Greene County has no plans for mask mandate

Wine director Max Whitfield works with a face mask to protect against COVID-19 inside the Green Grocer on July 29, 2021.

After reaching a “substantial” level of community transmission of COVID-19 last week, Greene County has moved back down a level to “moderate” transmission as of Monday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As numbers fluctuate, county officials said there are no plans to impose a countywide mask mandate as Gov. Andrew Cuomo said such authority is left to local governments.

Greene County Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, said the county isn’t considering a countywide mandate. He said the main goal is to keep the number of hospitalizations down as to minimize the impact on the healthcare system, which consists of one hospital for both Columbia and Greene counties.

“I think No. 1 the vaccine has taken a lot of those (hospitalizations) away,” Linger said.

Linger said no one was hospitalized as of Friday and that the metric of community transmission to determine mask-wearing will be like a “seesaw” as it fluctuates.

The rate of community transmission nationwide remains high with the seven-day positivity rate over 8.9%, according to the CDC.

Linger said the threat continues to be illnesses severe enough to require hospitalization or ventilators, and Groden said local businesses suffered more than they needed to during the first mandate.

“I don’t think we’re going to go backwards. We want people open, we want schools open,” Groden said.

As defined by the World Health Organization, community transmission is evident when large numbers of positive tests cannot be related through a chain of infection. According to the CDC, 50% of the total population of Greene County is fully vaccinated, and nearly 60% of the population age 12 and over who are eligible to receive the vaccine have completed a vaccine series.

Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden said it’s not unusual for the county to “yo-yo” in terms of its positivity rate, which is expected to fluctuate, but any downswing in cases should not be taken for granted.

“Just because we go down doesn’t mean people should not consider getting vaccinated if you haven’t already been vaccinated. It’s to your best interest to get vaccinated,” Groden said.

Greene County Public Health announced July 28 that it is asking people to wear a mask in all public indoor settings to help prevent the spread of COVID regardless of their vaccination status after the CDC deemed the county is at “substantial risk” of community transmission, according to a Facebook post.

At the time, the county had the highest rate of community transmission of COVID-19 north of New York City, according to the CDC. The CDC reports Columbia, Albany, Rensselaer, Schoharie, Saratoga and Schenectady counties pose a “substantial risk” of community transmission.

Cuomo urged local officials and government leaders Monday to impose COVID vaccine mandates and requirements in municipalities across the state’s 62 counties as virus cases spike.

The state’s COVID-related state of emergency, and the governor’s expanded authority, ended June 25 — terminating Cuomo’s ability to enact statewide coronavirus mandates, including laws to wear masks or vaccine requirements.

Cuomo noted the CDC’s new COVID-19 guidelines the federal agency released last week recommending fully vaccinated people to wear masks indoors, especially in high COVID-19 transmission areas.

“CDC doesn’t mandate, the local governments do it,” Cuomo said. “The state has strongly recommended that local governments do it, but it’s up to the local governments. The only way you overcome the local governments is with a state law, which is what we did last time.”

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(2) comments


August 4, 2021

Re: Demand to create competent, effective COVID-19 vaccination campaign

Dear Ms. Kaplan:

As I’ve written, Greene County’s response to COVID-19 is inadequate. I argue that your lack of a Masters in Public Health (“MPH”) matters. Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden defends your qualifications. But a professional degree tends to insulate the job from politics.

Three months ago, my sister’s husband died of COVID-19. My sister Jenny worked as an activities director at an upscale retirement facility. She decided to retire at 64 to prevent bringing the virus home to my father, who she cared for. A week later, she and her husband tested positive for COVID-19. Jerry died four days later.

The purpose of this letter is to demand an immediate campaign to vaccinate Greene County residents. Our 49% vaccination rate is pathetic. The national average is 70%. The benefits of herd immunity begin at 70%.

My criticism of your department began with a lawsuit to pause jail construction. I argued that the workers came from more infected places each day. The criticism continued on May 20, 2020, with a letter demanding that you order county deputies and village/town police to wear masks.

You failed to reply to either demand. You have no plans for a mask mandate. Your husband’s response is to arrest, charge and prosecute me. I think you get my point.

I look forward to your response.

Very truly yours,

Scott Myers

39 West Bridge Street

Catskill, NY 12414


Greene County's 49% vaccination rate is a Republican number and pathetic. The national rate is 70%. At that rate, herd immunity begins, but not at 49%. 13 months ago, I wrote to Kimberly Kaplan, the director of public health, demanding that she order law enforcement to wear masks. I got no response. Last August, I sued to pause jail construction because the workers come into the county each day from more infected places. Again, I got no response. Greene County mishandled COVID-19. Tourism and a pandemic are mutually exclusive. As I've written, Ms. Kaplan's lack of a Masters of Public Health ("MPH") is a problem. At the outset, Greene County failed to test adequately. They only tested symptomatic people, but the virus is primarily spread by asymptomatic. Greene County never provided vaccinations. The vaccines came from 3rd parties like pharmacies. Mr. Groden, our county administrator, defends his department leadership, but Mental Health, Public Health, DSS, and Probation are subpar and essentially defective. It's a reason our safety net citizens are not adequately included, why our minority business ownership is just 10 out of 1,300 businesses, and why we have such a very high drug and opioid problem. Their solution is to obligate a new $90 million debt for a jail we don't need and destroy the sheriff's office at 80 Bridge St., another loss of $6.2 million.

Greene County must immediately begin an effective campaign to get people vaccinated. They should also fund a standing ATI committee, Alternatives To Incarceration.


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