Capital Region releases plan for reopening

— From Capital Region Forward

To maintain the phased reopening plan, the Capital Region must have at least 30 percent of hospital beds and intensive-care unit beds available after elective surgeries resume. This table shows the number of beds that must be kept available in each of the Capital Region’s eight counties.

ALBANY COUNTY — On Saturday, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy released the long-awaited Capital Region plan for reopening although the region has yet to meet two of the seven metrics required for the first phase of reopening.

To deal with reopening the economy once COVID-19 rates have leveled off, Governor Andrew Cuomo designated 10 regions across New York State with the Capital Region including Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren, and Washington counties.

Although Saratoga County is included in the 44-page written plan, McCoy said just seven of the eight counties had signed off on the plan. He had said earlier that Saratoga County did not want to be held back by Albany County’s hospitalizations rates and so had struck out on its own.

“It’s a complex plan that combines creating a healthy environment for businesses with communications and best practices,” said McCoy on Saturday.

Once the region has met the required metrics, businesses, according to the governor’s plan, are to open in four phases. The first phase includes construction, manufacturing, retail with curb-side pickup, and farming, forestry, and fishing.

Phase 2 includes office settings, retail, and real estate. Phase 3 includes restaurants and hotels while Phase 4 includes education, arts, entertainment and recreations.

A Control Room team was set up by Cuomo to approve the reopening plan and provide oversight and accountability for it. Major General Patrick A. Murphy of the New York National Guard is the regional captain of the Capital Region Control Room. Its members include Ruth Mahoney, Regional Economic Development Councils co-chairwoman; Mike Blue, president of the Capital District Area Labor Federation; McCoy and his counterparts for each of the other seven counties; and Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan.

 

Businesses

The Capital Region plan asks all businesses and employees to sign a pledge that they understand what is being asked of them and are committed to doing their part to reopen the Capital Region for business and keep it open.

As businesses sign the pledge committing to the reopening strategy, they will be able to download, or have mailed to them, “a poster to display for employees and customers indicating that the business, and their employees, are committed to the highest standards for reopening,” the plan says.

An online portal is being developed to connect Capital Region businesses to a list of health and safety guidelines as well as to resources such as grants, loans, credits, and local incentives.

Each business will be provided with a login to access its own business profile and resource page. Through this page, the plan says, businesses will be able to: sign the reopening pledge, report their status regarding compliance, upload safety plans, and answer survey questions. Thirty days after re-opening, businesses will be surveyed “to capture real time feedback about their experiences.”

Business owners or employees may also use the platform  “to report situations where protocols are not being followed,” the plan says. “Upon receipt of an incident, local authorities may be contacted to respond.”

Cuomo said at his Saturday press briefing, “Local governments will do their part ... They're going to be doing compliance … on businesses that are opening. They have to follow the protocols. They're going to be doing compliance on enforcement, wearing the masks, etcetera, but still it’s going to come down to what individuals do.”

New York State requires each reopening business to develop a written safety plan outlining how its workplace will prevent the spread of COVID-19. A business may fill out a template designed by the state to fulfill the requirement, or it may develop its own plan. This plan does not need to be submitted to a state agency for approval but must be retained on the premises of the business and must be made available to the New York State Department of Health or local health or safety authorities in the event of an inspection.

Higher risk employees whose work cannot be done remotely, should be considered for temporary work in another capacity, the Capital Region plan says, where remote/telework may be possible or where the employee has limited exposure to others in the worksite. 

All employers should encourage telework for as many employees as is feasible and possible, the plan says. This involves ensuring that employees have the equipment required to perform their job remotely and making sure employees continue to follow all rules and procedures, such as established response times to calls and emails.

The Capital District Transportation Authority “is working on service and ridership models that will provide valuable connections as the region begins to reopen,” the plan says. The focus is on main routes, known as trunks, which serve 75 percent of the region’s employment centers, grocery stores, pharmacies, and health care centers. Particular attention is being paid to service frequencies and capacity — with a new standard for vehicle occupancy having been established. 

