ALBANY — When it comes time to open up the Capital District, businesses will need to sign an agreement to follow rules and regulations to keep COVID-19 under check and the monitoring of infection rates and deaths will take place on a daily basis.
Employers will have to supply masks and have to disinfect areas that are touched frequently, according to the plan released on Saturday. Workers who can should still work at home and a four-day work week and/or staggered shifts should be considered.
Under the plan, restaurants, which will come in Phase II, two weeks after Phase I begins, will have to cut capacity by 50 percent and there will not be salad bars, buffets or publicly accessible beverage fountains. Employees cannot gather at break time or for lunch without a mask or maintaining social distancing protocols.
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There will be a portal for business owners to gain access to information on grants and loans, get guidance on regulations and protocols and to report any problems they may encounter.
Hospitals will need to maintain a 30-day supply of Personal Protection Equipment and will need to maintain 30 percent of available general beds and ICU beds for COVID-19 patients.
“It is about opening safely for the residents and making sure the safety and welfare of our residents and our employees are first and foremost,” said Albany County Executive Dan McCoy. “If our matrix goes the other way, we will close down.”
While the protocols are handed down by the state as per Center for Disease Control guidelines, Enforcement of new regulations will fall to the local authorities.
Testing and contact tracing will continue in earnest at mobile sites, doctor’s offices, drug stores and hospitals across the Capital District.
When the eight-county Capital District — Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga, Rensselaer, Columbia, Greene, Washington and Warren — can begin Phase I is still up in the air because of discrepancies on the number of hospitalizations and whether or not infections and deaths in nursing homes should be counted along with the general population.
The plan, though, was signed off all the counties with the exception of Saratoga, McCoy said. It was submitted to the Control Room for review and then handed up to the state.
The Capital District met six of the seven parameters outlined by the state and then lost one, a required decline in the number of hospitalizations over a 14-day period or a three-day average of less than 15 new hospitalizations over the same time frame. It also falls short on a 14-day decline in hospital deaths or a three-day average of fewer than five deaths over the same two-week time frame.
“We went to the health departments and hospitals and we feel the numbers are wrong and we submitted it [to the state] on Friday,” McCoy said. “The state is taking information from 62 counties and hospitals so I get the difficulties but the problem is St. Peters and Albany Med are regional hospitals and they [the state] are not taking the time to trace where all these people come from.”
For example, he said, on May 8 there were 60 residents from the Capital District hospitalized according to the local authorities but since the state just looks at raw numbers and it counted 98 patients.
He also said 60 percent of the counties 68 fatalities came from nursing homes. Since they are isolated and the most vulnerable to the most serious consequence of COVID-19 they should be counted separately said McCoy and other local leaders.
“We made our point but we have to play on their field and their guidelines,” he said.
It remains unclear now that the Capital District met a metrics and then fell short whether it will have to re-start the two-week period or not.
McCoy and other county leaders have been told they do not have to wait two weeks to re-examine the issue and can join five other areas of the state as soon as the seven metrics are met. The state officially lifted the “on pause” order on May 15 for the regions that do meet all seven parameters.
Meanwhile, the 68th county resident died from Friday to Saturday, a woman in her 90s with multiple underlying health issues.
All but two of the 68 were older than 60 and all but one had underlying health issues.
As of Saturday, there were 1,451 positive cases in Albany County with 957 who have recovered. More than 400 of the cases are related to nursing homes.
“We hit our apex and we are going the other way but you have to remember we are testing more aggressively than anywhere in upstate New York so I am happy the number is not spiking,” McCoy said.