Q&A with Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz

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(WIVB) – You asked, and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz answered.

The county executive answered viewer questions about the end of NY Pause orders on News 4 at 5 on Monday.

Q.) How close is Erie County to reopening- is it possible it could happen by this Friday (May 15, the current expiration date of the NY Pause order in the state). If not Friday, how soon after that?

A.) We’re not there yet- I’d like to think we could open on May 15, but we’re two metrics short. They both have to do with hospitalizations. We have to see a decline in hospitalizations and deaths reported from hospitals on a two week average. We’ve met all the requirements we can do locally with the government, bringing in more contract tracers and doing more testing. It’s really in the hands of the public right now, if we can stop the further contraction of the coronavirus, we’ll be in much better shape. I think it’s important to realize that the government has done pretty much all they can- it’s in the hands of everyone else by following smart social distancing guidelines so we can continue to reduce the number of hospitalizations. I don’t know if we can make it on Friday, but I’m confident we can make it by June 1. I’m hoping- keeping my fingers crossed- that the numbers show we can open on May 15.

Q.) So many of us feel sorry for restaurant, bar and tavern owners- we know they’re in phase three of NY’s reopening plan, but how quickly could restaurants reopen in Erie County?

A.) Let’s assume the best case scenario happens- Phase 1 starts on May 15. There has to be a two-week period before the new phase, and there also has to be two weeks worth of data to show that we have not gone backwards. If we go backwards, one of two things will happen- we will not move forward to Phase 2, and we could go backward to Phase 1. So we don’t want to do that. The best case scenario is we open May 15 with Phase 1, things go well, then we’d had two weeks of data. Fifteen days after June 1, would move to Phase 2. If we do very well, then 15 days after that, the middle of June, we could theoretically move to Phase 3. [Restaurants and bars] would not open at full capacity- they would still have to be at a partial capacity. Every business that reopens in any phase has to have a plan in place to show how they will protect employees and patrons from further exposure.

The state is putting together- based on my request- a template so that businesses can check the box and know what they need to do. Before any business can open, they have to complete a plan, which, if an employee asked to get the plan, they’d have to show it to them. If they don’t have a plan, they can’t reopen. Bars and restaurants, theoretically, if everything went well, could be open by mid-June. If we don’t reopen for Phase 1 until June 1, we’re looking at July 1 for Phase 3, and even then it would be a partial reopening, not a complete opening. We would need to find a way to protect all of the employees and patrons.

Q.) How soon could summer camps open?

A.) I’ve had conversations with the governor’s staff including Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul on summer camps- they’re putting in place the protocols now. I don’t anticipate summer camps would be until Phase 3 or 4, but I do believe they will be open. They understand the necessity of summer camps being open, especially with parents returning to work, so it’s my understanding that New York State is putting the protocols in place. The local communities and departments of health would be responsible to ensure their compliance with the guidelines put in place.

Q.) When could hair salons and barbershops reopen?

A.) I was just on a conference call with Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul and other leaders- the state has not determined which phase salons and barbershops would be in. They said probably not Phase 4. Probably Phase 2 or 3, I don’t know yet. Pennsylvania has partially reopened, and they’ve announced that barbershops and beauty shops would be the last to open.

I also asked about churches, synagogues, mosques- the state has not determined when they can reopen. When they make the determination for places of worship and barbershops, they’ll announce it. That’s why you haven’t seen it yet- it’s the state that makes the determination. Hopefully they’ll give us the answer in the next two weeks.

Q.) What is the state of seasonal campgrounds?

A.) We’re working together with New York State, putting together a set of materials to provide campgrounds for those that have these seasonal locations with RVs. I announced we’re trying to get New York to approve it. New York State basically came back and said that campgrounds are nonessential but they’ve sort of been doing a “wink wink, nod nod” of allowing them in other places. So we’re working with the state- we have to put that set of protocols in place. I believe very soon, within the next day or so, we’re actually going to be able to announce that seasonal RV use at campgrounds can continue.

Now, tent camping, and people who rely on bathrooms probably will not be allowed. Anywhere you have congregate bathrooms and showers, those, to my knowledge, will be closed for the forseeable future.

Q.) When will the DMV open, and what should people do if they need DMV services?

A.) The DMV does have a drop-in service available and there is stuff that can be done online. If you go to the county’s website, they’re doing some drop-off services. Our goal in Erie County is to start opening up our offices that have been closed as phase one- although they’d be open at a portion of their full capacity. If there’s normally 20 clerks at a desk, there probably would be much less. We’re very soon hopefully going to be able to open portions of these offices. I recommend going to the DMV’s website.

Q.) Where do fitness facilities and gyms fall in the reopening phases?

A.) We’ve been under the assumption that they’re Phase 4 (recreation, entertainment). They may be moved up, but I don’t expect them to be under Phase 1 or Phase 2. Similar to beauty shops and barbershops, it hasn’t been announced yet, but what I’ve been gathering from conversations with state officials, because of their nature, different people coming in and touching machinery, they’re going to have to have very dedicated plans before they reopen to ensure the safety of their patrons and I believe the earliest they could be open is in Phase 3.

I’ve also been told that youth and adult sports is Phase 4, so we shouldn’t expect youth and adult sports to start until mid-June or early July at the earliest.

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