Virus spike traced to golfing

 A spike in COVID-19 cases in Columbia County has been traced back to golf events outside the county. Bill Williams/Columbia-Greene Media

Gatherings at golf courses in July are responsible for the active COVID-19 cases in Columbia County, officials said Tuesday.

The county has 15 new confirmed cases stemming from two golf events that transmitted infections and “gave the virus life,” Columbia County Public Health Director Jack Mabb said in a statement.

The number of people on mandatory quarantine jumped by 18 over the weekend as officials tracked down those who may have been in contact with the infected golfers.

Many of the 102 county residents under mandatory quarantine are connected to the golf gatherings, including employees at four retail stores and two private day cares in the county, officials said.

Mabb addressed rumors of a high number of cases stemming from the Walmart Supercenter on Fairview Avenue in Hudson. The rumors are “untrue as far as we know at this time,” he said.

“There is one confirmed case, although as its employees get tested, there may wind up being more,” Mabb said.

Anyone who has been in contact with an infected person will be contacted by county Department of Health contact tracers and advised whether they need to enter quarantine, Mabb said.

One of the golf gatherings that led to the rise in active cases in the county was held the weekend of July 10-11 and another was held the following Friday, on July 24. Neither event was an organized tournament, Mabb said.

The golf courses where the gatherings took place are not located in Columbia County, officials said.

Mabb has repeatedly cautioned that the county could continue to see spikes caused by community spread, even as new infections in nursing homes subside.

“When it comes to COVID, all we need is one super-spreader and all of a sudden we are right back in it again,” Mabb said July 17.

The rise in cases and quarantines resulting from the golf gatherings confirms that the virus remains active in the county, the public health director said Tuesday.

“This should serve as a reminder that the virus never went away, as well as to how easily one of these outbreaks can happen,” Mabb said. “None of us will be surprised if these numbers continue to escalate.”

Officials believe that the golfers who spread the COVID-19 virus were not wearing masks or social distancing during the outdoor gatherings.

“This outbreak is the likely result of a group of friends getting together and not doing what they should have done when off the course,” Mabb said.

Mabb stressed the importance of following all safety precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“This should be yet another reminder that the wearing of masks and social distancing are not jokes, they have proven to be our

most effective means of helping limit the spread of the virus,” he said.

The public health director warned that a further rise in cases could cause the Capital District Region to lose ground in the state’s economic reopening plan. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said his administration would move to close regions that backslide toward the higher infection rates prevalent earlier in the state’s coronavirus crisis.

State Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-43, who pushed for opening golf courses with reduced capacity in April, responded to the golf gathering outbreaks Tuesday.

“Without question, care, caution and common sense are required to ensure that all Centers for Disease Control and state Department of Health protocols are followed as part of any reopening or even daily activities to protect the health, safety and well-being of New Yorkers, whether they’re riding the subway, grocery shopping, or golfing,” Jordan said in a statement.

Golf courses were given the state’s green-light to reopen ahead of other businesses.

Empire State Development, the state economic development agency, updated its guidance to allow private golf courses to reopen in mid-April, long before the phase 4 reopening granted to other recreational businesses.

Jordan called the golf exception a “small victory” in a statement April 18 after she lobbied Cuomo to reconsider the closure of privately owned golf courses.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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