COXSACKIE — State officials agreed Monday to separate COVID inmate cases from Greene County’s overall caseload, allowing the county’s indoor movie theaters to reopen, the Legislature chairman said.
Local theaters such as The Community Theatre of Catskill and Windham Theatre could not reopen Oct. 23 with the rest of the state, excluding New York City, because the county did not meet Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s guidelines.
Theaters outside New York City can operate as long as the county has a positivity rate less than 2% on a 14-day rolling average and no cluster zones.
The outbreak at Greene Correctional Facility greatly affected the county’s numbers, with about 67% of Friday’s cases reported at the facility.
Greene County Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, received correspondence Monday from the Capital Region Control Room and Empire State Development confirming that the inmate cases had been separated and that Greene County movie theaters could open.
“We are at a 1.3% 14-day rolling average,” Linger said.
The Community Theatre did not immediately outline its reopening plans.
“When we are permitted to reopen we will evaluate the potential health risk to our customers and staff, as well as our ability to meet the new guidelines and present a quality theater-going experience for our customers,” according to an Oct. 20 statement from the theater.
Separating the inmate numbers was one of several requests the county had for the state.
“We were told they were stopping visitations, they were going to send rapid test kits to finish testing of their staff and we were told that any inmate being paroled would have to test negative before they were released,” Linger said. “We were also told that Greene County Public Health will have access to contact-tracing information for staff. I don’t have any of that in writing yet.”
Information on staff cases, if the employee is a Greene County resident, will be relayed to Greene County Public Health so contact tracing can occur.
“They had no ability to find out what the movements of staff are within the facility or who to look at for contact tracing,” Linger said.
The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision administered about 1,150 tests to inmates at the facility and staff were directed to state testing sites or had to request a test from their physician.
Greene County Public Health tested 97 of the facility’s 652 employees Oct. 19, after initially being denied permission to conduct on-site testing. More than 1,450 correctional employees statewide have tested positive for the virus.
Staff cases from the prison have been linked to cases in the Greenville Central School District and a nursing home in Columbia County, Linger said.
Three elementary school students and one staff member tested positive for the virus last week and the district announced that Scott M. Ellis Elementary School would be closed until November. About 350 elementary students are now learning from home.
About 133 students and 25 staff members have been or will be placed on quarantine by Greene County Public Health, District Superintendent Tammy Sutherland said. Some of the students and staff identified through contact tracing are Albany County residents and the district is awaiting those numbers, Sutherland said.
Greene County Public Health offered voluntary on-campus testing late last week, Linger said.
The county will continue to push for the prison policies to be implemented statewide, Linger said.
“If an outbreak happens in another county, their health department will have the same roadblock that we ran into trying to prevent the spread outside of the facility,” he said. “If you don’t have policies in place, it can get out of the facility very quickly and you don’t even know it.”
The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision suspended visitation and transfers Oct. 21 at Greene and Elmira correctional facilities, according to doccs.ny.gov. Visitation was suspended at Southport Correctional on Sunday.
Greene Correctional Facility ranked second Friday in the number of inmate COVID-19 cases in state prisons, with 132 total cases, 32 of whom have recovered. Elmira was No. 1 with 459 cases. About 1,150 tests were administered to inmates at the facility and 32 inmates have recovered.
To be identified as a cluster zone, Greene County would have to meet several criteria and the increase in positive cases cannot be attributed to a single facility.
Several areas in New York City identified as clusters saw increased restrictions to houses of worship, mass gatherings, dining, schools and businesses under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Cluster Combat Initiative.