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Unemployment Jumps As Next Phase Of Reopening Nears

Chautauqua County’s unemployment rate jumped to 15.5% in April, the latest indicator in how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the county’s workforce.

The monthly statistics, released Wednesday by the state Labor Department, come as the Western New York region is poised to enter Phase Two of reopening next week.

The local unemployment rate more than doubled from the 6.1% reported in April. However, state labor officials cautioned last month that the March survey came before many coronavirus-related business and school closures were implemented. In addition, data collection rates were lower than normal due to coronavirus-related challenges.

In Cattaraugus County, the unemployment rate was reported to be 17.5% in April in addition to 13.1% in Allegany County and 18.6% in Erie County.

Rates are calculated using methods prescribed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The state’s area unemployment rates rely in part on the results of the Current Population Survey, which contacts approximately 3,100 households in New York State each month.

Meanwhile, those in desperate need of a haircut, likely exacerbated by near-record temperatures, may soon get a reprieve as the Western New York region is on track to enter the second in a four-step reopening process as early as Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul announced this week. Phase Two includes professional services, additional retail, administrative support and real estate.

Of note in those categories are professions such as hair salons, barbershops, insurance and law offices.

“We’re on track to hit Phase Two next Tuesday,” Hochul told multiple media outlets this week.

Unlike Phase One, which took hold last week, there are no specific metrics required for regions across the state to meet amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, the state is still monitoring statistics that include hospitalization rate and intensive care admissions to determine whether a region can further reopen or if a “pause” is required.

Jamestown Mayor Eddie Sundquist said his office has received calls from businesses impacted by the reopening in the second phase. Sundquist is part of the Western New York regional control room, a group that also includes County Executive PJ Wendel that is tasked with keeping track of metrics needed to move through each phase.

“We’re incredibly hopeful that Phase Two is able to start two weeks after Phase One,” said Sundquist, who noted that resources are available on the state’s website — forward.ny.gov.

Each business looking to reopen is required to develop a written safety plan outlining how its workplace will prevent the spread of COVID-19. The templates do not need state approval, but are required be kept on the premises.

State Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, said he is excited to see area employees return to work.

“I am proud we took the lead in our area by working with businesses to develop responsible reopening plans,” he said. “Those plans have now helped us in Phase One to maintain our numbers so we can move into Phase Two where more businesses will be able to reopen and more people will be returning to work. Not a moment too soon.”

Cuomo’s NY Forward guidelines offer specifics on each of the four phases in reopening. For the first phase, construction includes building equipment and finishing contractors; foundation, structure and building exterior contractors; highway, street and bridge construction; residential and nonresidential building construction; and utility system construction.

Agriculture includes greenhouse, nursery and floriculture production; animal and crop production; and support activities for animals production, crop production and forestry.

Retail includes delivery, curbside and in-store pickup service only for numerous businesses such as clothing, electronics, florists, general merchandise, shoe stores, sporting goods and other retailers.

Manufacturing includes the production of apparel, electronics, machinery, plastics and rubbers, woods, textile and wood, among others.

The state is expected to release specifics this week for businesses that will be allowed to reopen in Phase Two.

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