Gov. Andrew Cuomo stopped by Buffalo on Monday to announce the news many Niagara County residents have been waiting to hear for weeks: Western New York has been cleared to enter the first phase of the reopening process. 

Cuomo made the announcement during a visit to Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center where he said the region achieved the seventh and final benchmark for reopening by filling a sufficient number of contract tracing positions needed under the state's reopening guidelines. 

Cuomo described the process leading up to today's phase one reopening as a "long, painful period." 

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who was chosen by Cuomo to lead the committee overseeing the reopening process in Western New York, cautioned that while Monday's announcement involved good news, residents must continue to exercise sound judgment and follow all recommended health and hygiene guidelines in the days and weeks ahead. 

"While this is a positive sign we are trending in the right direction, now is not the time to become complacent," she said. "As the governor mentioned (Monday), the story of Buffalo is the story of New York, and is the story of America — as a society, we are smart enough to learn and strong enough to get back up. Western New Yorkers are following our guidelines to keep them safe, and it’s working.”

In addition, Cuomo announced another sign of progress for the region with the granting of a waiver by the state health department that will allow Erie County Medical Center to restart elective procedures, a practice that it was barred from undertaking under state COVID-19 restrictions. 

"We want to make sure hospitals are in a potions to provide care to people who need it, so this is a good step," Cuomo said.  

Niagara County Legislature Chair Becky Wydysh, R-Lewiston, welcomed the development on Monday.

"We know it's important to get our businesses open and to get our economy back up and running. We've got people who have been off of work for months. This is an important piece for us moving forward. We just have to balance that with making sure we're doing it safely. We want to keep our businesses safe. We want to keep the employees safe, the customers safe," she said.

Cuomo has said New York's sports teams, including the Buffalo Bills, may be allowed to resume competition, although perhaps without cheering fans in their stadiums. He said sports games may still be televised and the state is interested in assisting professional leagues in getting contests going again. 

“I have been encouraging major sports teams to plan re-openings without fans but the games could be televised," Cuomo said. "New York state will help those major sports franchises to do just that. Hockey, basketball, baseball, football. Whoever, can re-open, we’re ready, willing, and able partner. Personal disclosure, I want to watch the Buffalo Bills." 

To ensure that New Yorkers are getting the best information about how to slow the spread of COVID-19 as regions reopen, Cuomo has enlisted the aid of Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, and Dr. Samir Bhatt, a senior lecturer at Imperial College London. Dr. Bhatt commended Cuomo’s leadership and willingness to let scientific data take the lead on decisions related to reopening of regions across the state. 

You in New York have successfully contained the virus for now, but New York is not out of the woods yet, no state, no country is," Dr. Bhatt said. "As you continue to reopen, New York must continue to watch the data and follow the signs. We are really eager to work with New York. They are approaching this crisis from a scientific perspective driven by data.”

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