County Leaders and Health Officials highlight dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases relating to casual, social gatherings
Urge vigilance and safety precautions during holiday season
Poughkeepsie, NY … A week prior to Thanksgiving and the start of the winter holiday season, leaders from Dutchess, Orange, Putnam and Ulster counties gathered virtually today to ask residents to remain vigilant in the coming weeks and curtail small social gatherings. Such parties or “hangouts,” even among friends and family members, have led to a recent increase in local COVID-19 cases, raising the Mid-Hudson region’s positivity rate, affecting the ability of schools and businesses to remain open and further stressing the region’s healthcare resources.
Many residents assume COVID-19 cases are on the rise due to exposures at workplaces, schools and businesses. In recent weeks, however, the Mid-Hudson region has seen a surge in cases resulting from gatherings in casual settings such as homes, where many residents have become lax about adhering to proper safety guidelines – proper mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing – and one infected individual can expose many more. With the broad roll-out of a COVID-19 vaccine still months away, the region’s leaders implored residents to keep their gatherings small, preferably to immediate members of their household, and continue to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines whenever people are interacting with others beyond their immediate household.
Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro said, “With the holidays soon upon us, accompanied by the traditional get-togethers, we are at a critical moment in the COVID-19 pandemic. Each of us can keep our families, community and region safe. Keeping our gatherings small and putting get togethers on pause are sacrifices we can make to protect our health and the health of those we love. We need to dig deep, summon the compassion and do our part to stay healthy.”
As of Wednesday, Nov. 18th, the most recent data available from New York State, the Mid-Hudson’s regional positivity rate was 4.6 percent, with a seven-day average of 3.8 percent.
In recent weeks, counties throughout the region have seen confirmed positive cases grow exponentially, largely attributable to individuals who were infected at a casual gathering presenting in the community and exposing those around them.
Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus said in the past week, two COVID-19 deaths in his county were residents in their 20s, proving the virus can affect every individual differently, regardless of age or underlying condition.
“Thanksgiving and other holidays are usually a wonderful opportunity to get together with our loved ones, but we must remain vigilant against the spread of the virus as we continue to see an uptick in cases. Out of an abundance of caution, please avoid large family gatherings this Thanksgiving, and celebrate with those within your immediate household. Our future success in getting safely through this pandemic depends greatly on the precautions that you take today.” Orange County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus
The effects of COVID-19 exposure from social gatherings ripple through a community, impacting those exposed, their contacts, local schools where exposed individuals attend and businesses at which they work.
As they have since the start of the pandemic, leaders today again asked residents to stay home if they feel they have broad symptoms – such as fever, cough, sore throat or congestion, among others – as it’s better to remain home for a day or two only to find they don’t have COVID-19 and not expose others, as opposed to needing to quarantine for 14 days as the result of a confirmed positive case.
Putnam County’s Deputy County Executive Tom Feighery noted that Putnam saw a direct correlation between people ‘letting down their guard’ (not following safety measures in casual, social settings) and COVID-19 transmission in the six days following Halloween when positive case doubled in that county.
“We appreciate all of the essential workers, especially all the Health Departments for their efforts and hope the public will do their part,“ said Deputy County Executive Feighery
COVID-19 cases stemming from casual gatherings have a ripple effect on counties’ contact-tracing efforts, by creating an increased workload for contact tracers, which slows down the entire tracing process for all infections. Leaders today asked residents who think they may have been exposed to COVID-19 to please reach out to possible contacts so they can get tested and begin the quarantine process.
Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan described a small Halloween party attended by just three families in late October. Four children who attended that small gathering were COVID-positive, unbeknownst to themselves or their families. Since then, 15 positive cases have been traced back to that casual get-together, impacting a local college, elementary school, middle school and high school, proving the wide impact of “living room spread.”
“We know that this is a make or break moment for us as a county and a community,” Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan said. “As we see our numbers increase to levels that we have not seen in months, we must remain proactive to blunt a much more significant second wave. We will be doing everything that we can to remind residents to continue to social distance, wear masks, and take all precautions necessary.”
County Executive Molinaro concluded, “We have been battling this pandemic for eight months, and we don’t want our best efforts to go to waste. COVID-19 remains a deadly disease, and we must not become complacent and casual in our efforts to fight it. Even when you gather among your immediate family, please wear a mask, wash your hands and remain at a safe distance. The pandemic doesn’t let up for the holidays – neither can we.”
Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell announced that residents willing to serve with a panel that will help shape the future of policing in the county should fill out an online application by Tuesday, November 3.
The Putnam County Police Policy Review Panel is seeking people from all walks of life who want to review existing police policy and procedures and consider recommendations for the future. The ten-question application to serve on the subpanel can be found on the panel’s website at www.putnamcountyny.gov/policereviewpanel.
“This is a watershed moment,” County Executive Odell said. “We need community members who are willing to give their time to help develop the recommendations for the future of policing in this county. When we work together to find solutions, we make Putnam a better place to live.”
All Putnam County residents, particularly those in community and cultural diversity groups, people of color, the Latino and LGBTQIA communities, faith-based groups, veteran’s organizations, schools and mental health consumers, are encouraged to apply.
The 21- member panel chaired by County Executive Odell includes Sheriff’s Department and local police officials, as well as legislative, county and municipal leaders. The panel was established in August in response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order 203, which requires each of the 500 jurisdictions with police departments in New York State to develop a police reform plan by April 1.
Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell announced that local movie theaters will be among those allowed to reopen on Friday, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s lifted restrictions in most of the state.
“Restaurants, gyms and other businesses that cater to the public are open, so it didn’t make sense to keep movie theaters closed,” County Executive Odell said. “We need to help businesses come back, not stand in their way. Plus, people are feeling Covid fatigue. We have to give them options and trust they will make the right decisions to stay safe.”
Over the weekend, Gov. Cuomo lifted the lockdown order on movie theaters in counties outside of New York City with no cluster zones and where the 14-day average infection rate is lower than 2%, which leaves out Rockland and Orange counties.
Putnam County Legislature Chairwoman Toni Addonizio, whose district includes the Carmel Cinema 8 on Route 52, said she was relieved that the governor had finally allowed movie theaters to reopen.
“This is good news for the theater owners and their employees, who have had to wait too long for their jobs to return,” Chairwoman Addonizio said. “It’s also good for our community. People have adjusted to wearing masks and washing their hands often to protect themselves from Covid-19, but they haven’t adjusted to the isolation and disruption of normal life. This is another step on the road back to normal.”
To reopen, movie theaters must follow certain restrictions: the theaters must limit capacity to 25 percent with no more than 50 people per screen; patrons must wear masks except when seated and eating or drinking; theaters must assign seating and even groups of friends will have to socially distance; air filtration systems and ventilation will have to meet state standards; and additional staff will be required to ensure rules are followed.
Putnam County is continuing to support its entire business community throughout the reopening process, Deputy County Executive Thomas Feighery said.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic we have utilized all the resources of Putnam County to partner with all businesses to navigate through each of the state’s phases for reopening,” Feighery said. “Some industries, like movie theaters, seem to have been unfairly left behind, and we have been advocating for their chance to safely reopen. We continue to partner with county businesses to ensure they have every tool they need to survive in this uncharted year.”
Kathleen Abels, president of the Putnam County Economic Development Corporation called the cinema’s reopening an important step forward.
“I am hopeful that with movie theaters reopening outside of red zones, live theater performances will soon be allowed,” Abels said. “Limited capacity, assigned seating and additional cleaning are really just common-sense approaches that mimic the guidelines for other sectors.
“Also promising is Gov. Cuomo’s Cluster Action Initiative, which divides clusters and the areas surrounding them into categories with successively greater restrictions. This initiative protects regions and counties where COVID-19 has been well-managed from being punished for the bad actions of a few.”
The $164.2 million proposal, which is within the New York State tax cap, represents a spending increase of $477,000, or less than 1% over this year’s budget, and does not include any layoffs.
The average Putnam County homeowner, whose property is assessed at $357,000, would pay about $1,182 in county taxes under the plan, an increase of $25.
The budget, the ninth that Odell has prepared since she became County Executive in 2011, represents Odell’s fiscally conservative approach, and is contingent upon Gov. Andrew Cuomo providing the amount of state aid for which the state is responsible.
“Despite the coronavirus pandemic creating a difficult year that resulted in an estimated 9.5% decrease in sales tax revenue, we have managed to present a budget that avoids employee layoffs and preserves the services that our county residents rely upon and deserve,” Odell said. “If the governor goes through with his threat to withhold 20% of our state aid, however, then we, along with every other county in the state, will have no choice but to reassess.”
Other budget highlights include the consolidation of dispatching services into the Bureau of Emergency Services and the addition of an EMS Education Coordinator, funded mostly through fee revenue. Odell noted that her administration continues to meet the need of strengthening the Bureau of Emergency Services.
