Counties want state to allow faster re-opening

Dutchess County will not be automatically grouped with hard-hit Rockland and Westchester counties as Gov. Andrew Cuomo implements a regional approach to reopening businesses, County Executive Marc Molinaro said on Thursday (April 30) as Putnam County officials called for the same consideration.

Cuomo announced on Sunday (April 26) a plan for a phased-in re-opening of businesses closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It could begin as early as May 15, when his current stay-at-home order expires.

Re-opening would be done using the state’s 10 Regional Economic Development Councils as a guide. Each region would need to demonstrate a 14-day decrease in COVID-19 hospitalizations and take other steps.

Dutchess and Putnam officials have expressed concern that they would have to wait longer to open because they are part of the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council, along with Orange, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster and Westchester counties.

In the Hudson Valley, per capita, Rockland has the most confirmed COVID-19 cases, at 35.8 per 1,000 residents, followed by Westchester (29.5), Orange (22.5), Dutchess (9.7), Putnam (9.5) and Ulster (7).

However, those figures closely follow the amount of testing: Westchester has tested 94 residents per 1,000, followed by Rockland (92.3), Orange (69.7), Dutchess (48.4), Ulster (43.4) and Putnam (39.5).

Molinaro said Dutchess has been working collectively with Orange and Ulster counties since the beginning of the pandemic and had lobbied to be grouped with them as the state uses data to make decisions, including about when and where restrictions should be eased.

He pointed to Cuomo’s announcement on Wednesday that Dutchess, Putnam, Sullivan and Ulster would be among 35 counties where hospitals would be allowed to resume elective procedures. Orange, Rockland and Westchester counties still have the restriction.

While the economic development councils represent “the basic framework” that the governor is using for reopening, “every day since announcing, he has made clear to us, privately and publicly, that Rockland and Westchester south is different than everything else north,” Molinaro said.

“If we’re making decisions based on data, and we ought to be, the data is significantly different [in Rockland and Westchester] and that has a lot to do with proximity to New York City and the dense nature of the population,” he said. “They’re going to have stricter restrictions longer.”

It’s that reality that has state Sen. Sue Serino and Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell also pushing to keep Putnam out of the group of “downstate” counties that must continue with stricter restrictions.

Serino, whose district includes the Highlands, said during a Tuesday (April 28) meeting of the Putnam County Business Council, held via Zoom, that “Putnam and Dutchess are in with the lower percentage as far as COVID [cases], so if you let science lead the way, like they should, we should not be lumped in with the other districts.”

Both she and Odell have been lobbying for a speedy reopening of businesses in Putnam County.

“We’ve got to get people back to work,” said Odell. “It’s not only about the business owner, it’s about the employees.”

Cuomo said that construction and manufacturing businesses would be the first allowed to open. Next would be businesses considered “more essential” with low risks of spreading infection within the workplace or to customers, followed by those deemed “less essential” or those that present a higher risk of spreading infection.

Each business that reopens must have a plan to protect its employees and consumers, and follow federal guidelines for protecting public health, the governor said. Also, regions must not open attractions or businesses that would draw a large number of visitors from outside the local area.

Odell said she’d like to initially focus on construction workers, including home improvement contractors and various other trades workers. “We have to push, push, push Albany to allow those individuals to get back to work,” she said.

Serino noted that roofers, surveyors and road maintenance crews can work outside, where it is easier to maintain social distancing. “Now’s the time they should be paving the road,” she said.

In the second phase, Odell said she’d like to see Main Street businesses be allowed to reopen. “There’s no reason they can’t open as long as they are following the proper guidance, like our grocery stores are following and our liquor stores are following,” she said.

While in-seat dining at restaurants will likely be part of a third phase, Odell said these establishments will probably only be able to operate at about 20 percent to 50 percent capacity. “We’re probably going to have to come up with some more innovative and creative ways to assist them with their takeout services and home delivery to keep them up and running,” she said.

Odell said that due to the prolonged shutdown, the county is expecting a $7 million to $10 million short-fall in sales tax revenue. “That’s a big hit,” she said. Dutchess County is also expecting a reduction of sales tax revenue, of between 10 percent and 25 percent, or $19 million to $40 million, Molinaro said.

While officials in Westchester County have discussed allowing residents to defer property tax payments, or reducing the interest charged on late payments, Odell said Putnam is not in a position to do that, citing contractual obligations to employees and vendors. “We cannot at this point in time have that conversation,” she said.

