BEGINNING OF THE END? Governor Opens Door To County’s Reopening





Governor Opens Door

To County’s Reopening

Governor Cuomo announcing Sunday, April 26, that Otsego and other rural counties may reopen.

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

By May 18, Greg Ward hopes that Burt Rigid Box in the Town of Oneonta can bring its 44
employees back to work.

Greg Ward

“We’re in the process of putting plans in place,” said Ward, the plant’s operations manager. “We’ve got a crew in there deep cleaning now, and we’re constructing Plexiglas barriers for when people can’t exercise social distancing.”

During his daily briefing Sunday, April 26, Governor Cuomo announced Upstate construction firms and factories can “un-PAUSE” on May 15 in three of the state’s economic development regions, including the Mohawk Valley, which includes Otsego County.

For a region to reopen, hospitals need to be operating at less than 70 percent capacity, and infection rates must be declining below 1.1 percent 14 days in a row.

In the meantime, the governor said, businesses should prepare plans, using social distancing, masks and other measures to ensure their employees can work safely.

“Essential services” not open now and businesses that don’t present a high risk of COVID-19 infections will follow.

The plan was endorsed by county leaders.

“I think that’s a positive,” said the county board Chairman David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Otsego. “Obviously we have to go slow and careful. We’re not going to open things right up.”

“We need to open it as soon as possible, but it has to be done safely,” said County Treasurer Alan Ruffles, who chairs the county’s Coronavirus Task Force.

State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, said the governor is on the right track, adding, “Let’s hope our numbers continue to go down. That will expedite the day when we can get back to some sense of normalcy.”

In Otsego County, some manufacturing plants remained opened as essential businesses.

“Places like Corning and Custom Electronics moved to three shifts in order to facilitate social distancing,” said Otsego Now CEO Jody Zakrevsky. “But with construction re-opening, that’s very good news. Having those big projects reopen” – the new Hampton Inn in Hartwick Seminary, for example – “will be a real boon to the economy.”

Eastman Associates, the Oneonta construction firm, has also been labeled as an essential workforce, working on three wastewater treatment projects.

Still, “we closed for a week early on to go over state requirements,” said President Michelle Eastman. “Everyone wears masks, and instead of driving to the site in a shared vehicle, they drive separately.”

The break room has also been closed, and workers are asked to eat lunch or take breaks in their cars. Increased access to hand-washing stations and hand sanitizer have been added on site, and where social distancing cannot be exercised, N-95 masks are used.

But for those that did close, Cuomo pressed that they need to have a business plan in place before they could resume business as usual.

“What precautions do you want those businesses to institute when they start?” said Cuomo. “How do you do social distancing, how do you do monitoring, are you going to take the temperature of people who walk in the door?”

For Ward, that means rotating workers so fewer people are on the floor at a time. “We’ll be implementing a work share program,” he said. “Our workers will work 60 percent of the time, but still be eligible to file for unemployment for the remaining 40 percent.”

Workers will also be outfitted with masks and other protective gear.

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