Mall, tenants plead to open, cite safety measures


Oneida County reported 37 new positive cases of COVID-19 Friday, including nine among nursing home residents, but no new deaths.

Thirteen patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of noon Friday, all at the Mohawk Valley Health System hospitals in Rome and New Hartford. Five of the hospitalized patients were from nursing homes. Two residents were in hospitals outside the county.

The number of newly lab confirmed tests was the most for the county since 44 on May 7, according to the county’s online COVID-19 dashboard. It was the third highest since testing began in March, though the number of tests conducted each day has been much greater since mid-May.

The Mohawk Valley’s number of new cases per 100,000 people averaged over seven days stood at 5.95, highest in the state. However, the region’s percentage of tests found positive stood at 1.6 percent, the highest it’s been since May 30 but just up from the 1 percent to 1.4 percent rage over the past three weeks.

The daily report came as the Mohawk Valley region and most of upstate New York entered phase four of pandemic re-opening. Sectors allowed to open with restrictions were higher education, low-risk indoor and outdoor arts and entertainment, and media production, such as for film and television.

Merchants and management of Sangertown Square mall in New Hartford, the Rome and Utica area’s only major indoor mall, urged New York state to recognize precautions they have taken and to allow malls to reopen.

Pyramid Management Group issued a statement Friday that cited loss of sales tax for local governments and saying tenants seek equal treatment with other businesses in the local market and neighboring states. It’s directed at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement earlier in the week that malls would not be allowed to open in regions, including the Mohawk Valley, allowed to proceed to phase four of reopening.

Malls had earlier been among sectors listed as eligible to reopen, with precautions in place, in phase four. Cuomo said Wednesday that state health officials had recently seen studies that suggested air conditioning may recirculate the COVID-19 coronavirus rather than filter it and would announce a decision soon. Pyramid and others questioned such assertions.

Mall-based retailers that have their own outside entrances have already been allowed to open.

The Sangertown Square statement said tenants have taken extensive measures to protect shoppers and workers, among them enhanced cleaning and sanitizing, proactive touchless disinfecting, requiring face masks of all guests, and social distancing prompts and signage for foot-traffic patterns. Others included hand sanitizer stations, ongoing curbside pick-up options, a safety first awareness campaign, guidance for visitors and employees, and increased air circulation, air filtration and the amount of fresh air pumped into the building.

On-site security teams are tasked with enforcing all the state guidelines, Sangertown Square said.

“The property needs to fully open sooner rather than later in order for tenants to have a fair shot at salvaging their businesses and keeping people employed in the local communities that they serve. The impact on local sales property taxes are substantial.”

Pyramid Management quoted Courtney Foster of i-Candies Fashion Boutique as urging the governor’s office to let the retailers reopen.

“Let us open. We are ready. We have thoroughly prepared to reopen our businesses under the State’s safety guidelines, and the mall’s management has done its part as well.

“It has now been four weeks since we were blindsided by removal from the phased reopening process. We really need to re-start our businesses and provide jobs to our workers immediately. We are being treated unfairly and there is no logical reason to force us to remain closed.”

Elsewhere, Enchanted Forest Water Safari in Old Forge posted on its website that it has postponed opening indefinitely and suspended taking reservations through July 5. Tickets for July 27, when it had hoped to open, through then need not be canceled, but reservations may be made with existing tickets once an opening date is confirmed. The postponement came after the park did not get the state approval to open.

Later Friday, Cuomo again said malls will not be allowed to open until questions about air conditioning are answered.

That prompted another statement from Pyramid calling the delay unfair and unjustified.

It said it’s unfair to compare malls, with extensive ventilation systems to be compared to freestanding shops and restaurants and museums and offices that are open, and said a report the state cited has been widely refuted. It said university experts have said U.S. ventilation and air conditioning systems have higher standards, and said there have been no COVID-19 cases transmitted through them.

“There is no documented link between HVAC systems and the spread of COVID-19 in malls. And the fact is that we already have engaged HVAC professionals to increase fresh air flow into the building, change filters and follow other recommendations. This week, we have spoken with dozens of HVAC companies who have shared that Pyramid has done considerably more than other businesses that they represent who are open.

“Overall, we have implemented all of the guidance released by the federal government, CDC and the State of New York. We stand prepared to re-open safely.”


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