Questions continue over future of malls, gyms, cinemas

Phase four reopening in Western New York begins Tuesday

Mike Baggerman
June 30, 2020 - 3:00 am

McKinley Mall on June 15, 2018 (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) – Phase four of New York’s reopening strategy takes effect on Tuesday, meaning low-risk entertainment and recreation activities like museums, zoos, and botanical gardens can reopen, though questions remain when other elements of the economy can reopen such as malls, gyms, and movie theatres.

State officials emphasize their desire to protect public health during the coronavirus pandemic. Governor Cuomo on Monday took a hard stance on malls.

"NASA has studied these HEPA filters, which are high efficiency particulate air filters, that can filter out the COVID virus,” Cuomo said Monday. “Any malls that will open in New York, we will make it mandatory they have air filtration systems that can filter out the COVID virus. For many of these systems, it depends on what filter you install.”

HVAC systems and its impact on coronavirus continues to be studied by health experts. Dr. Thomas Russo of the Jacobs School of Medicine believes the HVAC system can be one of the variables that can control the spread, though there isn’t the data yet to prove it.

“However, how much of those safeguards and how much extra gain will be made and how much retrofitting can be done in terms of putting too much stress on pumps is going to be very individualized, depending on the building and how old the system is,” Russo said. “I think each building needs to be looked at individually. In all fairness, we’re in a bit of a vacuum depending on these increments and all these features we talk about, how much we actually gain. It’s difficult to say right now.”

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who is heading the reopening efforts in Western New York, said the rise in coronavirus cases in other parts of the country “scares” her and other officials.

“If we followed on the regular course we probably would have included (other industries) in the categories if other states had stayed in the numbers they were at two months ago or a month ago,” Hochul said. “Now, we see that this is affecting young people more than others. They’re the ones who gather in movie theatres, go to the malls, they want to socialize. They’re hard wired to do this and they are now vulnerable to succumbing to this disease or spreading it to others.”

Grade schools will not begin until early-September. They were not included in the first stage of the final reopening phase, though colleges and other higher education is allowed to begin. Hochul urged all educational institutions to prepare for reopening both in person and for at home.

“We just don’t know,” Hochul said about grade schools.

A civil lawsuit among gym owners, frustrated over their inability to open, is reportedly forthcoming. Hochul said she’s confident the state would win that lawsuit given their mission is public safety.

“I think gyms…are one of the riskier types of activities,” Russo said. “The reason is twofold…In gyms, when people are exercising hard, they’re either going to be reluctant to wear masks. When you exercise hard, you generate a lot more respiratory secretions that go a lot further.”

Russo said that gyms are the most dangerous between malls and movie theatres.

View more phase four guidance here.

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