In a “tele-town hall” meeting conducted via phone and listened to by approximately 10,000 people, County Executive Pat Ryan and county Health Commissioner Dr. Carol Smith delivered on Sunday, March 15 the latest on the coronavirus situation in Ulster, saying that the five patients with cases of COVID-19 so far diagnosed in Ulster were “doing well.”
“They are recovering,” Smith said. “We expect them to make a full recovery.”
But Ryan was less happy about reports that restaurants and bars in Ulster were “packed” on Friday night. Saying he was “frustrated and disappointed” by those accounts, he said those who ignored pleas for “social distancing” to cut down on the virus’ transmission rates and went out anyway “a little self-centered.”
Ryan said when asked by a caller if he was going to order all restaurants in Ulster closed because of the pandemic, he said, “We hope we don’t have to go and take the most extreme measures.”
Currently according to a recent state-level instruction, places like bars, restaurants and coffee shops are allowed to have 50 percent of their usual maximum capacity in the building at any one time. (Though on Saturday, Dutchess County announced a ban on any public gathering of more than 20 people.) But both Ryan and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who held a press conference in Albany earlier Sunday afternoon, said that percentage could be cut to 40 or 30 if need be.
Ryan said the county was working with local school districts to try to set up ways to get food to kids for whom schools, which will be closed for at least two weeks starting Monday, March 16, are their primary source of nutrition. (The county also starting Monday will be suspending “in-person” services, Ryan said.)
Noting food access for needy kids was “the number one worry we had” when he made the call last Friday to shut the schools, Ryan said the county’s meals on wheels program will probably be ramped up to address the issue, especially in situations where a caregiver has to stay home with children. “We did not make any of these decisions lightly,” he said. Ryan also noted several local organizations are working on plans to help and that one district is thinking about using school buses traveling on their regular roots to distribute food. “This is absolutely top-of-mind for every school official,” Ryan said.
As for more testing, Ryan said “a significant number of additional tests [arrived] in the county.” But, Smith said, “We’re trying to reserve what we do have” for patients with severe symptoms. In a press release issued following the hour-long call, the county stated “the COVID-19 tests associated with individuals who have had direct daily contact within the City of Kingston School District have come back negative.”
Ryan and Smith continued to urge people to do what they could to slow the spread of the virus. Hand-washing, self-isolation if one feels unwell and keeping “a six-foot bubble” around one’s self in relation to others while in public were all mentioned.
But Ryan said, it’s going to be a difficult time all around. Referencing county Comptroller March Gallagher’s report last week about the threat the outbreak poses to the county’s tax revenue stream and saying he’s been talking with both state leaders and U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado about the matter, Ryan said “there’s going to be a significant financial impact to our businesses,” but he’s hopeful that some support for both governments and individuals hurt money-wise will be coming from Washington.
“I remain optimistic overall, and I think everyone else should as well,” said Ryan.
Governor orders NYC schools closed
Cuomo announced later Sunday that he’s ordered schools in New York City and Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk counties to close. While the start and end of the city school closings wasn’t specified in the governor’s press release, the Westchester and Long Island schools will be closed for two weeks starting Monday.
In his press conference, the governor presented a sobering look at what may lie ahead for New York, which leads the nation with 729 positive COVID-19 cases. Cuomo said about 535 the state’s 3,000 ICU beds are empty. (Some 65 COVID-19 patients are currently in ICU, Cuomo said.) According to projections of how many people will need to be in ICU because of COVID-19 — defining in this case “ICU” as having a ventilator available — the state, said the governor, will be “thousands short. Thousands. Thousands.”
Cuomo called upon President Trump to make the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers available to retrofit existing buildings, like SUNY dorms, into hospital space, saying only the military had the capacity to do what’s needed in time for it to help. But equipment will be an issue, Cuomo said, noting “a global run on ventilators.”
The governor also said he’s working with the state’s chief judge, Janet DiFiore, on a plan to put off non-essential court functions while keeping criminal cases going and cases involving family emergencies, but as of Sunday evening, no word on whether local town and village courts will be closed this week was available.
Read more coronavirus coverage here.