Serino said businesses should start planning their safety models so that, once the governor gives them the green light, they are ready to re-open.

State Assemblyman Kevin Byrne, whose district includes eastern Putnam, and who was also at the Tuesday meeting, said that when people again start venturing out, everyone will need to maintain best practices for public health.

“We’re not talking about going back to what we were living in October or November,” he said. “There are tons of folks who have underlying health issues that are still at risk. We can do this responsibly and safely. We’re not New York City; we don’t have the same limitations that New York City does.”

Holly Crocco contributed reporting.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

The Peekskill resident is a former reporter for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, where he covered Sullivan County and later Newburgh. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Morgan State University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Area of Expertise: General.

14 replies on “Dutchess, Putnam: Keep Us Out of It”

  1. Here’s a question: if half the COVID-19 deaths were in Montana, would they have locked down New York State? Obviously there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for a state as large and diverse as ours.

    The truth is that Putnam and Dutchess are not even in the same universe as Downstate NY, which is comprised of NYC, Westchester, Rockland and Nassau, and which collectively has a population of over 12 million people.

    Downstate NY has been so heavily impacted by COVID-19 that its numbers skews the U.S. when compared with the rest of the world. If you separate the number of Downstate COVID fatalities from the rest of the U.S., we would not even be in the top 10 anymore (Johns Hopkins University, Center for Systems, Science and Engineering).

    Be that as it may, our Main Street businesses in Cold Spring and Beacon have been knocked out by the crisis and the ensuing Lock Down, such that many of them will not be re-opening when and if we are ever allowed to.

    What sense does it make to allow people to shop in Walmart, Shop Rite, Foodtown, CVS and the big box stores while the little Mom-and-Pop boutiques have to keep their doors shut? Why is it OK to buy wine, booze and lottery tickets but not clothes or handbags or jewelry?

    Does the virus have a genetic targeting mechanism that makes it able to differentiate between essential cans of vegetables, bottles of liquor, lottery tickets and non-essential products like sneakers and paint? This has gotten too absurd.

    Worst of all is the fact that we have been put under virtual house arrest with no end in sight. We have done everything that was asked of us including this horrible lockdown so that we would “flatten the curve” and not overwhelm our hospitals. We have lost our most basic liberties, freedom and civil rights based on “scientific” models that have proved to be wrong again and again.

    While I am glad that Odell, Serino, Molinaro and the rest of them are finally starting to get a grip, where were they when the Legislature voted to give Gov. Cuomo virtually unlimited power back in March of this year?

    Our leaders from the president on down to our county executives have been silent about the loss of our fundamental liberties and God-given rights while they go on and on about the economic disaster. If they had paid more attention to upholding their oath to defend the Constitution, we would not be in this predicament.

    It is time to re-open New York and let the chips fall where they may. The “cure” is so much worse than the disease ever was.

  2. Everyone wants to get our businesses re-opened as soon as possible. But the members of the Putnam County Business Council, with their businesses and livelihoods at stake, must surely want to see their businesses open to stay open, not to be closed down again in a couple of weeks when the infection rate spikes. The way we do that is by being prepared, with 30 percent vacancy of hospital and ICU beds, infection rate below 1.0 or perhaps 1.1, hospitalization rates declining for 14 days, and testing, tracing, isolation and PPE stockpiles in place.

    Are our elected leaders making a serious proposal to change this, or are they just pandering to our business leaders making good-sounding but empty and meaningless speeches? They claim to be “pushing to keep Putnam out of the group of ‘downstate’ counties” even though they know that there is no such group – are they asking to take Putnam and Dutchess our of the Mid Hudson Valley region and add it to the Capital region? Or will there be a new Putnam-and-Dutchess region, with our taxpayers burdened with the cost of building a monitoring center and building a corps or qualified testers and trackers?

    Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell wants Putnam to be associated with Dutchess, but Molinaro wants Dutchess to be associated with Orange and Ulster. Meanwhile, Orange is one of the counties not permitted to reopen hospitals to elective surgeries, so this plan seems ineffective and not thought through.

    Instead of grandstanding, our elected officials should try to accomplish something. For example, they could try monitoring and publicizing our infection rate, hospital vacancies, and trends in hospitalization, the numbers that will actually be used to decide when we can return to “normal.”

