WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWTI) – City of Watertown Mayor Jeff Smith penned a letter today to Governor Cuomo, urging him to safely and responsibly open local businesses before the start of his “Phase One” reopening on May 15.
Mayor Smith has launched an online petition in support of safely reopening the region’s economy and is encouraging those who sign it to share it on social media with the hashtag #UpstateCantWait.
“Every day, I hear from people who have worked their whole lives to build successful small businesses, only to have them destroyed due to Upstate New York being held to the same standards of the New York City area, which is the epicenter of the Coronavirus outbreak in the United States,” said Mayor Smith in his letter. “These men and women want and need to safely and responsibly get back to work.”
In his letter, Smith noted that before reopening, businesses would need to have guidelines in place to protect the workforce and customers from any potential spread of COVID-19.
The following is a copy of Mayor Smith’s letter:
May 4, 2020
The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Albany, NY 12225
Dear Governor Cuomo:
I write you again regarding reopening of the North Country. At the time of my writing this letter, Jefferson County has a total of seven active COVID-19 cases out of a population of nearly 110,000. We have had a total of 61 COVID-19 cases, no intubations and no deaths. Nearby, Lewis County has had a total of 11 cases, 9 who have recovered and no deaths. In contrast, according to the New York State Department of Health, there are currently 255 flu cases in Jefferson County and 40 flu cases in Lewis County.
Despite these low numbers, nearly all of our local businesses remain shuttered and residents, a majority of whom have yet to see any of the unemployment benefits that they’ve tried endlessly to apply for, continue to be out of work. Simply put, our economy and the residents’ livelihoods are being destroyed by your shutdown orders.
For example, in historic Downtown Watertown this past week, at least two businesses that believed they were operating under “essential business” designation were ordered to shut down portions of their operations. Meanwhile, just miles away, larger stores like Walmart, Target and Sam’s Club are permitted to be fully open. These smaller local stores, which have a lower customer flow, are selling many of the same types of goods as the large stores. Ironically, they are being told they have to limit what they are selling, or are prevented from opening at all.
Unlike the New York City/Long Island region that has been consumed by a severe outbreak of COVID-19 cases, Jefferson County and our region as a whole have not experienced the same, horrible devastation. As mentioned above, we continue to see very low numbers of cases. Our hospitals are empty and stand ready to assist should an outbreak in fact occur. The people and businesses of our region understand the importance of taking precautions to protect against the spread of COVID-19, as demonstrated by the low number of cases locally.
As such, there are many businesses and services that can safely and responsibly open immediately with reasonable accommodations that would prevent the spread of illness (for example, the use of PPE, social distancing and occupancy restrictions) including:
- Places of worship
- Retail stores
- Salons and barbershops
- The New York State Zoo at Thompson Park
- Car dealerships
- Construction and manufacturing businesses, as outlined in “Phase One” of your reopening plan
I would also like to note that residents and businesses are concerned over the fact that the North Country region does not have someone appointed by your administration to oversee, direct or coordinate a reopening of our economy. I am aware that a “New York Forward Re-Opening Advisory Board” was created. The aim of this group is laudable; however, I would be remiss if I did not express frustration over the fact that it only includes one person from our region. I urge you to include in this group representatives of North Country small businesses who have felt firsthand the financial impact of this virus and representatives of Fort Drum, which as you know is our state’s largest single-site employer.
Every day, I hear from people who have worked their entire lives to build successful small businesses, only to have them destroyed due to Upstate New York being held to the same standards as the New York City area, which is the epicenter of the Coronavirus outbreak in the United States. These men and women want and need to safely and responsibly get back to work. As such, I am respectfully requesting the above-mentioned businesses be permitted to open immediately, so long as they have accommodations in place to prevent any spread of disease. Thank you in advance for your consideration. Time is of the essence, and I look forward to hearing back from your office soon.
Mayor of Watertown