A July 4th party on Albany's Hudson Avenue has been identified as ground zero for a COVID-19 outbreak. Officials gathered on the street Monday afternoon to emphasize the importance of mask-wearing and social distancing.
Standing next to a poster bearing the message "Mask Up or Shut Down," Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan and other officials warned that if reopening is to continue and if students are going to go back to school, this is not the time to disregard social distancing protocols.
"Think about that. One party. 22 positive cases. Many of the photos of this event showed individuals not wearing masks, not social distancing. Many of the photos of this event showed individuals not wearing masks, not social distancing. Sharing drinks, sharing food, sharing plates, all of the types of things that are a really bad idea, period, but not permitted during pause."
Sheehan reiterated what the state’s "pause" order means.
"We are now on Phase 4, but that doesn't mean that anything goes. Gatherings are limited to fifty people or fifty percent of the normal capacity of the space."
Sheehan and Police Chief Eric Hawkins said police were not aware of the Hudson Avenue party because no one notified authorities. Hawkins added if you witness any large gatherings where social distancing is not being practiced, you should call the police.
"What we saw out here the other night was something that endangered the entire community. And what we're asking for is for people in here and anyplace else here in the community is to simply adhere to the requirements of the governor's executive order."
Asked about protestors gathering to promote various causes, Hawkins said generally they've been compliant and organizers have been willing to work with law enforcement. He adds his officers carry extra masks in case someone forgets to bring one to a march or protest.
"What we've seen is that these peaceful protests are being hijacked by those who have other motives, hoping to incite violence, damage property and hurt other people. So it's not necessarily the demonstrations that worry me, it's the individuals who are infiltrating these demonstrations that we're concerned about."
Hudson Avenue is an extremely diverse neighborhood made up of homeowners, renters, immigrants and college students. Representatives of area colleges took turns at the podium: University at Albany Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Christakis says students are expected to adhere to the same mask and social distancing rules as everybody else.
"It's so important that so many campuses are represented here today because getting this right will require the cooperation of all of the region's colleges and universities. Like so many of us, our students have been through a lot these last five months. And as President [Havidan] Rodriguez has often said, 'getting through this together will require flexibility and empathy.' But there are some things on which we cannot be flexible. So let me be clear. We will not tolerate off-campus behavior that needlessly endangers the health and safety of others. Period."
Albany Common Councilor Owusu Anane represents the neighborhood:
"Take this seriously. Because if you don't, not only are you risking a full shutdown again, but you're putting everyone's life on the line."
Albany County said Monday there are 67 active COVID-19 cases in county.