With the Mid-Hudson region in Phase Four of reopening Tuesday, the Westchester County executive delivered his final daily coronavirus briefing Monday. Democrat George Latimer discussed the Chappaqua COVID cluster along with Phase Four questions for the state.
Westchester County Executive George Latimer says he is scaling back to weekly briefings, on Mondays. Until a few weeks ago, the county saw a steady decline in active COVID-19 cases.
“What we’re basically seeing is that we’re testing more than we had previously, and we’re also getting more positive tests,” Latimer says. “And we think a fair bit of that is attached to the Chappaqua outbreak.”
He refers to Horace Greeley High School’s June 20 drive-in graduation and a party that followed.
“The field night, which was not sponsored by the school district, it wasn’t sponsored by any community group, was, in fact, an event with minimal masks and minimal social distancing, big social event, and it did attract students from other schools,” Latimer says. “So of the 27 positive cases, 21 of them track to Chappaqua; three of them track to Mount Kisco; two track to Bedford and one tracks to Pleasantville, all within a certain parameter around Chappaqua. There have been no new cases in the last two days that are trackable to the Chappaqua spike. So, if that is true, we think then it’s leveling off.”
That number of 27 is an increase from 19 reported July 1. Latimer says it remains to be seen whether any July Fourth weekend gatherings will result in outbreaks.
“We can’t be sure that every backyard party was properly masked and properly social distanced. We wouldn’t know that and we wouldn’t have sent, certainly we wouldn’t have sent county police in to verify that, so we’re going to see what happens over the next couple of weeks, and we may see some additional spikes,” says Latimer. “And it’s going to be a battle all summer long because just humans as we are, on vacation, a vacation mindset, hot weather, there’s any number of reasons why we might cluster and potentially spread the virus. So we’ll monitor it. We did have good success, we think, so far, in contact tracing within the Chappaqua issue.”
In New Castle, which encompasses Chappaqua, the town board is considering a local law to require face mask wearing or else be subject to fines. Latimer says such a law is not necessary on the county level at the moment.
“We do require sort of the self-policing effort of individuals, and most people are following that. So the law itself, to pass that, may be necessary, may not be necessary,” says Latimer. “We believe we have some intrinsic power to write tickets as it is to enforce the state executive laws.”
“Particularly in this climate where there’s much question about policing and role, we don’t want to create extra conflict. We don’t want to put our police in an extra positon of undue conflict. They’re writing a ticket out to an aggrieved group of people and then things start to happen,” Latimer says. “So I don’t think we plan to ask for any additional authority. I think we feel we have some authority if we need to use it, and right now I prefer that we use it with very great discretion.”
Phase Four allows for the reopening of higher education and media production.
“Having a film crew photograph a commercial on the street that you live on and there’s some money for the municipality, I tend to think that’s not going to be a big problem,” says Latimer. “The average citizen would not interact with that group of people.”
Phase Four also reopens other areas.
“There has been an approval in Phase Four of low-risk indoor and outdoor arts and entertainment, up to 50 people,” Latimer says. “Now we have to make sure we understand what are some of the detailed protocols that the state puts out over and above the general comment on that.”
Gyms and malls remain closed statewide. Latimer says he’ll be communicating with state officials about certain issues and what the state will allow.
“We’ve gotten many calls from small yoga studios, from different health clubs that aren’t large health clubs that they have, they run a class, a dance class of 10 or 12 people, and what’s allowable and what isn’t within that context outside and inside,” Latimer says. “We have numerable number of individuals who have parents or loved ones in nursing homes or assisted living facilities that have been unable to see them in person, touch them in person since March. And that’s a long period of time to go. Certainly those folks are up there years, and some of them may have some issues of dementia or Alzheimer’s. There’s really a desperate need for that human contact. I think we’ve expressed that to the state to see if there’s any protocols that can be created to allow that to be done safely.”
Beaches and pools have been open in Westchester, though with restrictions. Latimer says he’ll revisit a ban on non-Westchester residents visiting the county’s two beaches – at Playland and Croton Point.
“Our concern was that neither beach is that large, that we could be easily over-swamped by those in New York City who would immediately come and come to the place. Now that the New York City beaches and pools are open, they have local options and then it’s much less of a problem,” Latimer says. “You have a friend coming up from Brooklyn, they’re visiting you, you go to the beach. You can go to the beach; your friend from Brooklyn can’t because they don’t live here. We don’t love that situation, but we did have to protect Westchester residents during the period of time when New York City wasn’t open. Now that New York City is open, we’ll, we’ll revisit the policy.”
Latimer says 29 percent of the county’s population of just under1 million residents have been tested; 1,427 have died from COVID since the onset of the virus; and hospitalizations continue to decline. In the last week, three residents have died. At the peak, about 40 people died each night.