CATSKILL — Greene County Public Health released its first breakdown of COVID-19 cases by town six months after Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency.
Columbia County Department of Health released its first breakdown by town and adult-care facilities April 10, less than a month after the statewide shutdown, and continues to release an update of cases by town each Friday.
Greene County began reporting the number of positive cases in nursing homes or assisted-living facilities in May, one month after its first nursing home COVID-19 case at The Pines at Catskill Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation.
“We’re far enough into the game, now there’s not a lot of identifiable information,” Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, said Monday about the county’s initial hesitation to release a breakdown. “We’re at almost 400 cases now, so it’s a little tougher now to break that down to a certain person.”
Greene County Public Health also grouped some towns and hamlets together to make it more difficult to identify an individual, Linger said.
For example, Windham and Ashland are paired together, as are Halcott and Prattsville.
Columbia County also had to evaluate whether releasing the breakdown would be a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, Department of Health Director Jack Mabb said.
“When we started out — it seems like 100 years ago — there were supervisors within the county looking for more specific information like street addresses,” Mabb said.
That type of information would make it too easy to identify a resident, Mabb said, but the reporting system lists cases by town and does not list addresses.
“We didn’t feel that a breakdown by town would be giving out information that would give people away in terms of identity,” he said.
The release, which took place Friday, came in response to requests from the public, Linger said.
“There’s not really any use for the public but they were asking for it, so when we were comfortable with it we released it,” Linger said.
Mabb said several town supervisors had requested the information.
“I don’t know how useful the breakdown will be for people,” Mabb said. “Over time, what it has shown is that virtually every town has some positives. The towns that are more populated have more cases because there are more people living in close proximity.”
The towns reporting the biggest portion of Greene County’s caseload over the past six months include Catskill with 175 cases, 92 of which were from nursing homes or assisted-living facilities; 36 from the Cairo area; and 23 from Athens. The county has a total of 319 cases, one of which was active on Friday.
In Columbia County, Valatie led the way with 159 cases, 142 of which were from The Grand Rehabilitation and Nursing at Barnwell; 60 in Philmont, 51 of which were from Pine Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation Center; 41 from Kinderhook; 40 in Greenport; and 33 from Hudson, two of which were from Livingston Hills Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. The county had 551 cases to date Friday; three cases were active.
In late March, the Greene County Legislature discouraged visitors, weekenders and second homeowners from traveling to the county during the pandemic, saying local resources would be overwhelmed.
The county’s daily report lists how many travelers are on quarantine in the county, but does not identify how many travelers have tested positive for the virus. There were 104 travelers in quarantine Friday.
“It wasn’t really a big concern where they came from,” Linger said. “If they were here, we counted them. I don’t know that [the breakdown] matters.”
Contact tracers attempt to determine where the person contracted the virus, Linger said.
Columbia County does not ask individuals who come to be tested if they are full- or part-time residents, Mabb said, although sometimes the individual shares that information.
“Early on, out of our first 50 cases, it seemed to be half of them came up from the city,” Mabb said. “They came up to escape the virus only to find out they were positive.”
Greene County has been testing about 100 people per week at its clinic each Wednesday, Linger said. About 325 to 340 county residents are tested each day at various sites, he said.
About 70 people have been coming to Columbia County’s walk-up clinics to be tested, Mabb said. At upcoming clinics, health officials will be collecting insurance information because the county will use LabCorp instead of the state’s Wadsworth laboratory, Mabb said.
“Walk-up is a lot more convenient,” Mabb said, noting that the last drive-thru clinic had 19 people. “It will be interesting to see [the turnout] given the fact that we have to take insurance.”
About 3,000 residents have been tested per month from June through August, Mabb said. Some residents are tested more than once.
“Just under 14,000 [residents] have been tested since March,” he said. The county has received over 30,000 tests from various testing sites since the start of the pandemic and about 3,000 antibody tests, he said.
“Very soon we will be offering antibody testing to EMS, law enforcement and first responders,” Mabb said. “We have 1,000 kits to do that with.”
Antibody testing in conjunction with Columbia Memorial Health will be available to the public after first responders are tested, Mabb said, adding that a test site has not been determined.
Greene County’s weekly clinics are from 5:30-6:30 p.m. outside the County Office Building on Main Street, Catskill. To register for testing call 518-719-3600 ext. 1.
Upcoming clinics in Columbia County include Sept. 22 and Sept. 29, from 9-11 a.m. outside the former John L. Edwards Elementary School in Hudson. Preregistration is not required.
Both counties have released flu clinic schedules. Greene County has four upcoming drive-thru clinics, Sept. 22 at Riverside Park in Coxsackie, Sept. 24 at the Windham Wastewater Treatment Plant, Sept. 29 at Dutchman’s Landing in Catskill and Oct. 1 at Angelo Canna Town Park in Cairo.
All clinics will run from 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and preregistration is required. To register, call 518-719-3600 ext. 4.
Columbia County flu clinics include Sept. 23 at the Roe Jan Library in Hillsdale from 9-11 a.m., Sept. 30 at the Columbia County Fairgrounds in Chatham from 9-11 a.m., Oct. 3 at Columbia-Greene Community College from 9 a.m. to noon, Oct. 8 at Palantine Park in Germantown from 9-11 a.m., Oct. 17 at Ichabod Crane Central School from 9-11 a.m., and Oct. 22 at New Lebanon Town Hall from 10 a.m. to noon. To register, visit columbiacountynyhealth.com.
“This is also in response to the request from DOH (Department of Health) that we begin to prepare for COVID vaccination clinics,” Mabb said. “This is going to be the model.”
Getting the flu shot is more important this year, Mabb said.
“I strongly encourage people to get a flu shot,” he said. “This year is more important than ever due to COVID and also, it helps us practice.”