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Duffy appointed to coordinate post-pandemic reopening in Finger Lakes region

Robert J. Duffy

Robert J. Duffy

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo appointed Bob Duffy, head of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce and a former lieutenant governor under Cuomo, to coordinate public health and reopening of the economy in the Finger Lakes Region. 

Cuomo said during his daily briefing on the pandemic Tuesday morning,  “We’re going to make reopening decisions on a regional basis, based on that region’s facts and circumstances about the COVID.” He also appointed Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul to a similar volunteer position for her home region of Western New York. 

Cuomo said decisions on reopening normal activities after the pandemic would follow the regional approach the state has taken in its economic development activities. He also hoped the state would learn the lessons gained from the pandemic, just as it has learned from previous events, from the Great Depression to world wars to 9-11 and Hurricane Sandy. 

“Some of the most tragic situations actually forged the character and the resolve of this nation,” Cuomo said. “New York state, the same thing.  We’re New York tough, but not just tough.  It’s easy to be tough. It’s hard to be smart and disciplined and unified and loving.”

Duffy said later in the day that he expected the job to begin immediately, reflecting the one speed Cuomo operates on: full speed. Duffy suggested he would start by talking with the regional director for Empire State Development, Vincent Esposito, and Duffy’s new co-chair of the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council, SUNY Geneseo President Denise Battles. He expected to schedule many, many video conferences with a wide range of business people, health care officials and others. 

“This is about gathering facts and data and coming back to the governor with the best information possible,” Duffy said.  

In a video conference call about the appointment, and in another conference earlier with members of the chamber and Monroe County Health Director Dr. Michael Mendoza, both Duffy and Mendoza said the local economy will not open full force on May 15, the date to which the state has extended closures. They described a careful consideration of how individual businesses operate, including their cleaning capabilities and whether they continue social distancing to some extent. 

Mendoza said he expected schools would open before stadiums do, as they are a more controlled environment. And sit-down restaurants may open before bars, where people crowd together and move around more. 

“We’re in a whole different landscape moving forward,” Duffy said. “There is no way the entire economy can open in a week or even a month.”

If everything did open at once, there would be a surge of new cases of COVID-19, Mendoza said. Public health officials are trying to avoid a surge and control the rate of infection, using it to develop community immunity.    

“We’re going to have to have natural infection be the way we develop immunity in the absence of a vaccine,” Mendoza said. 

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