Like all municipalities in the area, the Town of Ulster has been deeply impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Supervisor James E. Quigley, III was an early proponent of social distancing and other safety measures. But with an aging at-risk population, Ulster has still been hit hard by the coronavirus. Looking ahead to 2021, Quigley said it was important to be realistic.
“2020 was a lost year,” he said. “And by that I mean when you start out going down the road in one direction and then constantly get pulled to go in a different direction …. And looking at the press headlines and everything, I don’t know if we come out of this next May or June. And this is me being realistic, not pessimistic. I’m not certain that 2021 may not be a lost year too.”
Quigley said that it was difficult to keep up with Covid protocols and recommendations, which often change quickly.
“Even as we prepared with our mindsets to get into the Covid preparations … we were constantly setting plans one day and then changing the next day because corrections were coming from other locations and other levels of government that told you that you did yesterday was wrong, or what you plan to do today, based upon yesterday’s discussion, has now been revised to do something else,” Quigley said. “And then by the time we get to tomorrow, I’m going to implement the plans, we’re changing those over and over again. And that was extremely frustrating. And we spent most of the year closed.”
As has been the case all around the country, the pandemic has become politicized. In early November, Saugerties residents Joseph Barton and Paula Gloria Barton appeared outdoors before Ulster town justice Marsha Weiss because they, and roughly 30 supporters, refused to wear masks. The Bartons were arrested and charged with trespassing on October 21 after entering Mother Earth in Kings Mall without masks and refusing to leave.
Quigley said it was the third time the Bartons had been asked to wear a mask in Mother Earth or leave. The supervisor added that while there are those in the Town who refuse to wear masks, there are also those who feel compelled to notify authorities of every perceived infraction.
“We have some zealots, yeah, who are constantly calling to report, ‘I was at Hannaford and this happened …. We want you to go shut the store down,’” Quigley said. “That’s one of the bigger frustrations of this whole issue is that the government has turned into Big Brother, and fundamentally we are not equipped for that. I’m seeing in observing and receiving complaints about a wide range of topics that I think are just evidence of people’s short fuse. You know, they’ve been through so much this year, but neutral things that they used to take as part of life they’re no longer willing to accept.”
The supervisor said that the latest Covid wave seems to be spreading further into the community than it did in spring. “The first-go round, we had a couple of people that got secondary infections because they had members of their family that worked at Ten Broeck Commons and Golden Hill Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, and we had the fallout from all that,” he said. “And this time I’ve got people in almost every [municipal] department that have had it. We’ve have it here in town hall. I have it in my own family. My son got tested positive, and then he got tested negative. We don’t know that we’re doing that well.”
Quigley said the simplest way to keep the virus from spreading was to reduce opportunities for contact, including measures like closing municipal buildings. But that solution is not without its own set of issues.
“There’d be no potential for exposure in the workplace, but I understand that that introduces into the equation, a whole other level of uncertainty,” he said. “You’re going to get to know your wife a lot better because you’re going to be home all the time, or your significant other, but you’re going to end up tired of each other because you’re going to be on each other’s nerves. That introduces a whole other problem into the family dynamics.”
From a municipal standpoint, Quigley said he will continue working on many of the things he always has in 2021. “I have never really focused on the big rah-rah, let’s have a festival, let’s celebrate this or let’s celebrate that,” he said. “I’m not about that. I’m about making sure that the people’s needs are met.”
As for predicting how 2021 will look, it’s far too early to tell. But the supervisor hopes to offer a sense of stability in a time of uncertainty.
“Spring will come,” Quigley said. “The sun will come up tomorrow. I mean, those are the only things I think I can have any optimism in. As to where we go from a society point of view, the stuff that’s going on in health-wise, it’s just all unsettling. Now that being said, I constantly remind myself that the primary job in government is to make life better for people in the community. And that means to keep them safe, keep the water running, keep the sewers running, make sure the fire and police respond to their calls. And that’s what I’ve done for the last twelve years.”