Local officials from across Upstate New York – including here in Jamestown – are raising questions and voicing concerns about the details of the COVID-19 reopening plan Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday.
County leaders say they are unsure certain requirements can be met without local governments having to increase spending in what will already be a tough budget year. Specifically, the New York State Association of Counties say they are learning this week that the governor’s plan to enlist an “army of tracers” may not come with any financial support.
In addition, local government representatives from across upstate are also questioning the governor’s proposal to use the state economic development regions to phase in reopening, saying it is not the right geographic strategy. That sentiment was shared locally Monday night by some Republican members of the Jamestown City Council.
“I’m really disappointed that we’re considered part of the Western New York Region as opposed to the Southern Tier. If you look at the numbers [from the Western New York region], they’re so skewed by Erie County – the people with infections, people who’ve died, hospitalizations – everything in the whole Western Region is getting skewed by Erie County,” said councilman Brent Sheldon. “I understand the governor saying ‘If we open up certain things people are going to come here because of it.’ But not if we open up manufacturing and construction. That’s not going to bring people from Erie County down here. It’s when you get to phases three and four [that might happen].”
Council President Tony Dolce also said it was disappointing that Chautauqua County has to follow the lead of Erie County.
“What was the determination? Who drew the lines? We’re in the Southern Tier when it comes to our congressional district, but yet we’re in Western New York for this. No matter where the line is, someone is going to open before someone else and someone is going to go somewhere else. There is no real, 100 percent way to control where people go and what they are going to do. It’s unfortunate and disappointing,” Dolce said.
Meanwhile, Councilwoman Kim Ecklund simply called the decision to put Chautauqua County in the Western New York Region “disgusting.”
Jamestown Mayor Eddie Sundquist noted that it was unlikely the state would make any changes at this point and move Chautauqua County to the Southern Tier.
Gov. Cuomo had announced last month that the state would take a regional approach to reopening – based on the 10 economic development regions of the state. He provided more details on the “New York Forward” reopening plan on Monday when he listed the seven metrics or criteria that each region will be required to meet in order to reopen (see chart below), following established guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control.
Under that criteria, none of the regions currently meets the standards, which include declining COVID-19 infection rates and testing at least 3 percent of the population on a monthly basis. But Western New York was included as a “high risk” zone, primary because of the number of growing cases and hospitalizations in Erie County. The governor also said once reopening begins, it would be done through a four-phase process, with manufacturing and construction being part of the first phase while businesses focusing on entertainment would be the last to reopen.
The plan by the Governor loosely follows the suggested plan from local state legislators Sen. George Borrello and Assemblyman Andy Goodell, who proposed a reopening plan in April that would also use the existing regional economic development zones as a template, but which could also be adjusted if necessary to reflect unique situations within the zones.