HUDSON — Columbia County is eyeing a possible start to phase 4 of the regional economic reopening Wednesday.
The Columbia Comeback Committee, formed by the county’s board of supervisors, held its weekly Zoom meeting Monday to give local businesses an overview of phase 4, including the businesses that will be included and those that will remain on hold.
New York state is reopening its economy in phases and across regions. Columbia County is part of the Capital Region, and could begin phase 4 Wednesday.
Several industries and activities will be permitted to reopen under phase 4, should the Capital Region be approved to begin that phase Wednesday.
“Under phase 4, museums, botanical gardens, aquariums and media production facilities are allowed to resume operation, according to the guidelines that the governor released last week,” said F. Michael Tucker, co-chairman of the Columbia Combeback Committee. “The Capital Region control room was told Tuesday that businesses expected to be part of phase 4, including gyms, malls, amusement parks and movie theaters, may not be allowed to reopen when phase 4 is approved. The Capital Region is expected to be approved for phase 4 on July 1.”
The regional control room was advised by a representative from the governor’s office that these industries will be examined separately from the rest of phase 4, Tucker said.
“I think that when malls, gyms and movie theaters and other venues that were expected to open are allowed to reopen, it will be an expansion of phase 4, not a new phase 5,” Tucker said.
Low-risk outdoor and indoors arts and entertainment, and higher education, are also allowed to reopen with the start of phase 4.
“The state revised some of the plans as the number of new cases increased sharply in some states around the country,” Tucker said. “Test results indicate New York has made significant progress in suppressing the disease, and Columbia County numbers reflect that as well.”
As of June 28, Columbia County had 24 active cases of COVID-19, with nine people hospitalized, and none in the intensive care unit, according to the Columbia County Department of Health website. There have been 439 confirmed positive cases in the county since the beginning of the outbreak.
The state released guidance for businesses slated to reopen in phase 4, Tucker said.
Outdoor activities must be restricted to 33% of capacity and children’s play areas must be closed unless they can be cleaned between each use. Indoor activities must be limited to 25% of their usual occupancy rate. For both indoor and outdoor activities, face masks must be worn at all times. Only members of the same household or group can participate in group tours, Tucker added.
“Employers in all industries must do health-screening assessments of workers every day to make sure no one is sick or showing coronavirus symptoms. Those who are sick must be sent home and encouraged to get tested,” he said, adding that face masks and social distancing are required as well, where possible.
Liz Shaw, from Basilica Hudson, asked about guidance for wedding facilities and when they might be able to resume.
“Our biggest struggle right now for the wedding industry — and that encompasses a lot of people, from caterers to photographers — we are really waiting for the governor to come out with some guidance because we don’t fall under any of this right now,” Shaw said.
The lack of guidance has created confusion in the industry, she said.
“It’s extremely frustrating,” Shaw said. “At Basilica right now, we have been able to reschedule everybody from April to August of this year, but we do have a few in September, a few in October, a few in November and December, and we are all just hanging on wondering what is going to happen.”
Specific information has not been provided yet by the governor’s office with regard to wedding-related businesses, but Tucker said he would pass the request on to the Capital Region control room to inquire of the governor.
Initially, phase 4 was designed to include education, recreation and the arts. Several components of the anticipated phase 4 — namely gyms, malls and movie theaters — have had their reopenings put on hold over concerns about air-conditioning units and research indicating they may spread the virus in heavily populated venues, Cuomo said Monday.
“There are air filtration devices, air filters, that can actually help with the COVID virus. NASA has studied this,” Cuomo said at a press briefing Monday. “There are HEPA filters, which are high-efficiency particulate air filters, that can actually filter out the COVID virus.”
Large malls will be required to have this type of air filtration system installed before they will be allowed to reopen. Cuomo also recommended all businesses and offices consider installing this type of filter as well.
In addition to concerns over air conditioning impacting the spread of the virus, the rising number of cases in other states has also raised a red flag for New York state.