The toll the coronavirus is taking on the Harlem Valley: 12 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Dutchess County
DUTCHESS COUNTY — As of Thursday morning, March 12, the first case of COVID-19 in Dutchess County was suspected, with the announcement of a 3 p.m. press conference webcast scheduled for Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro and Dutchess County Health Commissioner Dr. Avil Vaidian of the Department of Behavioral and Community Health
(DBCH) fueling the speculation. By around 3:30 p.m. Thursday, that suspicion was confirmed, and Molinaro announced that a county resident had indeed tested positive for the coronavirus. The officials did not disclose where the patient lives or works, or which hospital the individual was tested at, citing HIPAA privacy rules. By Saturday, March 14, the DBCH shared news of a fourth positive case of coronavirus in Dutchess County, this time connected to the Bard College community; the college is in Annandale-on-Hudson.
Dr. Vaidian said, “While we are not generally disclosing locations of cases out of an abundance of respect for the privacy of these individuals and their rights under HIPAA laws, we are confirming this location as it is a college campus where there are close interactions and the individual was known to be in contact with numerous people on the campus. Bard College will be doing outreach to those in contact with the individual and we will engage in monitoring protocol.”
Molinaro described the situation as “evolving” at the press conference. He also said the county has activated its Emergency Response System.
Tuesday morning, March 17, Molinaro’s office said that there are at least 12 confirmed positive case in Dutchess County.
County Communications Director Colleen Pillus added that “The most important messaging to share with readers is what the county executive has been pushing out — every person should be acting under the assumption that they may have had contact with someone else who has coronavirus or has been in contact with someone who has — or even better, act as if you personally have coronavirus and stay home.”
By 7 p.m. Monday, NBC New York’s coronavirus online tracking tool reported 950 cases in New York state and seven New York state deaths. The Tri-State area total was reported at 1,169.
After learning of the fourth Dutchess County COVID-19 patient, Molinaro had this to say:
“We remain vigilant in responding to and containing individual cases of coronavirus as they are confirmed. However, the community’s focus must not be the specific cases or numbers, but rather on staying healthy with vigilant personal hygiene — hand washing, cleaning and social distancing. The actions I ordered yesterday — cancellation of large social and community gatherings and closure of schools for two weeks — are to help slow the spread of coronavirus and decrease the impact to our community.”
In fact, although New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered no public gatherings larger than 500 last week, Molinaro called for even tighter controls, recommending public gatherings not exceed 20 people, confirmed county spokesperson Sean McMann. McMann added that “the county will enforce, as necessary,” but did not respond by press-time what that enforcement would look like. By Monday afternoon, though, President Trump advised people not to meet in groups larger than 10.
“We don’t have a lot of large gatherings… but what I am concerned about is obviously our older residents, especially those who can’t easily get out and go shopping and so forth,” North East town Supervisor Chris Kennan said. “And I am concerned about the impact on our businesses. We have some very small, struggling businesses, and the impact already on our restaurants and eateries is significant.”
Also on Monday, Millerton Mayor Debbie Middlebrook said the Millerton Business Alliance plans to meet to form a strategy the help local businesses survive the pandemic. Initially, the mayor said she heard a number of local businesses were limiting their hours and would only open by appointment. That, of course, was to change, though local eateries seemed to be on the same page as the governor and county exec.
“The diner is doing only curb-side delivery or delivery to home.”
In a fast-moving turn of events, later Monday morning saw the announcement of big news from the governor in Albany, as well as from the governors of New Jersey and Connecticut. They placed wide-reaching restrictions on public life, banning gatherings of more than 50 people (this was before Trump’s 10-person limit made headlines) in all three states and ordering most nonessential businesses closed, effective 8 p.m. Monday night.
That rule will affect places like movie theaters and gyms, while limiting bars and restaurants to takeout and delivery service only. Cuomo is hoping the coordination among the three states will keep residents from crossing state lines to shop, dine and be entertained. Casinos will also be shuttered.
The move will still allow for essential businesses, like grocery stores, gas stations and pharmacies, to remain open.
“I think it’s appropriate,” said Kennan Monday afternoon. “I think probably it should have been done maybe a week or two ago, but it’s the right thing to do. We have to flatten the curve. It’s going to be very impactful on our local economies, though, and that concerns me a lot. I’ve been in touch with our county executive, urging him and other county execs to delay or postpone the business sales tax, which is due very shortly, as a quick way of giving relief to businesses that had to shut down and have no way to pay their employees.”
The North East town supervisor said Molinaro seemed receptive to the idea, and it’s being discussed by county executives around the state.
It was on March 14 that the governor declared a State of Emergency to clear the way for more testing, the purchase of more supplies and the hiring of more workers.
One day earlier, on March 13, President Trump had declared the pandemic a national emergency and pledged to provide $50 billion in emergency funding, while Congress and the White House agreed on an extensive relief package.
According to live updates of a New York Times database on www.nytimes.com, “The number of known coronavirus cases in the United States continues to surge… As of Tuesday morning [March 17], there have been at least 4,482 cases of coronavirus confirmed by lab tests and 86 deaths.”
In light of the severity of the respiratory illness and the speed with which it spreads, officials across the board are stressing proper hygiene and safety precautions: Social distancing -— keeping at least 6 feet from other individuals — is key, as is proper hand washing for at least 20 seconds (Molinaro and
Dr. Vaidian both confirmed getting enough friction when scrubbing hands is essential), covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue or elbow, disinfecting all surfaces — don’t forget those cell phones — and staying home when sick. Dr. Vaidian also explained that the virus’ transmission load is through respiratory droplets, so “physical proximity is the most important factor for risk of transmission.”
If one experiences any symptoms: fever, coughing or shortness of breath, the county urges calling one’s doctor rather than visiting the doctor’s office in person or going to the emergency room. Of course, go to the ER if there’s an emergency. Concerned residents can also call 911, as its operators know how to screen for coronavirus.
For more on how local businesses are coping with COVID-19, and the decision to shut down Dutchess County schools, read Kaitlin Lyle’s front page articles this week.