Democratic and Republican county leaders across the U.S. are calling for unity in the face of the coronavirus pandemic intensifying again. The New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) and the National Association of Counties (NACo) say it’s time to put partisanship aside, turn down the rhetoric and work together to defeat the resurgence of the coronavirus.
Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro is also president for the New York State County Executives Association (NYSCEA).
“There is no flattening the curve, there is no pandemic response and there will be no vaccine distribution without county governments,” says Molinaro.
Molinaro, whose father died from COVID in April, says his county is seeing COVID case numbers on the rise.
“Dutchess County, as an example, two weeks ago was monitoring 125 active cases; today, 609. At this rate, we will be back up at the numbers that we experienced earlier this year,” Molinaro says. “And as we focus on the great advancements that labs, pharmacists, doctors and scientists across the globe have put forward with potential vaccinations, county governments will be on the front line of not only distributing vaccines but helping to convince residents to be vaccinated. This will likely be the most important role county governments have ever played.”
In George, Larry Johnson, a Democrat, is DeKalb County commissioner and 1st vice president of the National Association of Counties, or NACo.
“My wife contracted COVID in March, when it first started, and we didn’t ask the doctors or the nurses, were you Democrats or Republicans,” Johnson says. “We just wanted my wife to get the help that she needed because she’s the bedrock and the center of the Johnson household.”
And he details statistics in his state and county.
“In Georgia alone, 430,687 people have been tested, tested positive for coronavirus; 8,904 have died 26,400 residents of DeKalb County have tested positive,” Johnson says. “We’ve had 446 deaths in DeKalb County.”
Gary Moore is county judge executive of Boone County, Kentucky and NACo president. Noting he’s a Republican in a very Republican county in a red state, Moore says the coronavirus pandemic is a public health emergency and economic crisis.
“America’s counties are in the lead, and we’re on the ground, we’re the boots on the ground that are working with the health departments, working with local officials and many others,” says Moore. “We’re here working to save lives and livelihood.”
Moore says county officials across the country are working together regardless of party affiliation. He says there are similarities in some of the COVID data between Boone County and some of New York’s counties. Moore, who says there are 3.6 million county employees nationwide on the front lines, echoed the plea of many county leaders in New York, calling for another federal coronavirus aid package that contains direct aid to county governments.
“NACo found that counties can expect to experience at least a $202 billion, $202 billion fiscal impact through 2021,” says Moore. “This includes $114 billion in county revenue losses.”
Dutchess County’s Molinaro also called for direct aid to state and local governments.
“It is politically craven to continue to kick this ball further and further down the field without attempting to bring us all together to solve the problem. County governments have been devastated financially. We have small businesses who rely on us to help distribute federal aid that are barely staying alive and open, and we have mounting costs that are certainly needing to be addressed,” Molinaro says. “We need the federal government to do its job. Never before in the history of America has a Congress left its partners holding on to a thread or all alone in the face of a crisis.”
Democratic Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz:
“Unfortunately, my county alone, we’ve had 762 who died from COVID-19, and that’s nothing compared in the New York City metropolitan area,” says Poloncarz.
“We cannot wait until 2021. We have to get assistance from the federal government to help local governments respond as well as another round of PPP to help our small businesses survive,” Poloncarz says.
He refers to the Paycheck Protection Program, a Small Business Administration loan that helps businesses keep their workforce employed during the COVID-19 crisis. Again, Dekalb County’s Johnson:
“There is an African proverb that says we make the path by walking it together. The path is not red, it’s not blue,” says Johnson. “It’s about defeating this pandemic around prevention and making sure that we eliminate this.”
He says, like elsewhere, unemployment and food insecurity continue to rise in DeKalb County. Johnson says there were food drives at three sites over the weekend in his county; more than 2,500 people showed up and nearly 700 people were turned away.