CATSKILL — As cases at Greene Correctional Facility continue to climb, the county is experiencing a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases, according to Greene County Public Health.
In less than two weeks, the county’s cases soared from five on Sept. 30 to 97 on Tuesday, 73 of which stemmed from Greene Correctional Facility. None of the county’s active cases have required hospitalization, Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, said.
“About 82% of our cases are in that [Greene Correctional],” Linger said.
Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden agreed most of the cases are from the prison.
“The graph makes it look like the county is infected but we aren’t actually infected,” Groden said, referring to a chart released by Public Health on Tuesday. “The problem is at the prison. They are quarantining hundreds of people at the prison to try to combat it, but talk about not being able to social distance. It is difficult to social distance or wear a mask at a prison. Masks could be used for other purposes, like to strangle someone.”
Greene Correctional had 73 cases on Tuesday, state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision spokesman Thomas Mailey said.
“These individuals were immediately isolated and a contact trace was conducted and those identified were quarantined and tested,” Mailey said. “Mass testing of all asymptomatic incarcerated individuals at Greene Correctional Facility is currently underway.”
Although inmate cases are counted in the county’s totals, management of the cases is overseen by the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, Linger said.
“We don’t have any control over what goes on in the prison,” he said. “It’s completely under the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. The Public Health Department can’t make any policy changes there.”
State correctional facilities are isolating and testing any inmate showing symptoms, conducting contact tracing and quarantining and testing inmates who are identified as part of the contact trace.
“Any individual that is COVID-19 positive or in quarantine as part of a contact trace is not allowed a visit,” Mailey said. “It is critical that both staff and incarcerated individuals continue to follow the protocols in place, which include the mandatory use of masks for all staff, visitors and incarcerated individuals when participating in activities.”
Inmates transferring from a county jail to a state correctional facility must test negative for the virus before being transferred, Mailey said.
The influx of cases over the holiday weekend was alarming, Linger said.
“It blindsided our Public Health Department when [DOCCS] did mass testing over the weekend and those results came in over the holiday when the full staff was not there,” he said.
The county is working with DOCCS to coordinate mass testing for staff, Linger said.
“Apparently DOCCS is not testing staff,” he said. “The inmates are not the ones out in the community every day.”
Corrections staff can request a COVID test through their physician or visit a state testing site, Mailey said.
As of Tuesday, DOCCS reported 1,367 employee cases statewide. DOCCS does not provide a breakdown for staff by facility, Mailey said, citing privacy reasons.
Staff are subject to daily health screenings including temperature checks, Mailey said. All staff identified as part of a contact trace are quarantined and referred to a testing site.
Local school districts have reported a few positives, but nothing substantial, Linger said.
“There has not been a huge jump in cases related to schools,” he said.
Greenville and Catskill central schools have reported positive cases and made changes to limit exposure accordingly.
Linger does not want the inmate cases to count against Greene County, he said.
“We are working with the state to make sure inmate numbers are not going to affect us in that manner,” he said. “They are, by design, an effectively quarantined population anyway.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced new restrictions last week on houses of worship, mass gatherings, dining, schools and businesses in clusters identified in Brooklyn, Queens and Orange and Rockland counties.
The county had a positive rate of 2.7% on Monday, according to forward.ny.gov.
Greene County is listed as a “red county” in Vermont’s travel advisory, meaning it has more than 800 active cases per million and travelers from Greene County are required to complete a 14-day quarantine.
The county has an adequate supply of tests and continues to offer weekly testing from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. each Wednesday, Linger said. The clinic has moved indoors to the foyer of the second floor.
Linger was not aware of any changes made to the criteria residents must meet to be tested, he said.
The wait time for test results can vary, depending on which lab the county uses, Linger said.
“Wadsworth, the state lab up in Albany, generally has a quicker return,” he said. When there is a significant backlog of tests, the county switches to Quest, which can take about a week rather than two to three days, Linger said.
Linger was unsure if antibody testing will be offered in the future, he said.
“I’m not sure if anybody has decided what that test really means other than that you had it,” he said.
In terms of the county’s increase in cases, Linger encourages the public to remain vigilant.
“I don’t know if you need to be more cautious but this is not the time to put your guard down,” he said.
Linger believes most residents are compliant with the state directives.
“Most people [comply] as far as I can tell,” he said. “The sheriff said he’s had fewer complaints on the state hotline. It doesn’t mean that people don’t get more complacent around a group they’re comfortable with.”
Columbia County is experiencing a slight uptick in cases, with 17 cases on Tuesday. “We’re not really seeing what I would consider a spike at this point in time,” Columbia County Department of Health Director Jack Mabb said.