CATSKILL - A five-day state of emergency, which includes an order to close schools beginning Wednesday, was issued by the Greene County Legislature at a special meeting Sunday in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus spread.
The decision comes on the heels of confirmation of a report that three people who tested positive for the virus outside of the county traveled to Greene County to self-quarantine. Legislature Chairman Patrick S. Linger, R-New Baltimore, stressed that no positive COVID-19 cases have been found that originated in Greene County.
“We don’t have a confirmed case that caught this in Greene County,” Linger said. “That is a good thing, and we want to keep it that way.”
The Legislature met with school district officials and county department heads at Sunday’s meeting to plan out the county’s response to the pandemic. The most efficient way to reduce the spread of the illness is social distancing, Linger said.
“The best way to stop this is to put space in between people,” Linger said.
The Windham-Ashland-Jewett School District closed March 11 when the relative of a staff member experienced flu-like symptoms. The staff member’s relative was tested for COVID-19, which came back negative.
To facilitate social distancing, Linger signed an executive order canceling classes in all public schools in Greene County effective Wednesday.
Dr. Robert Schneider, medical director for the town of Hunter, attended the meeting via conference call and recommended classes be canceled immediately.
“My biggest concern today, and my hope, is that you look at our schools and close them,” Schneider told legislators. “Dr. [Anthony] Fauci this morning clearly stated that the schools should be closed down, and kids can transmit.”
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, is one of the nation’s top infectious disease experts who is leading the fight against the novel coronavirus.
One infected student can infect many people, Schneider said.
“If we can shut our schools down and limit people from spreading it in our schools, we will protect our teachers, their families and other students and families,” Schneider said.
He urged the immediate closure of schools, which neighboring Ulster and Dutchess counties have done.
“By limiting the distance, we can decrease the risk of this disease,” Schneider added.
Linger’s executive order mandates the cancellation of classes beginning Wednesday, but individual school districts may decide to stop classes earlier.
At press time Sunday, district superintendents had not decided the scheduling for class cancellations and suggested parents check school district websites for more information.
The executive order will expire in five days. The Legislature will review its stipulations and make modifications as needed on an ongoing basis, Linger said.
Three people in Greene County who tested positive outside the county for COVID-19 traveled to the county to their second homes to self-quarantine, Greene County Public Health Director Kim Kaplan said at Sunday’s meeing.
None of them contracted the illness in Greene County, Linger said.
Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden declined to identify where the three people who were diagnosed with the virus, nor where they are in quarantine. Kaplan would also not say where they are from or where they are recuperating.
Legislator Harry Lennon, D-Cairo, asked if there was a way to ensure the three people comply with quarantine requirements.
“We have no reason to believe they are not complying with the quarantine, and we check in with them daily,” Kaplan said.
The health departments where the three cases originated are also maintaining contact with the three victims of the virus and monitoring the situation with temperature checks.
Check back for more on this developing story.