As the number of COVID cases continues to climb, county leaders are distilling New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily briefings to their residents. On Monday, Cuomo announced new guidance concerning hospitals and indoor dining, but did not assign any new zones. Some leaders in the Hudson Valley anticipate that will soon change.
Democratic Westchester County Executive George Latimer rolled out statistics on Monday, in a refrain he’s been repeating for several weeks.
“The numbers continue to be not good,” says Latimer. “Every day we’re testing and we’re seeing a higher incidence of coronavirus infections, and we’re seeing an increase in hospitalizations and, sadly, we’re seeing an increase in fatalities as well.”
He says as of Sunday, there were 7,830 active cases, a figure that has more than doubled since three weeks ago. Latimer says there were more than 300 hospitalizations, and the county has been averaging two deaths a day.
“We have returned to a period of time similar to where we were in the early spring,” Latimer says. “And so I think we can safely say we are in our second peak of the disease, without question.”
There are about 3,000 hospital beds in the county. Latimer talked about Governor Cuomo’s Monday announcement that hospitals must expand their bed capacity by 25 percent. Latimer says, earlier this year, Westchester turned the County Center over to the state for use as a field hospital.
“There are and have been now for quite a number of months 110 potential bedrooms, and this is not pipe and drape and cot. This is hard-wall rooms that have been created on the floor of the County Center, where I last saw basketball for Section 1 in early March,” Latimer says. “And then also in those tents that you see out in the parking lot as you drive down Route 119, or you drive north on the Bronx or south of the Bronx River Parkway you’ll see tents outside — 54 units outside, 56 units inside, 110 backup units to add to the inventory of hospital beds.”
The field hospital wasn’t used in the spring, but the setup remained anticipating a second peak and the possibility that patients from surrounding counties might need the beds. On Monday, Cuomo did not announce any new color-coded zones. Westchester continues with six zones — an orange zone for most of the Village of Port Chester and part of the Village of Rye Brook, and yellow zone designations in portions of New Rochelle, Ossining, Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, Yonkers and in Peekskill. Latimer says there was a rally in Port Chester Monday protesting the orange-zone designation. Meantime, Democratic White Plains Mayor Tom Roach says mask-wearing compliance has been strong in his city of about 60,000.
“I have had a few calls and emails from the people who say that ‘my freedom’s being taken away if I have to wear a mask,’" says Roach. "That has largely dissipated as more and more data, studies and experience indicate that mask-wearing has a tremendous impact on the spread of this virus, a positive one.”
“We are not in one of the zones right now, but I anticipate we will be eventually,” Roach says. “The nature of the housing that we have in parts of our city is where we’re seeing a lot of the increase around the county and around the country.”
He says apartment living in his city, which is the seat of county government, is ripe for the spread of COVID.
“I am working on a vaccine committee. We’re working with White Plains Hospital and medical professionals to craft a message regarding vaccines. There’s a lot of bad information out there. We want to get the good information put together and we want to make sure it gets into people’s hands,” Roach says. “We’re also going to be bringing in many members of the community into this committee because we want the information to be presented by trusted, incredible members of our community to ensure that when the vaccine is available that everyone will have an opportunity, people will take advantage of it because we think that’s going to be the big game changer. We all agree on that.”
Latimer says the county will help implement whatever strategy the state decides for vaccine distribution, knowing that healthcare professionals will be first in line.
“We will see what happens when we get to a vaccine distribution structure, and the county will be involved in it,” says Latimer. “And I think all prudent people will take it, and those that don’t take it, unless they have a personal, physical reason not to take it will be taking a risk that’s unnecessary and, unfortunately, it won’t just be their risk, it’ll be a societal risk for those who choose not to take the vaccine and therefore expose themselves to the disease and make it more possible for them to spread the disease to other people.”
Dutchess County Commissioner of the Department of Behavioral & Community Health Dr. Anil Vaidian has a message: Don’t get casual about COVID.
“With the availability of vaccines becoming more and more apparent, the light is there at the end of the tunnel, but what we need to do is get out of this tunnel,” Dr. Vaidian says. "And what this entails is another, at least, three, four months of continuing to hunker down, to really double down on the measures, especially the mitigation containment measures, that we’ve all been doing a wonderful job at and we encourage people to continue that.”
He urges people to know that others in their small gatherings have taken the same precautions to prevent the spread. Mayor Roach gives an example of being cautious with his immediate family.
“I know when my son came back from college, the way they were doing it is you test before you leave and then you test, you allowed time to elapse and then you test when you get back, and in that interim phase, we all wore masks in the house,” Roach says. “We wore masks whenever we left our rooms.”
Republican Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus told residents Monday that the county had 514 more active cases since Friday, and he announced there had been four deaths, three of them in nursing homes.
“But we have well over 1,600 active cases," Neuhaus says. "The five highest are, in the highest order — Town of Warwick, 166; Town of New Windsor, 153; City of Middletown, 150; City of Newburgh, 140; Town of Wallkill, 133 active cases.”
He says 106 people are hospitalized, and there is 50 percent availability of ICU beds. Orange County is partnering with Horizon Family Medical Group to provide COVID-19 testing at mobile locations during December, in the county’s two yellow zones — Middletown and Newburgh. And Neuhaus delivered another statistic.
“Sales-tax numbers I got for November, down 4 percent, okay. We were up almost 1 percent in October,” says Neuhaus. “Black Friday, all that stuff, has been reduced. The travel bans hurt a lot of our tourism generators.”
He says it’s important to support local businesses.