TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. –– Tompkins County officials over the weekend announced their internal plan to re-open departments, a plan they say will be made available to the public as a template for how to safely re-open as the region prepares for the expiration of ‘NYS on PAUSE’ on Friday.

On Monday night, a panel from the Tompkins County Health Department took questions submitted by the public during a virtual Q&A. The panel, which included Tompkins County Assessment Director and EOC Planning Section Chief Jay Franklin, Tompkins County Public Health Director Frank Kruppa and Tompkins County Administrator Jason Molino, answered questions from Emergency Operations Center Coordinator Aime Hendrix.

The governor announced earlier on Monday that the Southern Tier could begin phase one of re-opening as soon as this weekend, and public questions focused heavily on the specifics of what they will look like locally.

Administrator Molino said that a lot of things are uncertain, and much of the information on re-opening will be handed down from the Governor’s office in the coming days, and weeks. Molino was named to the regional control board by the governor, tasked with monitoring COVID-19 in the Southern Tier.

“There is new guidance every day moving forward,” Molino said.

To stay up to date as new information comes out, the Tompkins County Health Department has set up a new page on their website, giving updates and guidance as it comes in.

Reopening business

Under phase one of re-opening, some businesses deemed low-risk by the state will be allowed to begin limited operations. Retail operations that were not already classified as essential may begin conducting business via curbside or in-store drop-off and pick-up. Landscaping and gardening businesses may begin operations and drive-in movie theaters can open.

As the Southern Tier Region approaches this first phase, all businesses will be required to start creating re-opening plans.

“This is not going to be monitored or approved by the county, but rather businesses in the state will be required to go online to a state portal and attest that they have created a plan in accordance with state guidance,” Molino said.

According to the governor’s office, plans need to consider three main factors.

The first factor is protections for employees and customers including possible adjustments to workplace hours and shift design to reduce density in the workplace; enacting social distancing protocols, and restricting non-essential travel for employees.

The second is changes to the physical workspace, including requiring all employees and customers to wear masks if in frequent close contact with others and implementing strict cleaning and sanitation standards.

The third factor for businesses to consider is implementing processes that meet public health obligations, like screening individuals when they enter the workplace, or reporting confirmed positives to customers.

Molino said everyone has personal responsibility in creating and implementing their plans to make re-opening successful.

“In order to get through this without a resurgence so that more folks aren’t hurt by it…the personal responsibility piece is the most important takeaway,” he said.

As a framework for local businesses developing plans, Tompkins County has made available their departments’ Reconstitution of Operation Plans (ROOP). The framework was developed by the planning team of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in consultation with the Tompkins County Public Health Department.

As for moving to phase two, Molino said that process has not yet been made clear by the state. He said it seems likely that if a region maintains the seven metrics that have been identified, and there are no significant increases in positive cases, hospitalizations or ICU admissions, it’s likely the region would then be allowed to move into phase 2.

“The whole point of monitoring those metrics is to ensure that by going into one phase, we aren’t triggering a negative impact from a public health perspective,” Molino said.

And as people return to work, child care will become increasingly important –– a topic the panel covered in their Q&A. Public Health Director Kruppa said in coming weeks, child care agencies across Tompkins will develop their reopening plans with assistance from the county.

“We’ve been working with child care centers since the beginning of our COVID-19 response and we’re working with them to develop plans for reopening and how they might protect their staff and their children and much of it centers around similar things –– face masks, keeping group numbers under 10 and curbside drop-off for children,” he said.

Continued social distancing and future testing

As for what re-opening means for social distancing regulations, the panel made it clear that public health and safety precautions will not change anytime soon, and that the public should not take unnecessary risks for themselves or others.

“I think everyone is eager to want to reopen, there are definitely going to be changes to our lifestyle like the face coverings, like social distancing,” Administrator Molino said. “The sooner we can accept that and appreciate what it means for everyone the easier it will be for us to move into the reopening.”

Public Health Director Kruppa stressed that re-opening does not mean people should ignore guidance on gathering in groups.

“(This) really hasn’t changed our position on gatherings, we want to maintain less than 10 people but really what is important, is we want to maintain face coverings and social distancing…keep gatherings small and only when absolutely necessary,” Kruppa said.

Additionally, while approaching reopening and people begin to leave their homes in increased numbers, officials said it’s crucial that sick people need to stay home.

“As we begin to reopen it’s vitally important that we put all the precautions in place but also what is going to have the biggest impact if we’re sick is that we stay home and get tested,” Kruppa said.

To end the Question and Answer session, Jason Molino asked that the community continue to be understanding and adaptive.

“No one is as eager as us to ensure we reopen safely, get our economy back and start getting people back to work. I just ask that people be patient as we start to understand what type of direction the state gives down. When we get that information we will make sure to pass that on to the community,” he said.

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com