Rep. Maloney Holds Anniversary COVID-19 Forum With County Execs
Democratic New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney held a virtual roundtable Friday with three county executives. The gathering marked one year since Maloney’s first COVID-19 roundtable when the first cases in his 18th District emerged.
Congressman Maloney joined with Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, visiting the short-term vaccination site at Marist College in Poughkeepsie. The state site began administering 3,500 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Friday. And they joined two other county executives virtually.
“Look folks, it was one year ago today that Marcus and Steve and I got together with the health commissioners and others, and it was the start of this horrific year that we’ve all lived through,” Maloney says.
Maloney had a surprise gift for Molinaro, whose father died from COVID last year. Maloney says Molinaro had called him in January asking if he could have one of the thousands of American flags that were on the National Mall to memorialize the 200,000 Americans who had died from COVID. Maloney told him during the roundtable that he had indeed secured a flag for him.
“And so, what we have done is we have secured one of those flags for you,” Maloney says. "It’s still coming because it’s in some warehouse in Texas, but what we have also done is we have… and so, on behalf of all of us, this is a flag that’s been flown over the United States Capitol in honor of your father.”
Molinaro says he missed a lot of moments with his father, who died at Westchester Medical Center.
“I remember just asking for five more minutes, five more minutes. And on his final day at 1:59 p.m., I got a phone call from the nurse in his room and said he’s slipping away, would you like to speak with him?" Molinaro says. “And I talked to my dad, and at 2:04 p.m., he passed. I got my five minutes.”
Maloney says that while no one can repair the damage from COVID, there is hope.
“There’s hope because the federal government is about to pass a massive COVID relief package that will have a powerful, game-changing impact on the ability of the counties and local government to do its work,” says Maloney. “I mean, we’re talking about $188 million directly to Westchester County.”
He’s referring to the latest COVID funding relief package called the American Rescue Plan that includes direct funding for state and local governments. Maloney says White Plains, in Westchester County yet outside his district, would see about $50 million.
“Here in Poughkeepsie, we’re talking about $20 million directly to the City of Poughkeepsie, $15 million in addition directly to the school system here in Poughkeepsie and $58 million directly to the County of Dutchess,” says Maloney. “Those layers of services in government will finally have the resources they need to fight the pandemic, provide the help they need, get our kids back in the classroom full-time safely.”
Democratic Westchester County Executive George Latimer, who was scheduled to receive the COVID vaccine this afternoon at Westchester Community College, expects to use the COVID relief funds to help with health department expenses, such as overtime and PPE, or personal protective equipment, and allocating direct grants to small businesses.
“And we may be facing a pretty significant eviction circumstance whenever they lift the ban on evictions, and so there’s going to need to be some representation and assistance there,” Latimer says.
Molinaro says direct aid will mean a lot.
“The direct aid to counties like ours means that when you draft a program to assist small businesses, our economic development teams are going to be right on the ground assisting them. When you’re helping a school district, our public health departments are going to be able to provide that direct aid and direct support,” says Molinaro. “When families need to go visit loved ones in nursing homes, we’re the ones that’ll be interacting with those nursing homes and those facilities. So that direct aid to county government allows us to do the work that Congress expects, the president expects and even the governor expects without having to jump through hoops or suffer inefficiencies.”
Republican Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus says direct aid will help in a number of areas.
“We’re also going to replenish our stocks. We had a very robust stockpile of PPE, and that was back to the Ebola crisis that we had. So we still, when we started this crisis a year ago, we had stockpiles of PPE ready to go, we actually lent it to some of our neighboring counties that didn’t have that,” Neuhaus says. “So there’s a number of things that if we had the flexibility, now we need to make sure, what type of, there might be some strings attached to some of the money, but there’s a lot of areas that we need to put support back into that have been pushed a little bit to the side as we dealt head-on with the COVID crisis.”
“And for this bailout talk you hear about, just remember, the state of New York is getting about $12.5 billion directly to the state,” says Maloney. “They got a $15 billion deficit. Before the pandemic, there was a $2.5 billion deficit, so they’re going to have the same deficit with the help that they had before the pandemic.”
As for COVID itself, Westchester County Health Commissioner Dr. Sherlita Amler is concerned about variants.
“What we don’t want is people unfortunately traveling and maybe becoming infected with a variant and bringing it back into our community,” Amler says. “So CDC is asking people to please not travel unless you need to travel, which I think is very good advice.”
And she says the COVID vaccines are safe and advised getting the vaccine when eligible. Orange County Health Commissioner Dr. Irina Gelman says she, too, is concerned about variants and more cases.
“In the fall, there is a potential to see a resurgence in cases, as we’ve mentioned before,” Gelman says. “Things are looking better for the summer, as we have seen previously before the secondary wave, but, in the fall, we may potentially see a slight resurgence in cases.”
She emphasized the need to continue to wear masks and practice social distancing until the majority of the population is vaccinated. Neuhaus and Gelman were at SUNY Orange in Newburgh for a vaccination clinic in partnership with Montefiore St. Luke's Cornwall Hospital.
Latimer reflected on what was a low point in the past year.
“When we had those fatalities, and we were in the 30 and 40 civilian fatalities-a-night scenario when I sat with my team and they said, we have to rent refrigerator trucks, we had to rent refrigerator trucks so we could park them outside to store dead bodies because the death toll had exceeded the normal way that we in a civil society handle those who have expired. And the funeral homes couldn’t handle it,” Latimer says. “I never thought in a thousand years that I would sit across a table and have a discussion about that.”
A high point, he says, is how healthcare workers put themselves on the front line of the pandemic. Amler also reflected.
“I think it’s the extremes of not knowing anything, not even being able to tell who’s infected, to being able to prevent the disease in less than a year is a miracle, a scientific miracle,” Amler says.
Especially, she says, with more than one manufacturer’s vaccine. Westchester County has had a state vaccination site since mid-January, at the Westchester County Center. And a state/Federal Emergency Management Agency vaccination site opened March 3 in Yonkers. These are the only state affiliated so-called permanent sites in the Hudson Valley. New Rochelle in the county became New York’s COVID epicenter about a year ago.