Lawmakers in Greene and Columbia counties took a stand Monday against rushing to reopen the Capital Region economy.
The Capital Region cannot reopen until more testing supplies are made available, lawmakers said Monday.
In a statement April 28, Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, urged no further action to be taken on reopening the economy until test kits are adequately distributed.
“County leadership has had daily contact with the governor’s office strongly urging the state to fairly distribute all available test kits between the eight counties that comprise our Capital Region, which includes: Greene, Columbia, Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Washington and Warren Counties,” Linger said. “Since test kits are limited, we continue to raise this concern and request appropriate action with the governor’s office in advance of any reopening guidance and regulations for the region.”
Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murell stands by Greene County.
“I agree with Greene County wholeheartedly,” he said. “We have not gotten testing supplies. We had a very limited number, which ran out early on.”
Columbia County received 200 test kits from the state and ordered 2,000 commercial testing kits from Thermo Fisher Scientific using donated funds. The county has received 1,000 kits so far, with an additional 1,000 kits expected in the coming weeks.
“We had to resort to buying our own because we weren’t getting a lot of assistance from the state in getting test kits or from the federal government,” Murell said.
Both counties have struggled to maintain supplies of personal protective equipment.
“It’s been hard for us to get PPE,” Murell said. “Our emergency management office is responsible for getting PPE for the hospital nursing homes and first responders.”
Murell believes the difficulty in getting supplies was due to the needs in New York City.
“It’s mainly because New York City is the epicenter,” Murell said. “All resources initially went to New York City.”
Greene County received 200 test kits from the state and placed a commercial order for 1,000, which the manufacturer reduced to 700, Linger said.
The first 25 kits in the order are on their way from Texas, Linger said Monday.
A request has also been made for another 300 kits from the state, Linger said.
Linger received word Monday from the governor’s office that the state would be performing testing for all of the staff and residents at The Pines at Catskill Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, including people who had previously tested negative, he said.
“If we don’t have those [test] results on a significant enough number of residents, how do you meet those goals?,” Linger said, referring to the reopening guidelines set by the governor. “If you’re not hitting the entire region, you’re only hitting the cities and things like that. Albany County doesn’t have as much of an issue getting tests. They have mobile sites, drive-thru sites. Greene County has an issue even getting tests, let alone having a drive-thru. We’re just trying to hit the goals the governor is laying down.”
Murell agreed that more testing is needed.
“For us to be able to qualify to reopen, we have to do more testing,” he said. “We open as a region, it’s not done county by county. It’s based on the number of cases, the number of hospital beds, a number of factors.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo laid out the guidelines for reopening regions of the state.
A region must experience a 14-day decline in its hospitalization rate and a decline in deaths on a three-day rolling average. Additionally, a region must have fewer than two new COVID patients admitted per 100,000 residents per day. For regions with few cases, the area cannot exceed 15 new hospitalizations or five new deaths on a three-day rolling average.
The first phase will include construction and manufacturing sectors, followed by businesses considered to be more essential and with reduced risk of infection.
There will be two weeks between each phase to monitor its effect on hospitalization rates. Hospitals must maintain at least a 30% vacancy and have a 90-day supply of protective equipment.
Regions that reopen must keep up a strict testing regimen and have the capacity to test 30 tests for every 1,000 residents per month.
A minium of 30 contact tracers is required for every 100,000 people, according to governor.ny.gov. Reopened regions must also have space available for positive patients who cannot self-isolate.
As of Monday, none of the 10 regions in the state met all of the criteria to reopen.
The Twin Counties have taken steps to prepare for the reopening. Greene County Economic Development Corporation surveyed close to 100 local businesses about reopening the economy in preparation, Linger said.
The survey asked businesses how much time they need to reassemble employees and modify operations once restrictions are lifted, what challenges are unique or specific to their business sector [in terms of the pandemic], what percentage of their usual occupancy/customer traffic do they need to operate profitably and what percentage of their usual business comes from outside of Greene County.
The results were sent last week to the regional economic development council, Linger said.
“Businesses were very good at looking outside the box at what they could do to open even on limited basis,” he said.
The county is also working with the local resort industry, discussing options such as all-inclusive meals, he said.
“As far as general businesses go, there were quite a few good suggestions to protect their employees and customers coming in,” Linger said. “We had a fairly diverse response.”
Each businesses is unique, he said. Some businesses are able to do sales over the internet, some have a more locally based clientele, while others rely on visitors.
“A lot of our economy is based on tourism,” Linger said. “We are the southern entry into the Capital District, so we do expect if some of those industries are opened up, we’re relatively sure a lot of those people will be headed our way. We want to make sure have plans in place and test kits available. Nobody wants to see a second round here.”
Greene County’s COVID-19 related death county doubled from five to 10 in three days. Four of the deaths were nursing home residents, Linger said. A fifth was an inmate in one of the prison facilities in Coxsackie, he said.
In Columbia County, 16 residents have died from COVID-19, according to the Columbia County Department of Health.
In Columbia County, the Board of Supervisors formed a Columbia Comeback committee, comprised of government officials and members of the local business community, to assist businesses with the transition.
“I’m pleased to announce the formation of Columbia Comeback and looking forward to seeing the committee become a great resource for Columbia County businesses as we look ahead to the time when we can resume business activities,” Murell said in a statement.
Columbia County Chamber of Commerce President Jeffrey Hunt and Columbia Economic Development Corporation President F. Michael Tucker will serve as co-chairs of the committee.
Columbia Comeback will look to guide the implementation of the governor’s guidelines for the reopening, facilitate communication to ensure the safe reopening of businesses and provide resources, guidance and assistance to businesses as they work to ramp up to full operation, Murrell said.
“Local health officials will be critical in this process as we look to them for their expertise on best practices,” added Murell. “We must continue to prioritize public health as we look to help restore our business community.”
Murell expects that increased testing and tracing, with business participation, will play a large role, and that businesses should prepare to operate at lower capacities as they keep employees and customers six feet apart. Businesses should plan to implement enhanced sanitation practices and utilize protective equipment such as masks and gloves, while ensuring employees do not go to work if ill, and should continue to encourage telework where possible, he said.
“Businesses may want to revisit their business model to evaluate what new revenue sources they may be able to create,” Murell said.