ALBANY — Groups representing small businesses and restaurant owners are urging the Cuomo administration to provide clearer guidance on when those operations can participate in the state's phased reopening of various sectors of the economy.
With restaurants for example, guidance from the federal Centers of Disease Control suggests they be included in the second phase of ending lockdowns on businesses.
In New York, however, the reopening of restaurant and other food services are not slated to reopen until the regions they are in get the Cuomo administration's green light to join the state's Phase 3 for reopening.
The New York Restaurant and Taverns Owners Association has forwarded the Cuomo administration its plan that would allow the eateries and bars to be included in New York's second round of openings, by reducing occupancy to 50 percent and following various public health protocols.
"We are not saying we should put business before health," said Scott Wexler, the association's director. "But if we are going to follow the CDC guidance on what the gates should be for opening and how long you should wait, it makes sense to us to follow those guidelines for restaurants in Phase 2, with limitations."
In several regions, including western New York, the North Country, the Mohawk Valley and the Southern Tier, the second round of reopening business is slated to begin Friday. The Western New York region, meanwhile, could open as early as June 2, if hospitalization rates and other data being tracked suggest the COVID-19 infections are tapering off.
Connecticut, which borders several eastern New York counties, allowed its restaurants to open last week, increasing the chances that some New Yorkers looking to go out to eat will travel across state lines.
In California, which has double the population of New York, restaurants have been cleared to open in some counties.
In Vermont, a state that shares Lake Champlain with Clinton and Essex counties in the North Country, restaurants opened last Friday. But some owners opted to stay closed, contending the state's protocols were too rigorous to allow them to operate properly, reported Vermont Digger, a news website.
In New York, among owners of small businesses, "the anxiety and the uncertainty is palpable" as they await the state's guidelines for exactly which types of businesses will be cleared to open in the next phase of restarting the economy, said Greg Biryla, director of the National Federation of Independent Business's New York chapter, told CNHI.
Thus far, Biryla observed, state decisions in determining which businesses are essential and which ones are not have at times been "somewhat arbitrary." He suggested independently-owned retail shops have faced an uneven playing field because they have been forced to close while big box stores that carry the same merchandise have remained open because they have a wider mix of offerings.
Cuomo, during a stop Tuesday in Manhattan, said Long Island will join the first phase of reopening Wednesday. The mid-Hudson region opened Tuesday. Both areas have had to wrestle with a relatively high number of infections and hospitalizations per capita. But New York City, which has been the epicenter for the contagion, remains closed.
The governor said he is urging county government leaders to closely monitor infection data tracked by state-maintained "dashboards" that can now pinpoint COVID-19 cases by zip code.
"Watch the numbers," Cuomo said. "When you see a cluster of new cases, jump on it."
New York's Phase 2 of reopening is aimed at what the state calls professional services, a category that Biryla said is "incredibly broad and ambiguous."
"We need to know who is going to be included in Phase 2 as soon as possible," said Biryla, stressing that business owners are eager to "open safely." They need clarity not only for themselves but for their employees and customers as well, he added.
Cuomo speculated the economic recovery from the pandemic-driven recession will not be a linear.
"You drop a football, depending on how it hits, it goes off on different angles," he said. "The economy is going to come back up. I don't think it comes straight back up."
The governor said he will meet Wednesday with President Donald Trump at the White House to urge federal investment in major infrastructure construction projects to stimulate the economy, including one that would have new transmission lines to bring Canadian hydropower to the New York City region.
On the legal front, lawyers for drivers for Uber and other app-based ride services filed a lawsuit in Brooklyn Federal Court, alleging the state Department of Labor has held up their claims for unemployment benefits by insisting they be classified as independent contractors.
The lawsuit alleges the drivers have had to wait for more than two months, in some cases, to access jobless benefits "for no discernible reason" and should be classified by the state as regular employees, Law360, a legal news site, reported.
Meanwhile, the state reported 73 additional deaths from COVID-19 Tuesday, bringing the New York death total to 23,564 since the pandemic reached the state in March. More than 363,000 New Yorkers have tested positive for the virus in that time.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com