Well, it’s finally here: Phase 1 of the NY Forward reopening plan has arrived, with the seven metrics required for the state’s Long Island region to move into Phase 1 now met.
So what happens now?
Well, for starters, Phase 1 allows for manufacturing, construction, curbside or in-store pickup for retail, wholesale trade and agriculture. That is welcome news on the North Fork, where large cracks in social distancing rules arrived with the warmer weather and crowds appeared in Greenport Village and on beaches in Southold and Riverhead.
No date set has been set for Phase 2 to begin. When it does, retail businesses will be able to open up fully, and professional services, administrative support and real estate can resume. Restaurants like those in downtown Riverhead and Greenport Village are listed as part of the Phase 3 reopening. With that, we will learn how many customers can go inside a restaurant to maintain social distancing requirements.
“It was never a question of reopen or not reopen,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday. “The answer was always reopen. The question was always how smart are you on the reopening? How intelligent are you on the reopening?”
What will not change are requirements to wear masks and maintain social distancing. On Friday, the governor said there had been 68 deaths from COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours — a low figure compared to previous weeks, yes, but still a large loss of life in one day.
The long shutdown that arrived with COVID-19 has crippled businesses in both towns and raised questions about what will emerge on the other side of this pandemic. It is a very safe bet that dozens of small and medium-sized businesses will not survive. Others will find ways to reinvent themselves and emerge with a new business plan to accommodate the new normal.
We have tried to address these questions in our podcast, “The Reopen,” which we hope you are listening to. Businesses in both Riverhead and Southold face existential questions about their futures. With Phase 1 now underway, we are in a critical time for our small businesses.
It is already clear that many who visit our towns are not following the social distancing or mask-wearing rules. Check out the Southold police blotter in The Suffolk Times, where police were called to a business in Mattituck after a man called a woman a “b—-” when she asked him to put on a mask. Unfortunately, he got away before they arrived.
You’ll also read in our papers about large crowds on our beaches, including county-owned beaches, where people — many from the city, according to police reports — who came to fish left their garbage on the beach and even defecated on our beaches. To say nearby homeowners are horrified would be an understatement. We should all be horrified. This has to stop.
In just Southold last weekend, police wrote nearly 400 summonses for a wide range of violations on our beaches. Riverhead police also reported crowds at that town’s beaches.
The shutdown from the pandemic has been extremely difficult, but these kinds of violations are beyond unacceptable. Violators must be prosecuted.
To anyone who wants to visit North Fork towns, here is a short list of rules to follow: Don’t come if you don’t have a local parking sticker for the beaches; don’t leave your garbage behind; and if you think it’s OK to use our beaches, bluffs, woodlands and salt marshes as public toilets, please, definitely, stay away. We don’t want you.