The plan outlines many requirements for employers such as reviewing worksite layout plans to ensure all employees and clients can remain at least six feet apart. It suggests rotating shifts or staggering work times to reduce the number of workers in a building at any time.

Tasks requiring large amounts of people to be in one area should be reduced or eliminated if possible.  Remote meetings are recommended but, if in-person meetings are essential, they should be limited or relocated for adequate social distancing.

Nonessential visitors, volunteers, and activities involving external groups or organizations should be prohibited on the worksite, until further notice. All nonessential travel should be limited or cancelled entirely, until further notice. Entrances and exits should be designated in high traffic areas, and directional foot traffic pathways should be considered. Customers should be encouraged to make appointments.

Employers must provide face masks and must “procure adequate supplies to support healthy hygiene behaviors,” the plan says. This includes soap, hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol, tissues, and no-touch trash cans.

Employers are further expected to “immediately separate employees with symptoms (fever, cough, or shortness of breath) and send such employees home” and then “restrict areas used by any sick person until after proper cleaning and disinfection has occurred.”

All employees should monitor their own temperature before arriving at their workplaces. They are expected to stay home if they have a temperature above 100.4 degrees. 

The plan then goes over industry-specific protocols. For example, once restaurants open, in the third phase, it will be at 50-percent capacity and there are to be no buffets, salad bars, or self-serve drink fountains.

Once schools open, in the fourth and and final phase, the plan says, “While it is important to note that distance learning cannot be the singular permanent solution to our children’s needs, it is essential to note that many of the lessons we have learned during the COVID-19 crisis will continue to be utilized long after the immediate effects of the pandemic have passed.”

 

Public health

Each of the Capital District regional hospitals have developed “robust tele-medicine plans” to use in situations such as the current crisis. “These hospitals are continuing to explore ER/Triage/Tele-Med possibilities with private providers to increase the use of tele-medicine for Medicaid recipients,” the plan says.

The Capital Region will implement a testing regimen that prioritizes symptomatic persons and individuals who were in contact with a known COVID-positive person, the plan says, as well as conducting frequent tests of frontline and essential workers. The Capital Region will maintain an appropriate number of testing sites to accommodate its population and will advertise where and how people can get tested.

Local health departments have been performing contact tracing since the onset of the pandemic, that is, talking to people who have tested positive for COVID-19 to find out who they’ve been in contact with so that those people can be quarantined.

The partnership developed by New York State in collaboration with the Bloomberg Philanthropies, Johns Hopkins University, and Vital Strategies will allow all local health departments “to adequately increase capacity if an increase in cases occurs,” the plan says, adding, “The statewide case management system and centralized solicitation of new tracers will maximize efficiency. If outbreaks occur in concentrated numbers, rapid response teams will be available to support the containment effort.”

In discussing isolation facilities, the plan says that the Capital Region has dozens of hotels and motels participating in, or willing to participate in, a quarantine placement program. This includes accommodating those with means as well as indigent individuals. In addition to hotel isolation facilities, larger, high capacity locations, such as vacant but habitable buildings, have been identified as resources in case of a large-scale outbreak that requires large numbers of individuals to be isolated at one time, the plan says.

More Regional News

  • Once there is a vaccine for COVID-19, the first New Yorkers to receive it will be health-care workers in patient-care settings, long-term-care facility workers, and the at-risk patients in those facilities, according to the state’s plan released on Sunday.

  • “There are some states that have followed the politics of denial and have turned it into science fiction,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday. “The theory was: If you test less, you will find fewer cases, and if you find fewer cases, you have less of a problem. That’s almost a laughable concept.”

  • Albany County continues to have an uptick in COVID-19 cases as Governor Andrew Cuomo looks ahead to distributing vaccines, requesting a meeting with the president.

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