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Sullivan County Manager Talks About COVID-19 Impacts

Sullivan County COVID-19 dashboard, May 19, 2020
Courtesy of Sullivan County government
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Sullivan County COVID-19 dashboard, May 19, 2020

Sullivan County, New York is part of the Mid-Hudson reopening plan. The region has not yet reached the seven metrics required by the state to begin Phase 1 of reopening. WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne spoke with the Sullivan County manager about how his county is faring during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a number of attractions temporarily closed as the summer season is upon us.

Sullivan County, along with Dutchess, Putnam, Orange, Rockland, Ulster and Westchester Counties make up the Mid-Hudson region that remains under the NY Pause restrictions. Sullivan County Manager Josh Potosek serves on the Regional Control Board.

We're trending pretty much aligned with the Mid-Hudson region metrics- Within- So there's the two main categories that we're falling short on as a region. Our numbers are very similar to the region in general. I think I'm one we're a little bit lower one a little bit higher, but it's within the ballpark on each. So it's like we're not wildly out of line on any of those metrics compared to the Mid-Hudson.

And those two metrics being?

Um, It's the, the hospitalization, deaths have- It has to be decreasing over a consecutive number of days where the region's still early on in the two or three day range out of about I think 10 or 11, is how they reset the metric. And the second is the new hospitalizations of less than two per 100,000.

Do you find the region- The counties comprising the Mid-Hudson region fair?

Well, I don't know. This is a tough decision of the state and the governor had to make because any region you're in is not going to be ideal. I mean, obviously, we have a lot of similarities, certainly with the Western portions of Ulster, you know, some of Orange County. But yeah, I think trying to compare us to a Westchester: with cities and population density, that's just not something we experience or have- Is yeah, it's tough. I think when you're looking at a Sullivan, we're a lot more like a Delaware County, a Greene County, we may be a little bit of a Columbia County- So, just from an economy and and a population density. But I understand kind of where the regions got set up kind of, ease of use there. We, we do work a lot with- I do work a lot with Orange, Ulster, Dutchess on various things. So there's a lot of synergy and commonality there from government operations. But yeah, it's tough to have- For us, we're such a small population, county relative. And I think when you're looking at 2.3 million people in the region, and we're 76,000 it's about 3%. So we're very small fish in this bigger, huge Mid-Hudson region. So yeah, it becomes a numbers game. Even if we were to advocate to go somewhere else, I mean, are our numbers gonna push another region out of being able to open? So it's tough. It's a tough, very tough decision the state had to make, we understand.

He says "It is possible the region could begin phase one of the reopening, even if one or two counties don't meet all the criteria." Sullivan County is a tourist destination and a number of places that draw lots of visitors are closed because of the pandemic. The Museum at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts will be closed until further notice, events including concerts have been canceled, postponed or rescheduled. Resorts World Catskills Casino is temporarily closed and the Kartrite Resort and Indoor Waterpark plans to reopen June 19. Potosek says having fewer visitors will impact the county.

We obviously- That's a concern. I mean, some of our bigger, even some of our smaller tourism destinations are- Even if they do open, probably won't be at full capacity as compared to prior years. So yeah, it is a concern. I think we do have some advantages here, I think when you're looking at people potentially looking at permanently relocating to more rural areas, outside of the big city like New York. I think that, I think that's where- While we may have some short term tourism issues, I think in the long term, we could potentially benefit from, you know, more of a telecommuting type community where they can- Or not even enter the city, so that they need to get in the city, they can but have a physical presence here. And by example, we are seeing some uptick in kind of looking at real estate. So I think that's kind of where, yeah, we may get hurt on the short-term tourism wise this summer. But I think in the longer term picture, we're hopeful that we're going to see a real boom in real estate and more people moving into our community. And have a lasting impact across the whole year, versus potentially our more popular summer tourism month in that- From from that relocation out of the metro area.

Do you have everything you need from the state, specifically to test nursing homes?

Um, it's been a little bit of a struggle in a scramble obviously. I mean, I understand the tight timeframes of everything. But we- For our nursing home, we're able to put into a procedure with one of our private health care providers, that they're going to go on site and test with no cost the county. They are going to bill our- The employee's insurance and we have enough tests to do the, the, the residents today and I think other nursing homes in the area are, had enough testing on hand to be able to handle it, at least for the short-term. Um, the longer term picture, depends on how long this goes. Yeah, it becomes a struggle kind of financially, but not for us because of the vendor. But if there people are paying out of pocket it can become very testily. And it is a disruption. I mean, in the short term, but if this is a long term thing, employees getting tested twice a week is going to be burdensome on just the employees themselves and the residents. So I think it's, I mean, it's needed until we can get out of this, but I think it's just a pretty big operational change, but that could have financial impacts, but also operational impacts on, you know, kind of being able to run these facilities for the long term. Depending how long this lasts, and nothing's foolproof. I mean, if someone someone could, if we're testing Monday and Thursday, or whatever the frequency is, someone could get it in between that and infect the facility. So we understand the intent, but again, I think it important to realize it's not gonna be a foolproof solution to keep COVID out a nursing home or an adult care facility. Employees could still bring it in and in between testing.

Where is the county in terms of, of economic recovery? We're seeing that, you know, various municipalities, in their various phases. Are you at furlough phase? You know, budget cuts? Where are you in the in, the economic plan?

Yeah, from a county budget perspective, obviously- Hopefully we get back to normal sooner rather than later, but some in some of the more dire consequences, we could be seeing some pretty catastrophic cuts. I mean, I think we cut about $6 million out of our budget last month. Anything from, I think we were furloughed about 70 or so employees, we cut a lot of Public Works, capital type of projects. Or in equipment where that was the bulk of what we cut, we cut some discretionary contracts, all totaling about 6 million. But unfortunately, that's not going to likely be enough to solve both potential state aid cuts and the sales tax-Are the two, two primary revenue losses that could really cripple county governments across the state.

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