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Memorial Day weekend is first big test of reopening

MB Internal Studio / Old Navy

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul is continuing her push to have Western New York residents follow the rules and keep COVID-19 at bay.

If area residents can keep down the hospitalizations and deaths over the next week or so, that likely means the five-county region moves to Phase 2 of NY Forward, which involves reopening personal services businesses like barbers and hairdressers and an array of other businesses.

The lieutenant governor said she already has an appointment at a hair salon, hoping things fall into place. That requires people to do what they have been told will keep the virus away, the social distancing and the masks.

"Nearly 800 businesses that are eligible under Phase 1 to be operational have gone online, certified that they will follow all the necessary protocols to keep their employees and their customers, as well, keeping them safe," Hochul said. "So 800 businesses are now up and running and functioning, and we anticipate we will see that number increase as we get to Phase 2."

This weekend is a test of all of this, potentially with people going to the beach in large crowds or holding large parties or attending a church service beyond the limit of 10 people Albany wants.

"The last thing I want to deal with is a spike in infections that result from people being careless or not caring about their community," Hochul said. "My message has always been: If you want to see the economy reopen and society get back to normal, show it by wearing a mask. That is your statement that you are going to do your part to keep everyone safe in the deadly pandemic. This is not going away." 

Hochul made a special mention of religious congregations, saying they need to help a little longer and not inside.

"We're just trying to the best that we can and I really call on the faith-based community to adhere to the rules, but go ahead and have a parking lot gathering, have people stay in their cars or have outdoor services," she said, "but that instant congregation where people are touching surfaces and touching handles, it just increases the risks and a lot of the church-going of our community tend to be an older population and they're the ones  that are most vulnerable. Do you think you can protect them?"

There have already been some larger services and a recent service at the Transit Drive-in, with congregation members in their cars.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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