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With COVID Cases Rising, Ulster County Exec Asks For Local Help With Messaging

Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan announces a new mobile rapid response team including a rapid mobile testing vehicle, November 16, 2020
Courtesy of the Office of Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan
Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan announces a new mobile rapid response team including a rapid mobile testing vehicle, November 16, 2020

The Ulster County executive held a rare weekend call with county and local leaders on Saturday. Democrat Pat Ryan says it’s time to collaborate even further to let residents know how important it is to stop the spread of COVID-19 as a second wave emerges.

On the call, Ryan said actives cases number 358 and climbing, a number not seen since June, and hospitalizations number 12, a figure last seen in May. Ryan says the positive test rate has now surpassed 2 percent, when it was consistently at or below 1 percent through most of the summer and early fall.

“We’ve seen enough consistent data and patterns to say that we are now definitively at the start of a second wave of COVID, unfortunately,” Ryan says.

He says there is a narrow window to act aggressively and slow the spread. Ryan reiterated his message from a Thursday COVID briefing that a higher rise in cases in other counties should serve as a wakeup call.

“So really, the main purpose of this call is to ask for your help as leaders, as people in your communities that are looked to and respected to engage with your communities on this, to share this message that it is a make-or-break moment for us,” Ryan says. “And I think if we reflect back what happened in February and March, I don’t, I think it’s fair to think about it this way,    that what we do in these next few weeks will actually determine life and death heading into the winter for our residents.”

Ryan is asking local elected officials and community leaders to do their part to echo his message residents: to do their part to stop the spread.

“We are going to be redoubling our efforts as a county in collaboration with all of you. We’re going to continue to try to increase our public communication about this to all of our residents to make sure they understand and take action,” says Ryan. “We’re, likely, we’ll release one or more PSAs through the Health Department, so as those come out we will share those and ask your help in sharing those.”

Mayors, supervisors, legislators and school superintendents were among the 41 people who participated in the call, including Republican Plattekill Town Supervisor Joseph Croce.

“We’ve, we’ve been pretty vigilant about trying to stay on top of it. I do participate. They were having those conference calls three times a week and, when things died down, they went to once a week. I’ve participated in them, in a large majority of those calls,” says Croce. “We have a very good web site. I am in the process today of putting together a message to our residents, bringing them up to speed and trying to make them aware of the recent surge in cases and certainly a surge in cases here in Plattekill.”

The City of Kingston has the highest number of the cases in the county, at 53. Plattekill is second.

“I check the Ulster County COVID-19 web site every day, sometimes more than once a day. And so I’m, I was aware of the increase, and I like to think that everybody knows as much as I do but, obviously, not everybody’s in my position,” says Croce. “And I’m going to say maybe three weeks ago, we were down to one active case, and I looked this morning, and I believe we’re up to 43, which is the second highest in the county. So, what it’s attributable to, I don’t know that anybody really has answer to that, Allison.”

New Paltz Town Supervisor Neil Bettez, a Democrat, also was on Ryan’s Saturday call. He says he appreciates Ryan’s decisions based on science.

“In New Paltz, we have some higher cases. We’ve been working with the college a lot to try to get a handle on it, and I think we’ve done better than some other schools in the state,” Bettez says. “I think with people going indoors, we have to be extra vigilant. People are just, they’re tired. They’re letting their guard down, and I really like that the new orders that the governor has put in place and that the county executive is getting us all to focus on these. So we’re going to be making an extra effort to make sure that people are following the governor’s orders.”  

New Paltz had 26 cases at last count. Last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered home gatherings to be limited to 10 people and restaurants, bars and gyms to close by 10 p.m., an imposition that Bettez says should work well in his college town.

“We need to do, in the short term, some really hard things and it’s going to be, it’s not going to be great. I miss going out and having a beer as much as the next guy, but it’s not about me, it’s about we, that’s the phrase that we’ve been using here in a New Paltz,” says Bettez. “And we met with the tavern owners back in August, and they were all on the same page, and many of them were closing early out of choice. They could have stayed open later; many were closing at 10 [p.m.] or 12 [a.m.] and I haven’t heard anything about people being upset.”

Again, Ryan:

“I believe we’re at a point with the fatigue that people have experienced from the restrictions that our approach has to start with not forcing people and kind of top-down directives, but we have to try to continue to remind people that it’s in all of our best interests and shared interest to act as a community and as a collective, and make decisions at the individual level that will keep the broader public safe, and especially those at highest risk and those that are vulnerable,” Ryan says. “So as we get closer to Thanksgiving, we’ll need to re-up that message.”

On Monday, Ryan announced the county’s new mobile rapid response team including a rapid mobile testing vehicle. The bus, equipped with four rapid testing machines and staffed by public health nurses, will be dispatched to high-risk locations identified as potential clusters to screen out positives as quickly as possible.

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