Phase 4 is a ‘go’ with limitations

Several people wait outside Marshalls in Batavia during the store’s reopening. The Phase 4 reopening will likely be a gradual process.

ROCHESTER — Museums, gardens and outdoor entertainment are “in.”

Theaters, gyms, shopping malls and casinos? Eventually, but not now.

The Finger Lakes Region has met all metrics to advance to Phase 4 of the state’s reopening on Friday. But it will be limited in scope.

“I know people are waiting for those,” said former Lt. Gov Bob Duffy on Tuesday. “We get that. We get requests everyday ... Those areas will all open in Phase 4 but it’s just that there’s no certain date. There’s more work being done on those.”

Phase 4 is the last stage of the state’s reopening as it emerges from the statewide “pause.” It includes entertainment and fitness venues, along with large gatherings and events.

The area’s numbers are excellent in terms of COVID-19 hospitalizations in infection rates, Duffy said, crediting the people who have abided by state guidelines even though they may not like them.

State officials are currently examining the data for event venues and places of worship, he said. There has been no announcement, but they’re looking for way to expand the allowable group sizes further.

It’s a deliberate and careful process as coronavirus cases increase elsewhere.

“A lot of it is areas like bars, clubs, concerts, outdoor venues, even houses of worship,” Duffy said. “Singing, dancing, talking, close proximity. It’s the close transference of air which seems to have been most problematic in these areas ... The state is trying to be very methodical with this. The last thing we want to do is open, and then back off and close.”

When Phase 4 begins there will be no Phase 5, he said. So the process could last months, based on the situation and region.

“If we let our guards down, if we go back to how things were in February, we’ll be back (at the crisis level) pretty soon,” Duffy said. “Looking at other states and the infection rates going up, it just shows that if people relax and think we’re back to normal, this virus really is relentless.”

In the states where infection rates are increasing, officials tried to make the right decision, but might have opened early and numbers are skyrocketing, he said. It’s understood that people have been locked up a long time, but people still need to be very careful.

But the start of Phase 4 is still great news, Duffy said. He’s asking people to be patient for the places still awaiting reopening.

Asked about gyms, he said they can and will reopen, but not on the first day. What can’t be predicted is people who will avoid public places in the coronavirus aftermath.

“Is it working for every business?” Duffy said. “No, I can’t say that. Some businesses have been much more impacted by others, and when the do come back, I hope they come back strong. But we do not want to go backwards, and again, we’re on-point right now. I’m proud of this region.”

Guidelines for education reopenings are being discussed statewide, he said.

“Be it far from me to say they will open on time in September,” Duffy said. “I can’t predict that. But I do think that is the intent for the fall.”

The plans developed by schools and colleges would still need approval, he said, noting that higher education is one of the region’s biggest economic drivers. He expects a full opening of the region at some point, but he decision will ultimately goes back to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his team.

Duffy, who’s now the president and CEO of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, was appointed last month by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to help guide the Finger Lakes region’s reopening. The area includes Genesee, Orleans, Wyoming and Livingston counties.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1