AKWESASNE –– While the seven-county North Country region has begun to reopen its economy after meeting seven state criteria last week, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe has not yet approved a similar measure for its territory.
The tribe is taking under consideration Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s decision to allow the region –– which includes Franklin, St. Lawrence, Clinton, Essex, Hamilton, Jefferson and Lewis counties –– to allow certain businesses to resume operations under phase one of a four-phase reopening plan, tribal leaders said in a news release. The decision on whether to join the region in reopening will also involve guidance from the tribe’s Emergency Operations Center, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the New York State Department of Health, Franklin County Public Health Department and data from the John Hopkins University Coronavirus Research Center, the tribe said.
“We want community members to know that we are aware of the State’s plan to reopen regional economies; however, the Akwesasne community continues to remain under a State of Emergency in response to the ongoing public health crisis,” the Tribal Council said in the release. “The health and safety of our community members, as well as our visitors, continues to be a high priority. Plans to reopen some businesses are being developed and reviewed, but when implemented we want to ensure they meet tribal standards as we proceed forward.”
Types of businesses that can reopen in first phase are limited to construction, manufacturing, retail for curbside pickup, agriculture, forestry and fishing. Some Akwesasne businesses, such as restaurants, have already been providing curbside pick-up or delivery services during the past two months and will continue in this manner, with no eat-in dining, the tribal release noted.
In phase two, professional services, finance and insurance, all retail, administrative support and real estate/rental leasing will be able to open under the state plan; phase three includes restaurants and hotels; while phase four includes arts, entertainment, recreation and education. Each phase’s implementation will be assessed after two weeks before proceeding to the next one.
The tribe’s Emergency Operations Center has reached out to some businesses through the Compliance Department and requested they prepare and submit their reopening procedures to the EOC for review. The EOC will work in collaboration with the Compliance Department and the safety manager to review and determine the ability of a local business to safely open, looking at each plan’s ability to implement ongoing safety measures that promote social distancing, density reduction, telework (if available), and requirement to wear masks, among other safety measures.
The state plan also calls for businesses to have an approved plan to address health concerns upon reopening, and business owners must certify that they have read the state guidelines they must follow.
Once a business has been authorized to reopen, the tribe’s safety manager and Compliance Department will conduct health and safety inspections to ensure that local businesses continue to meet tribal safety standards.
Throughout the course of the pandemic, Akwesasne has reported only three confirmed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus. There are currently no active cases of the virus in Akwesasne as of Friday, Derek Comins, the tribe’s director of emergency management and safety, said in his biweekly video briefing on the situation.
“Please do not let these low numbers create a false sense of security for yourself or your family,” Comins said in his briefing. The restrictions the tribe has put in place –– including a mask mandate and a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew –– along with an “amazing effort” on the part of the community are the reasons the area has fared so well in dealing with the virus, Comins said, cautioning residents to not relax their vigilance even as the economy prepares to move toward reopening.
“Please continue to keep our community safe,” he said.