NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. (WIVB) – At his daily coronavirus press briefing Friday afternoon, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Phase Two of reopening could begin in five regions: Central New York, Southern Tier, North Country, Mohawk Valley, and Finger Lakes, which includes Orleans, Genesee, and Wyoming Counties. The step forward comes two weeks after those regions entered Phase One.
There was confusion for people in the five regions reopening Friday. Some in those areas were hoping to open up Phase Two at the beginning of the business day. However, they didn’t get the go-ahead until the afternoon.
“I can understand that,” Cuomo, a Democrat, admitted. “But we wanted to make sure that the data was reviewed by all the experts.
“I wanted to make sure we had the best minds look at all the data before we stepped forward. It’s stone-to-stone across the morass.”
An executive order posted on the governor’s website at 1:45 a.m. Friday made no reference of Phase Two. A separate executive order posted 13 hours later finally gave those counties the green light to move forward. The uncertainty created frustration for some.
“You can’t say just hours before, ‘No we’re not going to go ahead.’ Then 12 hours later, “We’re going ahead,'” argued State Senator Rob Ortt, a Republican whose district includes parts of the Western New York and Finger Lakes regions.
In the hours leading up to Cuomo announcement Friday, the NY Forward website was updated with guidance for Phase Two businesses. Those include offices, vehicle sales, real estate, barbershops and hair salons. Retail stores are also able to open up for in-store shopping.
“We didn’t have the guidelines for Phase One until the day before. We didn’t have the guidelines for Phase Two until (Friday) morning,” said Ortt. “It strikes me that that’s what this was about. They didn’t have the guidelines last night.
“Going forward for Phase Three and Phase Four, let’s get those guidelines drafted now.”
Western New York, which includes Niagara, Erie, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, and Allegany Counties, is not eligible to enter Phase Two until Tuesday at the earliest. That will mark two weeks since the region entered Phase One.
“The guidelines are set forth now for Phase Two reopening,” said A.J. Baynes, President and CEO of the Amherst Chamber of Commerce. “So all of it is now in place. We have a couple of extra days to make sure that our businesses are taking the appropriate steps and actions.”
In preparation for Phase Two, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz tweeted that the county will provide licensed barbers and stylists with a face shield and other PPE so they are prepared to open up.
Eastern Hills Mall in Clarence was planning on opening up Tuesday, according to a message on its website. However, the guidance on the state’s “Phase Two” webpage indicated malls are to remain closed, except for stores with external entrances. By Friday afternoon, the message saying Eastern Hills would open Tuesday had been removed.
“(W)e are going to adjust our opening information with limited stores, curbside pickup and parking lot sales,” Eastern Hills General Manager Russell Fulton told News 4 in an email.
Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter and anchor who started working at WIVB in 2017. A Lancaster native, he came to Buffalo after working at stations in Rochester and Watertown. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.