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State releases new rules for Phase 2 reopening of the economy

The Capitol in Albany seen from the steps

The Capitol in Albany seen from the steps of the state Education Department Building on Oct. 7, 2019. Credit: Hans Pennink

ALBANY — The second and broadest phase for reopening the state’s economy after a more than two-month shutdown forced by the COVID-19 virus won’t be a return to normal, but will include precautions and restrictions for employers, workers and customers, according to state guidance issued to businesses.

Phase 2 will open professional services, administrative support, information technology, real estate services, building and property management, leasing, rental and sales services, in-store shopping, barbershops and most hair salons, and auto leasing and sales.

Under the Phase 2 direction from Cuomo, workers’ desks and workstations must be cleared of nonessential material, interiors will be cleaned rigorously; and employees will be tested for the virus. Companies and stores may operate at only 50% of capacity, which may be done by staggering shifts.

Store operators and their customers must wear masks in interactions and when they can’t remain at least 6 feet apart. The use of bins of clothes and other goods and fitting rooms will be suspended.

“Reopening does not mean that we are going back to the way things were,” Cuomo said Friday. “It’s going back different. It is responding to a new normal, a safer normal.”

It may be a bumpy restart for employers, workers and customers in upstate that will reopen under the second phase this weekend, while Long Island has time to prepare before it enters Phase 2, likely within two weeks.

The voluminous guidance was released Thursday night. Cuomo announced Friday afternoon that five regions — all north and west of Albany and the Hudson Valley — would enter the second phase beginning this weekend.

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    Other measures include:

  • Employers must provide masks, but employees may choose to use their own.
  • Employees must be tested for the virus at least every two weeks. The minimum test is to ask employees if they have been near anyone infected or if they have any symptoms.
  • Stores should encourage touchless payments, such as those made over the phone.
  • Signs or tape on floors must show a one-way flow through offices and stores and 6-foot circles must be marked around workstations.
  • Vending machines and coffee machines must be turned off and restrooms must have signs to signal if someone is already inside.
  • Hair salons and barber shops will be open mostly by appointment. But nail salons, tattoo parlors, threading, waxing and manicure and pedicure shops remain closed.
  • Gyms, pools and game rooms remain closed.
  • Restaurants remain open only for curbside pickup; table seating will be allowed in Phase 3.

The dozens of requirements released Thursday have frustrated some operators.

"It’s unrealistic and unfair to expect businesses to access state guidance, implement required safety protocols, and begin operations in a matter of hours," said Greg Biryla, state director of the National Fedration of Independent Business. "Small businesses have been patient, they have risked their future to protect public health … New York State has to be a partner in this process, not a barrier."

“There is frustration as to how little advance notice is coming out,” said Ken Pokalsky , vice president of the Business Council of New York State. 

Michael Kracker , executive director of the Unshackle Upstate business group, also urged the Cuomo administration to get more information out faster to businesses.

“While the release of Phase 2 guidance is positive, businesses need certainty and time to plan in order to reopen  effectively and responsibly,” he said.

Long Island expects to hit the second phase within a couple weeks. New York City hopes the city will enter the first phase within days.

“As Long Island remains approximately two weeks away from entering Phase 2, it is very helpful for businesses to be able to review and understand the requirements they will have to comply with now so they can start preparing,” said Kevin Law, CEO of the Long Island Association business group.

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