The Orange County executive and county health commissioner joined New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney Thursday for a Facebook live town hall. They answered questions ranging from when nonessential businesses may open to the viability of summer events.
Republican Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus answered a question about Memorial Day, summer events and fairs.
“We’re considering doing a virtual Memorial Day, which some counties and states around the country are doing. We haven’t pulled the trigger on it yet, but it’s in the works because we want to do something on it. We’re still preparing to do the air show. We have concerts that were booked where they’re just started really started ramping up the Orange County Fair Speedway again last year with concerts and things like that,” Neuhaus says. “So what we’re trying to tell everybody, congressman, and for the viewers, is keep as many things scheduled as possible, be able to pull the trigger that you can cancel them within 30 days.”
The New York International Air Show at Stewart Airport is scheduled for the end of August.
“The most people that we bury in Orange County, pre-COVID and currently, are veterans and, as you know, there’s no military honors for them,” Neuhaus says. “So one of the things that was put to us today was maybe when we’re through this in like two months, do we have all the families together and do this major, military sendoff.”
Legoland New York pushed back its July 4th grand opening to 2021. Another resident wanted to know about accessing campgrounds.
“This is the permit season where they come with us and they go to the Health Department to get permits, and we’ve authorized those applications to come in now with the caveat that if things don’t get better, they’re not going to get authorized by the county health department,” says Neuhaus.
Neuhaus delivered some COVID statistics as of Thursday.
“I am very optimistic where we are coming. We have suffered a lot. There’s been over 300 people in Orange County that have passed away, 320, and that number continues to rise,” Neuhaus says. “We do have over 160 still hospitalized but, we had close to 400 a few days ago, so it’s trended down over the last week-and-a-half or so.”
There were several questions pertaining to when businesses may reopen to get the economy going. Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney’s 18th District includes all of Orange County.
“There’s only one way out of this and it’s through, as they say in the military, right, Steve?
“Yup,” says Neuhaus.
“There’s no way up, though,” says Maloney.
“Exactly,” says Neuhaus.
“And so I was joking that everybody wants to kiss the sailor in Times Square, but you’ve got to win the war first,” Maloney says.
“Exactly,” says Neuhaus.
“And we are this close, I think, folks, to, all the hard work we’ve done, all the damage we’re suffering economically has to be in service of winning the health-care battle,” Maloney says. “And you will hear people like me advocate for reopening. We just want to do it smart. We want to do it based on evidence. It’s going to happen… It’s not some big switch, boom, on and off. It is, it’s a dimmer switch, right. Someone said it’s not a light switch, it’s a dimmer. I think that’s a good analogy.”
Neuhaus who served a six-month tour of duty in Iraq last year as a Lieutenant Commander in the Navey Reserves, assigned to a Naval Special Operations Team, says tending to the COVID-19 crisis has similarities.
“It’s almost that same regimented schedule,” Neuhaus says. “Every day you start you’re day…where are we, what are the numbers, what are the needs.”
Back to getting businesses up and running… Neuhaus says, first, the number of confirmed cases needs to continue to trend downward, which is the current trajectory.
“And we’re ramping things up anyway so when we get that green light, like we said, we talked to the stores today about how to do it. Restaurants are even considering putting a, it would almost look like a mirror when you walk in, and it would take people’s temperature,” says Neuhaus. “So the lady or the man at the maître d’s desk would say, hey, sir, your temperature came too high, you can’t… So these things are already in the works for when we get started back.”
As for retail stores apart from supermarkets…
“What we’re preparing to roll out for, let’s say, retail operations, Woodbury Commons all the way down to a small mom-and-pop store, is similar to what you see at a supermarket. You’ll have to wear a mask. You’ll have to adhere to social distancing. When you are ready to pay for your product, you will be standing six feet away from the nearest person on line,” says Neuhaus. “So there will also be limitations on the amount of people that can be in your store, so you might have to open at a limited capacity.”
Neuhaus says this is what state officials are telling him. One resident asked about trying to get through to the unemployment office, to which Maloney responded:
“The state was completely overwhelmed, you probably heard. And this is mind-blowing that 30 million Americans have applied for unemployment insurance in the last six weeks. That is a mind-blowing number. It is 18 percent of our entire workforce. And those are just the ones who have successfully enrolled in unemployment insurance,” says Maloney. “So we are facing an unprecedented situation.”
He told the resident a month is too long to wait, and told him to call his office for help.
“We just send a bunch of names to the commissioner of Labor yesterday to say, here are people we know about who, like you, have been waiting too long, but they should be clearing through that backlog,” Maloney says.
Meantime, Maloney says efforts are underway to better compensate health care workers.
“We actually had some legislation at the federal level I’ve written that would get you compensated better this year, ? pay, you’ll appreciate this, Steve, sort of like the hazard pay or like we deal with people’s pay when they have to be in combat, we don’t tax it, get you better compensation for our healthcare workers,” Maloney says. “We could also, we’re also probably going to have a compensation fund for people who’ve been injured or become sick, the way we did, say, after 9/11 for responders And there’s a lot of private efforts now to say thank you to our healthcare workers and frontline workers and essential workers.”
Orange County Health Commissioner Dr. Irina Gelman also took part in the town hall.