SARATOGA SPRINGS — A continued adherence to social distancing and face-covering guidelines have reduced the COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rate significantly across the Capital Region during the past few weeks, and as such, businesses in the Spa City and the surrounding communities are preparing to potentially enter the Phase 2 reopening of their establishments next week.
“It’s working,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this week, referring to New Yorkers across the state reducing the curve of the virus infection.
Cuomo’s NY Pause order went into effect March 22, and the city of Saratoga Springs and the greater Capital District Region were cleared by the state to begin the phase 1 re-opening of the local economy beginning Wednesday, May 20.
There are four reopening phases in all, and an up-to 14-day incubation period between phases to ensure that infection rates and hospitalizations are maintained at a manageable level.
And while the state has yet to release Phase 2 reopening guideline, or give the OK to cycle into the next phase, there is a general belief that that the region will meet the metrics required and be able to reopen for Phase 2 at the expiration of the 14-day incubation period on Wednesday, June 3.
Phase Two reopening allows for the following: Professional Services (including hair salons and stylists among them); Retail; Administrative Support; Real Estate / Rental & Leasing. Social distancing, face coverings and limited occupancy requirements will remain in place.
WHAT IS REQUIRED OF BUSINESSES
Every business is required to develop a written safety plan outlining how its workplace will prevent the spread of COVID-19. Businesses may develop their own safety plan or use the template below provided by the state. To download that state created Safety Plan Template, go to: governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/NYS_BusinessReopeningSafetyPlanTemplate.pdf.
A copy of the plan must be retained on business premises at all times and be made available to the NYS Department of Health (DOH) or local health or safety authorities in the event of an inspection.
One key factor in reducing the spread of the virus is, when discovering someone has been infected with the virus, tracing that person’s previously known whereabouts and with whom they had come into contact. According to the CDC, the goal is to trace and monitor contacts of infected people, notify them of their exposure and support the quarantine of contacts to prevent additional transmission.
“We’ve done that from day one in Saratoga County and that’s how we flatten the curve, how we were able to reopen, and how we’ll be able to stay open,” Cathy Medick, Department of Health Director of Patient Services said during a forum the county hosted May 27.
Additional questions were raised during the forum regarding the topic.
Q: How do big box stores like Walmart, Target, etc. Do tracing? Is that any different than small businesses?
A. Cathy Medick, Department of Health Director of Patient Services: “No. As far as their employees go, they have to keep track of all the employees that are on for a shift and it’s their responsibility to have it as part of their safety plan. We have worked with bigger businesses and places that have had positive cases. Many of them had used their security cameras or their Frequent Shopper cards to identify people who may have come into contact. We do realize it would be impossible to write down every single customer that comes into the store, so, that’s the main difference there.”
Q. How is our privacy protected, and what type of information is to be given to a contact tracer?
A. Medick: “Under Public Health Law, HIPPA is skewed a bit. As a Public Health entity, we have the right to collect information to protect the health of the greater public.”
Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus, a panelist at the forum, was also asked about the topic.
Q. What happens to a business owner if contact tracers track a cluster back to their business – and, what is the extent of that liability?
A. Todd Shimkus: “One of things businesses need to do as part of their safety plan is to figure out how they are going to manage contact tracing should somebody from the county show up at their business a day later, or at any point in time and say: ‘OK, you had a customer who was here three days ago, we need to make sure we notify you, your employees and anyone else who might have been here.’ So, every business as part of your plan, you have to have some way of recording who was in your store, your business or workplace every day, so in case there is contact tracing going forward you can contact those people who were there. It’s part of your responsibility as part of your safety plan.
“The second is liability. This is a much bigger challenge. The liability provisions in terms of insurance and the law do not cover COVID-19.
“That means you at the very least, have to comply with the existing law which goes back to having a safety plan. Making sure that safety plan uses all the right protocols: that your employees are following it, that your customers are following it, so that you don’t have any issues that cause you liability concerns.”
The NYS Forward Safety Plan Template regarding the issue, directs that customers may be “encouraged” to provide their information, but are “not mandated to do so.”
That specific segment reads: “Maintain a continuous log of every person, including workers and visitors, who may have close contact with other individuals at the work site or area; excluding deliveries that are performed with appropriate PPE or through contactless means; excluding customers, who may be encouraged to provide contact information to be logged but are not mandated to do so.”
Additionally, “Which employee(s) will be in charge of maintaining a log of each person that enters the site (excluding customers and deliveries that are performed with appropriate PPE or through contactless means), and where will the log be kept?”
Again, while a Safety Plan is required, the state informs that a business may use the NYS Forward Safety Plan Template to fulfill the requirement, or may develop its own Safety Plan.
An official announcement regarding the OK for the second phase of reopening is anticipated soon, as Friday marks 14 days since a handful of regions in the state began phase one. And in what may ease any confusion, the state is also expected to release detailed updates regarding Phase Two plans. For the most current update, go to: forward.ny.gov.