As projected, Long Island began the Phase One reopening of its battered economy on Wednesday, paving the way for construction and wholesale trade companies to restart operations, along with retailers for curbside pickup only.
David Perez, assistant manager of the Costello’s ACE Hardware in Baldwin, said that the business has remained open for the last couple of months, but with adjusted business hours and additional services, including free delivery and curbside pickup and dropoff.
“People are able to come in as long as there’s masks,” he said. “If it gets too crowded, we start lines outside.”
The store adheres to safety guidelines, such as employees wearing protective gear and practicing social distancing. Plexiglas was installed as a barrier between customers and employees, and lines on the floor mark six feet between people.
Business has skyrocketed, Perez said, but it has been tough on employees at times. Some patrons stand too close to the employees, disrespecting the social-distancing guidelines, he explained, and sometimes the store is short-staffed.
But while other businesses have reduced their staff, Costello’s ACE Hardware has hired new employees.
“There was a pretty critical point where everybody was gone from the store, scared of coronavirus,” he said of former workers, “and essentially, we were able to build another team.”
Perez himself began working for the store only a couple of months before the Covid-19 crisis began, and now works 52 hours a week. The Costello family dropped in to the store to help out in hands-on ways, he added.
“We’re doing pretty good at this point,” Perez said. “We got a little bit of structure back.”
Perez also encouraged shoppers to buy locally and support the community.
“Thank God our elected officials are finally opening up our starving businesses,” said Erik Mahler, Baldwin Chamber of Commerce president.
The reopening of the Long Island economy will play out by region in three distinct phases hereafter:
Phase Two: Professional services, finance and insurance, retail, administrative support, and real estate, rental and leasing.
Phase Three: Restaurants and food services, beyond takeout and delivery.
Phase Four: Arts, entertainment and recreation, and education.
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.
Governor Cuomo rang the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange Tuesday, the first day the trading floor has been open in two months because of the coronavirus pandemic. The symbolic gesture came on the same day the Mid-Hudson Valley started Phase One reopening of its economy, and only one day before Long Island was to begin the first phase.
As of May 24, Long Island had still not met two of the seven criteria to start Phase One; it had not seen a 14-day decline in hospital deaths, and it did not have a sufficient number of contract tracers in place to identify Covid-19 hot spots and isolate them. As of May 26, it had seen the necessary drop in deaths, and was bringing the last of the required contact tracers on board, enabling the Island to reopen May 27, according to the governor.
"As more regions of the state begin reopening," Cuomo tweeted Tuesday, "we are carefully monitoring health data to make sure that everything is going in the reight direction. We rely on science and data to guide us — not emotion or politics."
Only New York City remains to start Phase One among the state's 10 regions. It was unclear, however, when the city would be able to begin. As of May 24, it had met four of the seven criteria. It did not have enough available hospital beds and intensive care beds, and needed more contact tracers.
Also of concern, the governor said, New York City was still seeing especially high Covid-19 infection rates in minority neighborhoods — at times as high has 40 percent, compared to the city-wide average of 20 percent.
To prepare for Phase One reopening, the governor said over the Memorial Day weekend, the Long Island Rail Road was sanitizing its trains and adding cars to them to enable riders to spread out more. A Herald tour of South Shore LIRR stations during rush hour last Thursday found only a handful of riders at any one station.
Cuomo emphasized that personal behavior will determine the success — or failure — of the reopening process. "The trajectory," he said Tuesday, "is decided by people."
He repeated that people should:
Wear masks in public spaces.
Wash hands frequently.
Maintain social distance.
"We want [the] economy to come roaring back," he said.