    1. I thank Dwight Arthur for a rational, unemotional and non-political comment on easing the virus restrictions. Certainly a gradual easing with controls on masks, distancing occupancy density and other measures will move us along on the path towards normalcy or a new normalcy. The train from New York City to Cold Spring needs to have some method of controlling numbers. Not an unsolvable problem. I think continued curbs on our freedom of movement would be more acceptable if our leadership could explain the rational behind the decision-making and the status of various medical statistics.

  3. I’m very happy Putnam has low numbers but we didn’t do the whole lot of testing. And I’m pretty sure bringing crowds from New York City will bring COVID-19 to Cold Spring.

    Not that there will be ships descending on Main Street anytime soon, but there will be increased traffic once the trails and businesses open. What infuriates me most is the fact that our household is running out of sanitizers and masks. That should be an absolute must for everyone, should we open for business. And yet, I can’t get that stuff anywhere. And if I can’t, I won’t patronize any businesses until there’s a vaccine. We have some masks from a friend in Hong Kong where everyone wears them every day. But the richest economy in the world cannot provide stupid Purell? That’s ridiculous, no? Beam me up, Scotty.

    By the way, I witnessed at least three construction/landscaping companies working in Cold Spring this past week. There were several workers on each site and not one of them wore masks or even tried to move away when I was passing.

  4. Slow it down, folks. Southern Dutchess has the next-highest number of positive cases after the city and town of Poughkeepsie. Why is the county number of reported deaths lower than the state’s for Dutchess? Is the county not counting the deaths in prisons and nursing homes? Serino, Molinaro and Odell need to back off. [via Facebook]

  5. The rule of thumb I like is: When hospitals start letting visitors in, I’ll think about leaving the curbside. [via Facebook]

  6. If it is OK for grocery and liquor stores to be open with safety guidelines, it should be the same for other businesses. Unfortunately, many businesses will not be able to hire everyone back due to the restrictions or be profitable enough to stay in business. A lot of information has become available since the beginning of this virus and I feel it is more about control than safety now. [via Facebook]

  7. Are flu deaths, dead-on-arrivals and other deaths being counted in COVID-19 numbers? I think yes. Open it up and let us back to work.

  8. Our experience in Greene County is that folks who travel to our amenities from harder-hit areas are more than willing to drive two hours to clean the shelves of toilet paper; bad at practicing the basic social-distancing and other health-related mandates; make most purchases from box stores, which does little to improve our local economy; and are unsettling to locals. All-in-all, a pretty negative experience. I would recommend not creating an attractive nuisance by offering services worth driving for. [via Facebook]

  9. We are a short train ride away from harder-hit areas and we have had virtually no testing. The ignorance of these legislators is stunning. If MaryEllen Odell loves her seniors so much, she should probably try not to kill them. [via Facebook]

  10. While it might seem trivial, the guidelines regarding the playing of golf in New York are an aspect to ponder. At county-owned golf courses, such as in Putnam County, players can use a cart as long as they don’t have passengers. At private courses, such as The Garrison, players must walk.

    In my view, this is discriminatory, especially for seniors, many of whom cannot walk a course, particularly in the rolling hills of Putnam. What is the rationale for this duality? To me, it smacks of the “let the governors” decide. Or perhaps it is to fill the coffers of the counties? Might the restaurant at the county-owned Tilly Foster Farm reopen before privately owned restaurants? I have made numerous inquiries to the folks supposedly in charge in Albany and get confused and stumbling responses.

    1. According to state guidelines, courses can be open but carts are only allowed if a golfer is disabled. However, courses owned by municipalities and counties are exempt from the rule.

  11. We’ve barely tested in Putnam. Our residents have resorted to seeking tests in neighboring counties. It takes weeks to get tests back when people go to sites out of county. We have no idea how widespread the virus is in Putnam. Odell, as ever she does, will lead us down a ruinous path. [via Facebook]

  12. Have all employees wear gloves and masks and everyone else wear masks. Have hand sanitizer available in all stores and businesses. This is not rocket science. Get us back to work and life before they kill the business economy for good.

    What I see is politicians got power hungry and now don’t want to give it up. They’re trampled all over our constitutional rights and they don’t have that power but we seem to be just letting them get away with it. You already see uprisings in some states. Do we want that to come here? I really don’t want us to get to a place of 1776 revisited. I’m too old and I’ve been to war and for those who think it’s a joke, think again. They think we’re little children who must be taken by the hand and led.

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