COVID violations will carry fines

Fines can be issued for not wearing mandated face masks or following social-distancing regulations. Courtesy of Tribune News Service

HUDSON — COVID-19 outbreaks throughout Columbia County could mean fines for policy violators.

The number of active COVID cases in Columbia County hit levels close to their peaks in June.

“There seems to be a critical mass with this virus when it gets into the community. Any one of these cases could blow up on us, or not. But I think we have a handle on it right now,” Columbia County Department of Health Director Jack Mabb said in a statement Monday.

Columbia County has 62 active COVID cases. Nineteen people are hospitalized and one is in the intensive care unit, according to the health department. Ninety-nine people in the county are in mandatory quarantine.

Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order to strengthen enforcement of social distancing and the use of face coverings. Local law enforcement and public health staff have the authority to write citations and bring in violators for a hearing under the state’s public health law.

“The governor’s executive order provides a tool to county governments to enforce violations,” county Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murell, R-Stockport, said in a statement. “We are all aware that we need to wear a mask, wash our hands and maintain social distance. Now there is a mechanism for fining someone who fails to do what’s necessary to help keep this pandemic under control.”

Under public health law, anyone can be fined up to $1,000 for failing to wear a mask at the appropriate time or for not properly social distancing. Anyone who encourages, promotes or organizes a non-essential gathering can be fined up to $15,000 a day.

“What everyone should understand is that the Department of Health is not the face-mask police,” said Mabb. “We’re not going out and processing individual complaints about people walking down the street not wearing a face mask. On the other hand, if there’s an establishment with people flowing in and out and nobody’s wearing a mask, we will cite them. Further, we have been and will continue to respond to businesses whose employees ignore wearing face masks. We will go out and continue to educate, but if the violation occurs again, we can now write a citation.”

If the department heard about a large gathering being planned, like a wedding, the department would inform the planners they can potentially be fined up to $15,000 under the executive order, Mabb said.

Positive COVID cases turned up recently in the Ichabod Crane, Taconic Hills and Germantown school districts.

Ichabod Crane was closed Monday due to a COVID case at the primary school. Students and staff who had been in contact with the student have been contacted to quarantine, but the rest of the primary-school students were able to return to in-person classes Tuesday. Middle- and high-school students returned to remote learning Tuesday and Wednesday.

Taconic Hills reported a positive COVID case Monday. The student had not been inside the school since last Wednesday. The school district and health department identified 75 students and 10 staff members who had been in close proximity to the student.

“We ask that all school families, students and staff members continue following all safety guidelines outside of school hours, including wearing masks when in public, social distancing, limiting group gatherings and practicing good hygiene,” Taconic Hills Superintendent Neil L. Howard Jr. said in a statement. “As always, the health and safety of students and staff is the top priority and we appreciate your continued support.”

Germantown Central School District reported two positive COVID cases among elementary school students. The students had not been in school since Oct. 16. The district and health department determined that the two students had not had any close contacts in the school. The school district had not had any previous COVID cases.

“It’s really important for everyone to understand that this is not a school just trying to handle this alone. We are 100% partners with our Columbia County Department of Health; we do everything together. And when there’s a positive case we immediately begin communicating and working as a partnership with them,” Germantown School Superintendent Susan Brown said.

Columbia County has had a total of 39 COVID-related deaths since March. The two most recent deaths were residents at Ghent Assisted Living. Prior to this month the facility had not had any positive COVID cases earlier in the pandemic.

Ghent Assisted Living has had 53 positive cases. Forty-five residents and eight staff members tested positive, Mabb said.

The Department of Health will host COVID testing clinics at the former John L. Edwards Primary School in Hudson on Nov. 10, Nov. 17 and Dec. 1, from 9-11 a.m. Pre-registration is not required to attend the clinic. A photo ID is required for a test and a mask is required to enter the testing site. Each testing day is limited to 100 tests.

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