Tompkins County is developing a framework to reopen its departmental operations, currently called the Reconstitution of Operation Plans (ROOP), which the county said would consist of a reopening for staff and clients.
To be clear, this does not signify a full-fledged reopening of businesses or other non-essential places, though Gov. Cuomo did announce on Monday that a gradual re-opening can take place on May 15. Factors the county will consider in its plans to re-open will be: staffing considerations, employee engagement, facility considerations, office operations and field operations.
The ROOP will also serve as a template of sorts for businesses to follow as they plan to re-open in accordance with the ongoing guidelines from New York State, which will hopefully continue to lessen as time goes on and the outbreak dissipates. The health department is working with the county, as well as the planning team of the Emergency Operations Center on the ROOP.
“Our departments and staff have been extremely flexible over the past few months as we worked to shift operations under our continuity of operations planning. We followed a similar process in developing this reconstitution plan.” said Jay Franklin, Tompkins County Assessment Director and Planning Chief of the Emergency Operations Center. He continued, “We are happy to share this framework so that businesses and organizations can have a point of reference as they begin to make their own operational plans. We recognize it is designed for our organization’s structure, but believe the concepts are transferable to most situations.”
Frank Kruppa, Tompkins County Public Health Director shared “It’s important that everyone stays vigilant and plans carefully for reopening, following guidelines and requirements from New York State. Public health is our top priority, and this plan was created with that in mind.” Kruppa continued. “Considering density reduction, social distancing, face coverings, and hygiene will be necessary to ensure the safety of our staff and the people we serve. Even as we consider reopening, we can’t become complacent.”
Kruppa named those four tenets as the main priorities for businesses going forward. How to move beyond the first phase isn’t quite clear right now, though it will likely take a significant amount of time and show further positive trends in terms of keeping infection spread down.
“I would imagine that would also include state approval to move forward,” Tompkins County Administrator Jason Molino said. “One would suggest that a two week measurement period would be fairly reasonable.”
Kruppa said employers can use screening questions instead of a thermometer, if they are unable to get their hands on such equipment. Kruppa added that businesses can consult with the Health Department website about receiving personal protective equipment, and the Tompkins Chamber of Commerce has maintained a list of where protective gear can be found.
“Social distancing is with us for a while, as long as we’re still waiting for a vaccine and treatments,” Kruppa said. “While we’re entering this first phase and future phases, that social distancing is going to be core to every step that we take. As much as we can keep six feet between us, and when not we’re wearing cloth facemasks, we can move through the phases and hopefully keep COVID-19 at bay.”
There’s still a lot of murkiness around the immediate future and what shape it will take, particularly in terms of directives from the state. Molino said himself that there were still questions about several of the state’s guidelines regarding re-opening that will hopefully become clear this week.
Molino said, as the county currently understands it, New York State will be establishing a website that will provide some clarity on certain details of the path forward, such as which businesses or industries would be included in more advanced phases of re-openings. There will also be ways for businesses to submit their re-opening plans to the state that will be conducted online, but those plans will not be approved or certified by Tompkins County.
“They will be defining it a lot more,” Molino said. “I would expect this week you’re going to see a lot more definitive answers in terms of what will be included in Phase One and Phase Two and so on.”
The overarching theme of the messaging from the county on Monday was that although a reopening is beginning, there will need to be strict adherence to the guidelines that are still in place, like the four priorities Kruppa laid out, to keep on a path to an outbreak-free future.
“The steps that you take before you have a case will help limit the impact if you do,” Kruppa said. “We can put in all the precautions we want, but the thing that’s going to have the biggest impact is if you’re sick, you have symptoms, stay home and get tested. Isolate yourself from others. All the precautions will be for naught if we have sick folks in our workforce.”
Molino said there haven’t been many issues with businesses complying with the governor’s executive orders for non-essential businesses to close, even with social media rumors revving up as another week of quarantine begins. If a business was to open before it was approved to do so, Molino was vague regarding what the recourse would be.
“The first approach has been education,” Molino said. “The expectation now is that businesses will have reopening plans that we can review with them. For the most part, we’ve had good compliance [...] It points to a bigger aspect, which is that everyone has a personal responsibility to take ownership over this.”
To conclude, Kruppa repeated what promises to continue to be the most important, and likely oft-repeated, mantra over the next several weeks and months, and hopefully not longer.
“If you’re sick, stay home,” Kruppa said.