County Executive Pat Ryan announced today an ambitious new program to provide aid to needy residents and help area restaurants stay afloat as efforts to contain the coronavirus have brought life in the Hudson Valley to a near standstill.
Ryan’s announcement comes as public health officials announced three new cases of COVID-19, bringing Ulster County’s total to eight — a figure that officials say is almost certainly higher given a lack of testing capacity and the fact that the virus is frequently mistaken for the common cold or seasonal flu.
At a tele-press conference this afternoon, Ryan announced the creation of an Ulster County community fund administered by the United Way. The new charity will fund “Project Resilience” — a multi-pronged effort that will combine county resources with non-profit and private-sector partners to assist people and businesses impacted by the state of emergency. Ryan said the effort had already raised $2 million towards a goal of $5 million: enough to provide a week’s worth of groceries to every low-income household in Ulster County.
Project Resilience will use an online portal on the county website to let any Ulster County resident apply for food deliveries and other services. Those requests will then be fielded by a network of community partners, including restaurants which will be paid at cost to prepare and package meals. Some UCAT buses will be repurposed to make delivery runs bringing supplies to program participants. The service will supplement meal delivery programs being run by school districts to provide sustenance to thousands of students eligible for free or reduced price breakfast and lunch.
So far, a dozen Ulster County eateries have signed on to the effort including Savona’s Plaza Pizza, Palizzata, Santa Fe and Dallas Hot Wieners in Kingston, Provisions in Woodstock and Sue’s Restaurant and the Hudson Valley Dessert Company in Saugerties. In the New Paltz area, the Main Street Bistro and Rosendale Café will participate. Ryan said that food producers, community groups and others could sign up to participate in the program through the county’s website.
“I think we’re showing our state and really our whole country what it looks like when a community comes together and works to help those among the community in need,” said Ryan. “This is a model that I hope others can learn from as well.”
Ryan’s announcement comes amid an unprecedented statewide shutdown as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and municipal governments race to contain the spread of Novel Coronavirus. Last week, Ryan announced that Ulster County schools would close down for two weeks. (On Tuesday, the governor ordered all schools in the state to close until April 1.) Meanwhile Cuomo on Monday announced a sweeping statewide shutdown of theaters, gyms and concert venues and ban on public gatherings of more than 50 people. Restaurants and bars were ordered to discontinue table service and limit operations to carry-out and delivery. Government services have also been curtailed with non-essential employees furloughed and virtually all business with the public conducted either remotely or by appointment only.
New cases, few tests
Also at Tuesday’s press conference, County Health Department Commissioner Dr. Carol Smith announced that three additional cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in Ulster County bringing the total number to eight since the first case was detected earlier this month in a Town of Rochester man who is believed to have contracted the illness while traveling in France. The latest local cases were detected in Saugerties, Marbletown and the Town of Lloyd.
Efforts to track the virus locally have been hampered by a nationwide shortage of coronavirus test kits and labs equipped to process them. On Tuesday, Smith said that the county had received just 250 test kits and had administered 80 tests so far. The lack of testing capacity, Smith said, had forced treatment providers to limit screening to those known to have had close contact with infected patients and those displaying symptoms who were judged to be at especially high-risk for complications related to the virus.
“When you have a limited supply, you have to make those determinations and triage situations,” said Smith. “The most vulnerable, the ones we feel are at the highest risk, they will be the ones tested first.”
Smith said testing capacity was increasing as more and more private labs brought coronavirus testing systems online, allowing patients to be tested by their private physicians. Smith added that the county was working towards providing mobile testing sites once more test kits are available.
In a tele-town hall on Sunday, Smith said the five patients with cases of COVID-19 so far diagnosed in Ulster were doing well. “They are recovering,” the commissioner said. “We expect them to make a full recovery.”
In a press conference Sunday, the governor presented a sobering look at what may lie ahead for New York, which leads the nation with (as of Tuesday afternoon) 1,374 positive COVID-19 cases. Cuomo said about 535 of the state’s 3,000 ICU beds are empty. (Some 65 COVID-19 patients are currently in ICU, Cuomo said, on Sunday.) 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.”