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Local Governments In New York Readying For Coronavirus

COVID-19 was first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China and has now been detected in 37 locations across the globe, including in the U.S., according to the CDC.
Composite Image by Dave Lucas (WAMC / cdc.gov)
COVID-19 was first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China and has now been detected in 37 locations across the globe, including in the U.S., according to the CDC.

With the number of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in New York state on the rise, local officials are preparing and educating the public.

Public health and government officials aren't taking any chances when it comes to meeting the COVID-19 challenge head-on.  On Wednesday, Albany County officials outlined their strategy. Dr. Elizabeth Whalen is County Department of Health Commissioner.    "When we start to see cases present in the county, we may consider the closures that people are concerned about, whether it's individuals,  closure of schools or businesses, or large scale closures, which would include banning mass public events. We're not there yet. But it's important that we realize that this is a situation that we may be facing in the future. And I want you to know, we're actively planning with partners for that."

Democratic County Executive Dan McCoy says facilities will be pressed into service should there be a need to quarantine a large number of individuals.   "We're ready for this. And we're gonna be prepared for this. And if I have to declare a county emergency, I will."

Credit Hank Gross
Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro

Meanwhile, Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro says the health department there began planning weeks ago.    "We had 14 individuals in Dutchess County who were identified for self-isolation, that they may have come into contact with individuals who could have contracted COVID because of travel. Eleven of those individuals have gone through the 14 day self-isolation. We now have three that remain, and they'll be in self isolation for another day or two. But, you know, all aspects of county government are responding and we're prepared to be of assistance."

Westchester County’s Bee-Line is posting COVID-19 updates on its website and sanitizing its commuter bus fleet daily amid the outbreak in New Rochelle.

CEO Carm Basile in Albany saysCDTA is taking a similar approach:  "Right now buses are sanitized every 14 days and cleaned every day. They'll still be cleaned every day but the sanitizing process will occur every three days. So what we're doing her is increasing our efforts, increasing our employees' attention to detail, and hopefully trying to keep everybody assured that our vehicles are as clean and sanitized as possible."

The Albany Public Library is taking no chances. Executive Director Scott  Jarzombek says all returns must be done exclusively via the book drop. All material received in the book drop by library staff will be handled wearing gloves.    "We're just making sure that material that's returned from people's homes, that we're giving it a little bit of time and cleaning that material up so that it doesn't you know, so it doesn't have viruses, it doesn't have the flu virus on it, you know, doing just a quick clean and just not putting it on the shelf right away. And how this will impact the patrons is that you know, they may have to wait a little bit longer for some of that more popular material before it makes it to the shelves."

Jarzombeck wants patrons to see the library as a "trusted source" when it comes to disseminating coronavirus information.

NYS Assemblyman John McDonald is also a licensed pharmacist.
Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
NYS Assemblyman John McDonald is also a licensed pharmacist.

People looking for information and sanitizing products also tend to check their local pharmacy. Democratic State Assemblyman John McDonald says there've been no shortage of inquiries at his Marra's Pharmacy in Cohoes.   "Well, masks we sold out of a month ago and have not been able to get them. And we have a very large distribution network. HandsSanitizer, we got in 150 to 200 bottles three days ago. They were gone in 24 hours, once the state made the announcement about the seriousness of this, people have really gotten engaged. And it's interesting because, you know, at the state level, there's a little bit of controversy about this $40 million that the governor has asked for. The reality is, we were going to spend the money one way or the other, because I still believe he already had the authority. But what was important behind the whole process was as this is a serious issue, not something to panic about, but something to be very focused on. And proof of that, every day now 2 o'clock, the governor's office is leading a conversation region by region, with the chief elected officials or the state representatives, to give them an update of what's going on in your region at the moment."

McDonald and Molinaro agree: take precautions but don't panic.  Molinaro:  "We are living in a different communication age. So how information can be shared as quickly and as universally as it is, I think has caused for, you know, a greater degree of anxiety. As important as it is not to overreact, it is equally important not to under react. This is a strain of a coronavirus where individuals do not have immunity and we as a group, meaning you know, society, don't have sort of group immunity, we haven't we haven't created that internal immunity to this particular strain. If it's identified, and you're not a high risk population, you're gonna weather the storm. Our perspective is make sure you're aware of what the symptoms could be. Make sure you take the steps to first call a physician. Don't go to a medical care facility if you don't have to. Call your physician, call if it's an emergency 911, and let's go through the steps that are necessary to ensure that we're responding."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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