TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. — New York State has released guidelines for phase four industries, including higher education, indoor and outdoor entertainment and media production.

The Southern Tier entered phase three of reopening June 12, which expands the operations of some businesses that may have already been operating, like food services, restaurants and bars, to allow indoor seating, as well as some personal care businesses. Although Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not made an official announcement regarding the progression to phase four for current phase three regions, the assumption is that each phase lasts two weeks as long as there is no spike in COVID-19 cases. For regions that began phase three on June 12, it appears that they would move into phase four on June 26.

As of June 23, Tompkins County only has one active case of COVID-19. Nearly 15,000 tests have been conducted, and there have been no resident deaths.

Higher Education

Cornell University has released reopening reports, including plans for testing and isolation, but has not yet made an official decision regarding its academic calendar for the upcoming year. Ithaca College also has not made a determination about its upcoming academic year calendar, nor has it presented specific plans for testing and isolation, but has posed four different calendar options, all of which have classes beginning in-person on Oct. 5. Tompkins Cortland Community College has not made an announcement regarding its academic calendar for the upcoming year.

The guidelines state that institutions of higher education must conspicuously post completed reopening plans for employees and students to access. 

Individuals must wear a face covering when coming within six feet of someone else in public spaces. Face coverings are not required when coming within six feet of roommates nor within one’s own residence. Colleges and universities must also provide free face coverings to employees who directly interact with students or members of the public while at work.

Higher education institutions must also identify where students who are infected with COVID-19 will be isolated, and how they will receive food and medication. These institutions must also follow specific guidelines for operations of dining halls, research, office workspaces, gyms, transportation and retail stores. Screening processes must be implemented, including the daily screening of employees and periodical screenings for students. Contact tracing must also be implemented for infected individuals.

Hand hygiene stations must be provided throughout the institution, and there must be regular cleaning and disinfection of facilities. Residential living plans should include protocols for capacity limits, enhanced cleaning and disinfection.

The state also recommends for these institutions to have contingency plans should they need to close again due to a second wave of the pandemic, including how classes will be taught and how students will safely move out.

It is recommended that colleges and universities ensure that there is at least six feet of distance maintained while on-campus and that they consider a hybrid of in-person and remote learning, or stagger class schedules. The guidelines also recommend limiting certain parts of campus to only students rather than the general public and to have more restricted guidelines for who can visit campus and when.

Outdoor and Indoor Arts and Entertainment

The outdoor guidance applies to low-risk outdoor arts/entertainment activities, including outdoor zoos, botanical gardens, nature parks, grounds of historic sites and cultural institutions, outdoor museums, outdoor agritourism and local agricultural demonstrations and exhibitions.

These businesses must maintain social distancing by limiting maximum capacity to 33% and requiring visitors and employees to wear masks. Group tours will only be allowed for visitors from the same household or party. High-risk interactive exhibitions and play areas that cannot be sanitized between each child will not be permitted to reopen. Headsets and equipment lent out to visitors cannot be distributed unless they are sanitized in between uses. The flow and direction of movement must also be controlled.

Sites must be regularly disinfected and hand hygiene facilities must be provided.

Employees are required to be screened daily. Patrons will be encouraged to be screened, but it will not be a mandate.

The indoor guidance applies to indoor museums, historical sites, aquariums and other related institutions.

Many of the rules for outdoor arts and entertainment are the same for indoor arts and entertainment, but maximum capacity will be limited to 25%.

Media Production

This guidance encompasses all activities undertaken in motion picture, music, television, and streaming productions on set, on location, or at any production or recording site.

Indoor facilities and locations will be limited to 50% maximum capacity. When scouting for locations, social distancing must be taken into account. For activities that require individuals to come within six feet of each other, such as filming and hair and makeup, those in charge of production must come up with mitigation plans. The state recommends performing activities beyond filming, including casting, scouting and editing, remotely as much as possible.

All cast and crew must wear face coverings. Performers are allowed to remove the coverings for scenes or during hair, makeup and wardrobe, but must put it back on after the task is completed. 

Sets will also be restricted to essential personnel, and visitors will not be permitted. Live audiences are prohibited unless they consist only of paid employees, cast, and crew. Employees, cast, and crew may make up a live audience of no more than 100 individuals or 25% of the audience capacity, whichever is lower, and must maintain 6 feet of social distance in all directions. 

All equipment, props and costumes must be cleaned between uses. All employees, cast and crew must be tested for COVID-19 one week prior to the start of production, and daily screenings must be in place.

Madison Fernandez

Madison Fernandez is a contributing reporter at the Ithaca Voice. You can reach her by email at