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Phase I greeted with caution and confusion

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Select businesses in Seaford and Wantagh finally reopened on May 27, more than two months after they locked their doors, as the region encompassing Nassau and Suffolk counties cleared the final hurdles that had kept them shuttered.

With hospital mortality rates low enough and the number of contact tracers high enough under the seven-point criteria set by New York and its neighboring states, businesses ranging from florists to sporting goods to landscaping have been allowed to reopen under certain conditions.

D’Angelo’s Sporting Goods, in Wantagh, remained closed, due to confusion about what was allowed and what wasn’t. “I don’t now if I can have customers in the store or if it’s curbside pick-up only,” co-owner Mike D’Angelo said. “It’s very confusing.”

D’Angelo said his store would remain closed to retail customers for the time being. “We’ll probably open up in a couple of weeks,” once he and his wife and co-owner Christine can ensure that doing so complies with state regulations.

D’Angelos specializes in darts, pool cues and pool supplies, and baseball cards and accessories.

Little Shop of Flowers, also in Wantagh, is open for curbside business — “strictly no-touch,” according to Bob, who declined to give his last name.

When asked to sum up the impact of he quarantine on his business, he said simply that it had been “horrible.”

With Long Island’s opening, only New York City remains under strict quarantine. But any region that fails to maintain the standards set by the state will be locked down again, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in announcing the openings.

Nevertheless, optimism was tempered with caution. While Seaford Chamber of Commerce President Nick Bilotta believed “we’re going to bounce back better than what everyone thought,” others warned that the opening could cause a rise in contagion, as people abandoned masks and social distancing.

Some expressed concern as well at the high levels of unemployment and the inevitable business closures. Ele Ruth Melendez, the director of St. Frances de Chantal Catholic Church’s large, well-stocked emergency pantry in Wantagh, cautioned that “we’re going to see more need now than we ever saw before.”

Melendez’s pantry had adequate supplies of most basics. But she was concerned about the possible impact an end to rent and utility moratoriums would have. “When those programs expire, people who’ve lost their jobs and haven’t been able to pay their rent are going to be in real trouble,” she said. “They’ll not only owe next month’s rent; they’ll owe all their back rent, too.”

Utility companies have been granting their customers respite from disconnections, too, but only until July 1, one PSEG employee explained

Even normally upbeat Bilotta sounded a note of concern. “In terms of business, I don’t know if it will ever go back to the way it used to be,” he said. “Maybe not life as we used to have, but maybe find something we can call a new normal.

“As more regions of the state begin reopening,” Cuomo tweeted on May 26, as businesses prepared to open. “We are carefully monitoring health data to make sure that everything is going in the right direction. We rely on science and data to guide us — not emotion or politics.”

If the number of deaths, hospitalizations and new Covid-19 cases remains stable or declines for two weeks, a region can move on to the next phase of reopening.