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Governor’s COVID-19 metrics met: Columbia County, Dutchess relieved to reopen for phase one

HARLEM VALLEY — New York’s Capital Region, including Columbia County, was given Governor Andrew Cuomo’s go-ahead to reopen on Wednesday, May 20, at a time when much of downstate was still dealing with the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic. That was because the Capital Region finally hired enough contact tracers to meet all of the governor’s benchmarks to start the first phase of reopening the economy, beginning with construction, manufacturing, agriculture, forestry, wholesale trade and retail business with delivery and curb-side pick-up only.

Dutchess County followed suit on Tuesday, May 26, as on Saturday, May 23, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro said the Mid-Hudson Region had “successfully met all of the health metrics to reopen,” with the balance of volunteer contact tracers finishing online training this weekend.

“Governor Cuomo has given us the green light for Restarting Dutchess on Tuesday,” confirmed Molinaro.

On the 23rd, Cuomo addressed the reopening of the Mid-Hudson Valley Region at his daily press conference.

“In all these admonitions, all these pleas, the good news is remember it is working. What we are doing is working. You look at the New York curve, you look at how low it is, you look at the number of deaths, look at the decline,” the governor said. “Compare with the rest of the nation where you still see the rest of the nation’s curve going up. So it is working. And what are we doing? It is the social acceptance and culture of being New York tough, which is smart, smart. Smart is get the test. Smart is protect yourself. Smart is risk, reward. Don’t put yourself in a situation where it’s not worth it.”

Two weeks ago, Cuomo approved the reopening of other regions in the state, including Western New York, Central New York, the North Country, the Finger Lakes, the Southern Tier and the Mohawk Valley Regions. 

The Mid-Hudson Valley Region includes Ulster, Dutchess, Sullivan, Orange, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester Counties.

The Capital Region is defined as Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren and Washington Counties. 

Local towns in Columbia County include Ancram, Ancramdale, Copake, Copake Falls, Craryville, Elizaville and Hillsdale.

Long Island is expected to reopen Wednesday, if it meets all the metrics. 

New York City remains the last region in the state to reopen.

It was meeting the seventh metric that had delayed the Capital Region’s reopening, as well as stymied the Mid-Hudson Region — the hiring and training of contact tracers. 

Cuomo appointed former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to put together “an army” of contact tracers to identify all New Yorkers who have been in close contact with COVID-positive patients, to then be tested and potentially quarantined to prevent further spread of the disease.

Earlier this month, Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murell addressed the essential workers who have been manning the frontlines while non-essential businesses have remained closed in the state. Murell acknowledged how difficult it’s been — and anticipated his county’s economy reopening.

“We thank them for everything they do in the face of this terrible virus,” he said. “We all look forward to the day when our everyday lives return to what we think of as normal.”

Molinaro, too, said he is excited to get Dutchess County back to business, and on the 23rd he thanked all county residents for doing their part to move toward reopening, adding they can’t let up on taking preventative measures.

“We now begin a new chapter,” stated the county executive. “The work we all do going forward will determine our course forward. Businesses will be slowly reopening with strict health and safety plans in place that must be followed. Public health teams will be watching all of the data closely to protect our community health. Individuals must maintain their vigilance in protecting themselves and their families — wear face coverings when going out, maintain social distancing and wash your hands. Continuing to make smart choices will protect our community.”

North East town Supervisor Chris Kennan addressed the governor’s decision to reopen the Mid Hudson Valley Region in an email sent out on Memorial Day, Monday, May 25.

“There is some important news,” he wrote, “Good and bad.  The bad news is that this horrendous COVID-19 pandemic is still very much with us, and will be, to a greater or lesser degree, for a long time. The good news? We were just notified by Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro that we [Dutchess County and six surrounding counties] will begin phase one of reopening our economy this coming Tuesday, May 26. YAY!! 

“For a community which has been lumped in with more densely populated parts of this county, and of other counties, this is welcome news,” Kennan added. “For businesses which have remained shuttered for over two months, this is such welcome news. For all of you who have been helping others, making masks, making and serving and delivering food, working as first responders on the frontlines of health care, or serving our community and country in so many other ways, thank you! [But please don’t stop!] For all those who have patiently remained house-bound, or mostly house-bound, and who have been diligently wearing masks in public and observing strict social distancing, this is welcome news.”

The town supervisor stressed that the region’s reopening does not mean residents should relax taking safety measures — there’s still a health crisis and people are still at risk of infection. He added that the North East/Millerton community has been especially effective at staying healthy during the pandemic.

“[This] does not mean that we should stop being vigilant about our own health, the health of those we love and the health of our friends and neighbors,” he stated. “It is not a reason to stop wearing masks in public. And we need to continue to practice social distancing, as it is these practices that have helped our North East community have the lowest recorded rate of COVID-19 infection in all of Dutchess County.”

Back on Wednesday, May 20, during his online COVID-19 Town Hall, Molinaro said Dutchess County had met all of the governor’s metrics to reopen — though not all counties in the Mid-Hudson Valley Region had done the same, as required for an entire region to reopen. 

According to Molinaro’s office, one “impediment” to the region’s approval to reopen was the change made to the requirement for contact tracers.   

“While Dutchess County meets the state-mandated metric of 30 contact tracers per 100,000 population, with more than 90 contact tracers; the Mid-Hudson Regional Control Room announced yesterday the number of contract tracers for the region would now be based on infection rate, rather than population — and more than 1,800 contact tracers are  needed region-wide. Dutchess County’s required number of contact tracers is now 250.”

At the time, Molinaro’s office said the county was bringing more contact tracer volunteers on board, which it did this past weekend. 

As of presstime on Tuesday, May 26, more than 26,933 Dutchess County residents had been tested for COVID-19, with 3,825 testing positive and 138 county-wide deaths reported; 2,128 Dutchess County residents have recovered from the coronavirus. The statewide total of COVID-positive patients was nearly 360,000 as of the 26th, with 23,282 deaths reported.

Following the latest guidance from Empire State Development, Molinaro stated that many Dutchess County businesses and low-risk activities are now permitted to resume, including:

• Socially distant religious services with 10 or fewer worshipers or in-vehicle services held at drive-in theaters or parking lots;

• Municipal libraries; 

• Retail businesses (delivery and curb-side pick-up only);

• Single student horseback riding;

• Hunting and fishing clubs; 

• Acupuncture, when prescribed by a medical professional;

• Pet grooming to ensure the health and well-being of the animal;

• Auto maintenance;

• Landscaping, gardening and  horticulture; 

• Low-risk, outdoor activities including tennis, non-motorized boat use and rentals;

• Golf and driving ranges, except miniature golf; 

• Drive-in movie theaters. 

After phase one of reopening is complete in a given region, the governor said he plans to wait at least two weeks before proceeding to phase two of reopening in that region, and may delay the next phase even longer if the area sees an uptick in infection rates.

Phase two of reopening includes: Administrative support, professional services, real estate and retail.

Phase three of reopening includes: Restaurants and food services.

Phase four of reopening includes: Arts, education, entertainment and recreation.

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