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COVID-19 surge prompts multi-county state of emergency declaration

Area 3 Republican Mark Henry is selected 2020 chair of the Clinton County Legislature
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Area 3 Republican Mark Henry chairs the Clinton County Legislature (file)

In the wake of increasing cases and deaths due to COVID-19 infections, the seven counties spanning New York’s North Country have jointly declared a state of emergency.

Officials from the Clinton County Legislature and Health Department and the UVM Health Network’s CVPH Medical Center met in Plattsburgh Wednesday to discuss the growing COVID-19 numbers. Clinton County Legislature Chair Mark Henry said the year-to-year data is concerning, motivating regional officials to take action to try to mitigate the virus’ spread.

“On December 8th of 2020 we had 101 active COVID cases in our county. On December 8th of 2021 we have 304 active cases in this county. Thirty-five percent of the total deaths in our county from COVID have occurred since September 1st.”

The threefold increase is not unique to Clinton County and Henry said the seven counties are working together to mitigate the latest surge.

“Clinton County and other North Country leaders from Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Franklin, Essex and Hamilton counties, acting in concert, have already or will today be declaring a state of emergency in all of these North Country counties. We believe that it will serve to bring attention to the issues at hand and the region wide action may be much more effective than each county acting separately. However the ability for counties to act separately is still preserved. In addition to this region-wide State of Emergency county leaders have also called upon New York state for a number of initiatives and resources.”

Henry explained that the state of emergency provides counties additional powers to implement mandates such as curfews, mask wearing or business hours.

“So you can issue orders based on the fact that the declaration of emergency’s there. Just putting a State of Emergency out there does not enact any orders unless we act to do that. And again we would not do that before we had a conversation with the Health Department, with our Legislature, to gain consensus there. It is something that obviously would require further conversation. But if you’re asking in the short term today if we’re announcing any changes no. We have had this declaration of a state of emergency for the last year basically. No orders have come out of that yet.”

University of Vermont Health Network CVPH Medical Center Vice President of Population Health and Information Services and Infectious Disease Physician Dr. Wouter Rietsema said there’s been an ongoing surge since September.

“And we’ve been running for the last two months between 30 and 50 people in the hospital at any given time due to COVID. That’s a lot. We only have about 130 beds for acutely ill patients. For the last two months pretty much every morning there are anywhere from 10 to 25 or worst case is even 30 people in our emergency room who should be admitted, but there’s no room.”

North Country officials say the key component to mitigating the spread of the virus is testing and vaccination. Reitsema points to people who are unvaccinated or simply careless as vectors in the virus spread.

“All of this would not be nearly as bad if folks were vaccinated. So please get vaccinated. We recently had a case where a visitor, unvaccinated, chose not to follow the screening questions at our door and chose not to wear a mask while in the room with a patient. We ended up with ill patients and ill staff. They weren’t really ill but they can’t work.”

University of Vermont Health Network CVPH Medical Center Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Keith Collins says the only way to end the pandemic is vaccination.

“If you are unvaccinated with COVID you are 14 times more likely to die from COVID than if you had been vaccinated. If you want to stop this pandemic, if you want to stop it, get vaccinated.”

Clinton County Director of Public Health John Kanoza cautioned that a large number of people with COVID thought they had had a normal cold.

“Seeking testing immediately upon feeling ill, no matter how mild, and self- isolating while awaiting those testing results is extremely important in reducing the spread of COVID in our community right now.”

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