BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – When Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the new ‘Cluster Action Initiative’ on Tuesday, he said it would currently apply to five clusters across the state. Most of those clusters are in or around New York City, and none of them are in Western New York.
But should a cluster pop up in or around Buffalo, it could have a devastating impact on businesses, commerce experts say. Still, there is understanding.
“As long as we’re communicating with the business community and being consistent in our rules and regulations, I think everybody is acknowledging and aware that we do have a public health crisis going on right now,” said A.J. Baynes, President and CEO of the Amherst Chamber of Commerce.
The initiative calls for three levels of restrictions in and around neighborhoods experiencing a cluster, or high density, of COVID-19 cases. The inner-most zone, the Red Zone, would be where the cluster is actually occurring. In that zone, houses of worship would only be allowed to open at 25% capacity, or at a 10 person maximum. Mass gatherings would be prohibited. Only essential businesses would be allowed to open. Restaurants would have to shift to a takeout only model. And schools would switch to remote only.
Those restrictions will take effect in the five clusters no later than Friday. The only upstate cluster is in Broome County.
While restaurants in those clusters are preparing a shift to takeout only, Chef’s Restaurant in Buffalo is going in the other direction. They’re set to open to indoor dining once again on Thursday after previously only being open for takeout.
“It’s exciting to be opening again,” said Chef’s owner Mary Beth Billittier. “But it’s very nerve-racking. You just don’t know where you’re going to be.”
The restaurant will only be open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings. Billittier says there’s more of a reason for them to be open now with more people working nearby in Downtown Buffalo. However, if a cluster were to form around her restaurant, she fears the consequences.
“I think it would be detrimental to all of us,” Billittier said. “You’re putting your employees out of work again. You can only survive with income coming in.”
While he supports a plan to restrict gatherings in clusters, Rev. Darius Pridgen, the senior pastor of True Bethel Baptist Church, admits it may not be a perfect plan.
“It doesn’t stop, for instance, if a neighborhood is closed down, a church from worshiping somewhere else,” Pridgen said. “Is that a flaw? Is that a go-around? Possibly. But I think that as a community, we have to support that at least there’s a plan.”
“I tend to be on the side of having a plan, even if it’s not perfect because of the number of people I have buried out of this church who have died from COVID,” he added.
Pridgen said he has presided over about 10 COVID-related funerals. He himself had the coronavirus earlier this year.
“My only concern is to ensure that there is equity in closing and that the church is not seen as the cause or end-all to this pandemic,” Pridgen said.
Chris Horvatits is an award-winning anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2017. See more of his work here.