Now comes the hard part.
The phase one of reopening that began Tuesday, a much-needed glimmer of hope across Western New York, was also a reminder of the long road ahead.
“We’ve said from day one the reopening is going to be much more difficult than shutting down,” said Joseph Emminger, supervisor of the Town of Tonawanda.
“Look,” said Amherst Town Supervisor Brian Kulpa, “as hard as it was to wind this thing down in a short period of time and move to a work-from-home model, it’s going to be harder to endure this next eight weeks because there’s no switch to flip. It’s patience.”
The first phase of reopening from the state's coronavirus shutdown order allows manufacturing, construction and wholesale trade to resume. Stores also were allowed to reopen, but only for pick up or delivery.
Kulpa said starting construction again was particularly welcome news in Amherst, the region’s most populous suburb, but the supervisor acknowledged that this is a tricky period for everyone to navigate as they cautiously try to move from one phase to the next.
“If you’re a contractor, it’s easy. You’re back. You can go build all you want,” Kulpa said. “But if you’re an architecture firm supporting that construction, are you allowed back? Those are the places it gets a little vague. Those are some of the questions we have to go through and ask questions of the state for clarification on.”
Kulpa anticipates being in “read and react” mode for at least the next eight weeks, possibly the entire summer.
“It’s kind of a funny period, a transition period,” Kulpa said. “It’s struggling to understand exactly what we should do, making judgment calls, interpreting. In some cases, the state is very clear; sometimes they leave it up to local interpretation.”
One example: Kenmore taxpayers showing up to the municipal building to pay their village tax bill around July 1, Emminger said.
“Social distancing six feet from the counter causes a problem in these older buildings," he said. "Our municipal building was built in 1936. It wasn’t built for social distancing. They could be lining up down Delaware Avenue. It’s going to cause inconveniences, there’s no getting around that.
“Patience is the word of the day.”
Despite the limited reopening on Tuesday, Kulpa, Emminger and other local leaders reminded the public about the importance of the safety precautions they have been practicing the past two months to prevent another spike in Covid-19 cases.
Mayor Byron Brown echoed those sentiments on Tuesday, prior to distributing face masks to residents at public housing in the city.
“As we reopen in phase one today, people are still going to have to follow CDC guidelines,” Brown said. “They’re going to have to wear masks or face coverings. They’re going to have to maintain the six feet of social distancing. They’re going to have to avoid mass gatherings. Those are the things that have helped us flatten the curve.
“They need to be very disciplined about that. Even as we open in all phases, because the virus is still here and still deadly, we're going to have to continue to follow all of the guidelines to keep people safe.”
“For two months now, we all have been told to social distance, to wear masks, to wash our hands and we all know the drill," said Patrick Keem, supervisor of the Town of Orchard Park. “So, I think it’s up to the people now.
“I don’t have a problem with things starting up again, actually I encourage it. I think it’s time.”