Albany County works with others toward regional reopening

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

“People’s lives are seemingly evaporating beneath them,” said Albany County Director of Economic Development Kevin O’Connor.

ALBANY COUNTY — The eight counties in the Capital Region — one of 10 regions across the state designated by the governor — need to work together in order to reopen, said Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy at Saturday’s press briefing.

To prevent the spread of coronavirus, Andrew Cuomo had extended the “pause,” shutting down non-essential businesses and forbidding gatherings of more than 10 people, until May 15.

On that date, new guidance will be issued to regions based on the metrics Cuomo released this week.

“People’s lives are seemingly evaporating beneath them,” said Albany County Director of Economic Development Kevin O’Connor, who has been meeting with local business leaders. He said at Saturday’s briefing that he hopes a regional plan on reopening will be submitted to the governor’s office on Friday.

McCoy said he has been working with his counterparts in the other Capital Region counties. They met on Friday, he said, but were unable to reach representatives from Greene and Washington counties.

“We have to submit this as a region … if we want to open up in a safe way,” said McCoy.

He also said he was working with neighboring Schenectady and Rensselaer counties to set up diagnostic testing for COVID-19.

“To reopen the Capital Region economy quickly and safely, it’s become more and more important for us to get more testing done and to work together,” said McCoy.

Cuomo has outlined a four-phase reopening plan with construction, manufacturing, wholesale trade, and transportation and warehousing in the first phase. According to an analysis presented by McCoy, Albany County has 21,309 jobs, or 8.7 percent of all its jobs, that fit those Phase 1 categories.

The majority of Albany County jobs — 123,663 jobs or 50.26 percent — fall into Phase 2 categories, such as retail trade; finance and insurance; real estate; professional, scientific, and technical services; management; and administrative services. Those jobs won’t reopen until June at the earliest.

Phase 3 jobs, for food services and accommodations, number 14,453 or 5.9 percent in Albany County. And, the last to reopen, Phase 4, including educational services and arts, entertainment, and recreation jobs, number 25,411 or 10.4 percent in Albany County.

People with “essential jobs” — government, health care, information, utilities, agriculture, and mining among them — have been working all along. In Albany County, there are 59,558 essential jobs or 24.4 percent of all jobs.

“Yesterday was an historic day in the United States,” said McCoy, citing the unemployment rate of 14.7 percent, the highest since the Great Depression.

“We lost 20.5 millin jobs in April alone. Compare that to the 8.7 million we lost during the recession,” he said, adding, “That’s alarming.”

While McCoy said it is important to get businesses up and running, his first priority is health and safety. He stressed that new protocols would have to be put in place where, for instance, restaurant patrons would be seated at a distance from each other and wait staff would wear masks and gloves with everyone’s temperatures being taken.

“Without exception, businesses want to do the right thing here,” said O’Connor. “They want to instill a sense of confidence in their employees … in their customers.”

He said the hospitality industry — hotels, bars, and restaurants — have been particularly hard hit along with the “so-called nonessential retail” businesses and they are “very anxious” to open again.

“They want to open and be able to stay open,” said O’Connor. “They all understand that the worst thing that could happen was to have an opening and then a resurgence of the virus and have to be shut down a second time.” He said that would be “worse than not opening in the first place.”

O’Connor also said, “Similar to the public-health side, the devastation that this is doing to the livelihoods of some of these business people out there is hard to grapple with.”

O’Connor said that the guidelines in the Capital Region plan will closely follow the guidelines given by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The goal, he said, is to “reopen the right way, the smart way.”

McCoy urged residents to submit their ideas “to reimagine” how they would like to see restaurants or movie theaters or malls conduct business.

“What’s going to make you feel safe?” he asked.

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