set of guidelines that are on the Forward NY website, to affirm the guidelines and requirements that have been established by the state,” Tucker said.
Each business owner is required to develop a safety plan for their business, detailing issues such as how social distancing will be handled, hygiene and cleaning, communication and health screenings.
Employees and customers are required to maintain a 6-foot social distance, unless the nature of the work — such as a barber or hairstylist — requires closer contact. In that case, the salon employee is required to wear a mask. Hair salons may conduct business by appointment only, and customers cannot wait their turn in the facility’s waiting area. Employees are also required to undergo regular testing for the virus. A 15-minute break is mandated between customers so the area can be sanitized, Tucker said.
Any time social distancing cannot be maintained, both employee and customer must wear a face covering, Tucker said. Cuomo signed an executive order last week permitting business owners to refuse entry to customers who do not wear a mask or face covering.
Businesses are also encouraged to limit the use of tightly confined spaces, and must permit their space to be used at no more than 50% capacity. No shared food or beverages are allowed.
Businesses that deal with the public must provide designated areas for pick-up and delivery, and nonessential amenities such as water fountains, samples and self-service bars must be shut down. Hand sanitizer must be made available, as well as signage to prevent foot traffic from resulting in close contact between individuals.
“Each industry has specific guidelines,” Tucker said, adding that most of the regulations are common sense and adaptable for most businesses.
Another requirement is that business owners must keep a log of employees and visitors who have been on site each day to assist contact tracers should someone be diagnosed with the virus. Questionnaires are also required of employees and visitors to assess their health status.
Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson asked where the log will be sent. Tucker said that it will be used only if someone contracts the virus, for use by contact tracers.
John Brusie, chief operating officer of Ginsberg’s Foods, said the Health Department handles the issue “very discreetly,” and the identity of the person with the virus is not revealed.
“They don’t have to tell you who the person is, but they will find out what potential risk your employees may or may not have had, or what the potential risk was. There is high risk and low risk,” Brusie said. “So if the employee is a low-risk contact, they are not going to do anything other than monitor. If they are a high-risk, they will tell you you have to quarantine and anyone the person has been in contact with.”
If there is a positive diagnosis at a business, the area where that person was present must be shut down for 24 hours and disinfected, Hunt said.
“The goal is to make sure people stay far enough apart or wear masks so that they don’t infect each other because this is a virus that can manifest itself without any symptoms,” Tucker said.