In a virtual town hall held this week, the Superintendent of the Ithaca City School District, and Superintendent of TST-BOCES, along with other local leaders, discussed plans to reopen their school districts this fall.

Both Dr. Luvelle Brown (ICSD) and Dr. Jeffrey Matteson (TST-BOCES) are optimistic about reopening K-12 schools. Dr. Brown says he hopes to bring all ICSD students back to school, once appropriate safety precautions are in place. The Ithaca Times reports that ICSD has looked into plans that include only bringing elementary school age children back to the facilities. Dr. Brown also says the ICSD is looking into a “hybrid” option where students will engage in the blend of staggered in-person attendance and online learning.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has ordered that schools can only reopen if their region is in Phase 4 of the state’s economic reopening stages, and is under a five percent infection rate by August 1. The infection rate is calculated by the number of positive tests divided by the number of total tests over a 14 day period. However, Governor Cuomo also says that if a region surpasses a nine percent infection rate over a seven-day period, schools will be forced to close immediately.

School districts must submit their plans for reopening to New York State by August 1 for approval.

US Senator Chuck Schumer of New York is pushing for an extension to the Payroll Protection Program, or PPP, that would last through the end of the year, according to The Albany-Times Union.

The PPP was started on April 10 to help businesses keep staff on their payroll in response to the economic hardships businesses have faced due to COVID-19. The program, which so far has loaned $521 billion loaned nation-wise, is set to expire on August 8th.

Senator Schumer says the next round of loans would aim to aid small businesses and nonprofits with less than 100 employees, instead of large and well-funded corporations. At least 1,300 companies that were backed by private equity investors received PPP loans worth up to about $3.4 billion, according to a report from The Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit that investigates corruption in the federal government. To avoid this, changes will be made to the program, including that loans will no longer go to publicly funded companies, and banks that cherry pick large borrowers will face a $2,500 fee.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced new guidance pertaining to alcohol serving regulations for bars and restaurants in New York.

Under current law, only establishments that also serve food are permitted to serve alcoholic beverages. The new requirements state that restaurants and bars can only serve alcohol to people who are ordering and eating food. Alcohol service to people at bars can now only be for seated customers who are seated 6 feet or more from other patrons.

Bars and restaurants caught violating these laws could lose their liquor license.  If an establishment is found to be in violation more than three times, it will be closed for business.  Any bar or restaurant that is facing disciplinary charges by the State Liquor Authority will be publicized.

The Governor also stated that there is now a 92% travel form compliance by out-of-state travelers from the 22 states with a seven-day rolling average of positive COVID-19 tests in excess of 10%.  Currently, those travelers must provide local authorities with contact information upon entering the state to help enforce quarantining efforts.  If they do not do so, and are caught violating the policy, they will be subject to a $2,000 fine.

Today, Cuomo’s office announced that New York City would be entering phase 4 starting Monday, July 20.

Looking at the local COVID-19 caseload, there is one new positive case as of Friday in Tompkins County, leaving 24 active cases In the County as of the end of this week, according to the County Health Department.  Cornell University began its own sampling site yesterday, and these samples and results are included in the health department’s daily updates. According to the health department, they are continuing to work on data reporting with other local higher education institutions as more testing is underway.

Over in Schuyler County, there are no new positive cases of COVID-19 reported as of Friday, and all 17 people infected with the virus have recovered, according to their Health Department.

Contributing writing by WRFI News volunteers JT Stone and Esther Racoosin