State ventilation standards have been set, and malls may reopen if they meet them
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New York malls can reopen Friday if they have high-efficiency venting systems capable of reducing the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
Wilmorite's three Rochester area malls — Eastview Mall in Victor, The Mall at Greece Ridge in Greece, and Marketplace Mall in Henrietta — all will open Friday, the company announced in a release Wednesday. Not all stores will be re-opening immediately, Wilmorite added.
The governor's announcement Wednesday came after Cuomo last week delayed mall reopening plans across much of upstate New York, citing concerns about coronavirus particles infecting mall-goers and workers if venting systems didn't meet certain standards.
Malls were initially expected to open by at least Phase 4 of the state's four-phase reopening plan, which all of upstate hit July 1. Non-essential businesses were closed March 22 as coronavirus swept through the state, but started to reopen May 15.
Now, indoor malls can open Friday if their region is in Phase 4, which includes everywhere outside of New York City.
It wasn't immediately clear Wednesday if movie theaters, including those inside malls, would be allowed to reopen.
Other large gathering places, such as casinos and amusement parks, also remain shuttered under the existing state orders.
Some mall owners expressed relief at being able to reopen after the pandemic economic shutdown devastated many tenants, including a growing list of national retailers such as J.C. Penney and Brooks Brothers that have filed for bankruptcy protection.
Wimorite's statement noted that Eastview, Markplace and Greece Ridge all have the necessary high-efficiency filters and "have made all the necessary preparations" to open their doors Friday.
"Unfortunately, not all stores are able to re-open immediately due to the short notice given by New York State," the company stated. "Some stores need to bring their staff back and make final preparations before they can re-open. It may take some retailers 1-2 weeks before they are ready to fully re-open. Shoppers should expect to see variations in how retailers re-open too. For example, some stores are implementing new policies on how transactions are completed and how clerks interact with customers. Shoppers will be encouraged to call ahead or visit the retailer’s website to familiarize themselves on individual store policies."
Temporary adjusted mall hours have been set to allow for thorough overnight cleaning as well as less staffing, Wilmorite stated. The temporary hours at its properties will be 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays, with no early admittance. There will be at least three hands-free mall entrances; at least 20 touchless hand sanitizing stations placed throughout the malls; touchless restroom fixtures; and limited and strategically placed seating areas. The food court seating will remain closed, but the courts' restaurants are allowed to open for takeout. Certain items like carousels, children's play areas and customer service centers will remain temporarily closed.
Pyramid Management Group plans to open its malls statewide on Friday, including Palisades Center in Rockland County, the Galleria at Crystal Run in Middletown, Orange County and Poughkeepsie Galleria in Dutchess County, according to the statement.
"With proper precautions in place and health and safety a top priority, we look forward to restoring our centers to their dominant positions as the economic drivers of their respective regions," Stephen Congel, CEO of Pyramid Management Group, said in a statement.
Stores and restaurants with exterior exits at malls were previously able to open in Phase 2 in New York, but indoor ones were closed, except for curbside pickup.
Malls in neighboring Connecticut and New Jersey had previously opened with social distancing requirements and other safety measures.
Cuomo last week ordered that malls would have to install High-Efficiency Particulate Air filters that have shown promise in filtering out COVID-19.
The mandatory systems for the malls would need to have a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating capable of filtering COVID-19 particles, Cuomo said at the time.
On Wednesday, Cuomo said the preferred rating for filtering out COVID-19 particles is a MERV 13, but he noted some mall venting systems can't accommodate that rating.
So, malls with lesser MERV 11 and MERV 12 filter ratings would also be allowed to open Friday, Cuomo said, adding state officials have consulted with health and industry experts to set the standards.
Other new ventilation protocols included increased outdoor air, reduced air re-circulation, longer system run times and frequent filter checks, according to Cuomo's presentation at a press briefing.
Joseph Spector of USA TODAY Network New York contributed reporting