“We are in the midst of a pandemic, combined with the continued major storms that affect Putnam County, the need to strengthen our Bureau of Emergency Services and our incident command center has never been greater,” Odell said.
County Executive Odell noted that this budget process has been particularly challenging due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Despite increases in mandated employee benefit costs such as health insurance and retirement, we eliminated some vacant positions, allowed very few equipment purchases and decreased overtime funding in this budget,” Odell said.
She further stated: “Our department heads have done a great job of helping me craft a budget proposal that is really bare bones, and I believe that they, along with all our employees, will successfully execute this plan, which meets our social and fiscal responsibilities to the people of Putnam County.”
In closing, County Executive Odell said: “We recognize the difficult times that are upon us and have responded accordingly. I can only hope the governor does the same when it comes to distributing state aid.”
This year, County Executive Odell will give her annual budget summary presentation to the Legislature on Tuesday, October 6 at 7 p.m., via telephone, without the usual public hearing at the Putnam County Golf Course, in order to comply with Covid-19 restrictions. The meeting will be available to the public via audiocast on the county’s website, putnamcountyny.gov.
The Legislature is expected to revise and adopt the 2021 budget by November 1.
The 21- member panel chaired by Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell includes Sheriff’s Department and local police officials, as well as legislative, county and municipal leaders. The panel was established in August in response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order 203, which requires each of the 500 jurisdictions with police departments in New York State to develop a police reform plan by April 1.
The Putnam County panel met on Tuesday, Sept. 29, with the proceeding livestreamed on the web, and issued its call for community participation.
“I want to thank all of the members of the community who have already submitted questions and comments,” Odell said. “We do believe that this should be a very inclusive discussion and the information and input we receive from the public will be very helpful so that we can complete this task on time.”
There are more than a dozen wide-ranging areas of discussion for police reform and that will need to be considered, Undersheriff Kevin Cheverko said during Tuesday’s meeting. His list included use of force, de-escalation and community-based outreach, among many other topics.
Michael J. Piazza Jr., commissioner of Putnam County’s Department of Social Services and Mental Health, invited all Putnam County residents, particularly those in community and cultural diversity groups, people of color, the Latino and LGBTQIA communities, faith-based groups, veteran’s organizations, schools and mental health consumers, to participate in the discussion.
The email address to sign up is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The county has established a new police review panel website, at www.putnamcountyny.gov/policereviewpanel, where ongoing and updated information about the panel will be posted and maintained.
In the panel discussion on Sept. 15, which is archived on the website, Piazza told a moving story about a man who walked from Yonkers to Yorktown to attend the funeral of a police officer who had helped him when he needed it most.
“That’s the impact community policing can have,” Piazza said. “It was very telling in terms of what it can mean to a community member when a police officer receives the appropriate training.”
Future meetings of the Putnam County Police Review Panel were scheduled for the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month through the end of the year.
Thank you, Putnam County. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, you have helped neighbors in need, supported food banks and food drives, delivered meals for seniors, made and donated masks and, of course, adapted to wearing masks in public and practicing safe social distancing measures. Because of your vigilance, our communities have been able to reopen safely.
Now that schools are back in session and more people are returning to work, things may appear to be going back to the “old normal.” But we aren’t going back, we are moving forward in a new way, and we must keep up our efforts in order to maintain the success we’ve achieved. The best way to support our businesses, schools, civic organizations and religious groups is by keeping our rates of COVID-19 low.
Students and teachers are returning to school wearing masks, and we can support them by setting the example — wearing a mask when we can’t socially distance, washing our hands frequently and staying home if we don’t feel well.
By continuing to do our part, we can be a model community that does not invite another spike in COVID-19 cases. A surge in cases could overstress our healthcare heroes, overwhelm our healthcare system and devastate more families and local businesses. We have risen to the moment before, and we can do it again now. There is no question these are still challenging times, but we are not only Putnam Strong, we are Putnam Supportive. We are fortunate to live in a community where friends, families and neighbors look out for one another.
Let’s support our businesses by dining and shopping locally. Let’s continue to offer help to those most in need. Let’s mask up and set the example for our children and young people. And let’s continue to do the right thing so we can help our friends, families and neighbors to thrive. We will be a stronger community for it.
Stay safe, stay strong, stay healthy.
MaryEllen Odell, County Executive
Michael J. Nesheiwat MD, Health Commissioner