Dec. 3—PLATTSBURGH — The Franklin County Legislature declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19 that went into effect Thursday and will remain so until 4 p.m. Jan. 1.
Legislature Chair Donald Dabiew (D-District 5) told the Press-Republican that the board made the decision with the hope of getting help from the state to combat the pandemic after 86 new cases were reported Thursday.
"I mean, it's just out of control," he said. "That's a lot in Franklin County for the size of our county to get in one day."
REOPEN VACCINATION SITES
Dabiew said county staff are tired out, pointing in particular to those in the public health department.
"We're like just everywhere else. We don't have full staffs anymore because we can't hire people."
He hopes that the state will reopen mass vaccination sites they had in place before, such as those on the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base and at SUNY Potsdam, estimating that as many as two-thirds of Franklin County residents got their shots from those two places.
"If we're going to give a booster to all these people that we did the first time around, we need help. We just can't possibly do it."
Dabiew said the county had hoped things would improve.
"We were very optimistic that we were at the peak, but today just showed us we weren't at the peak."
NO MASK MANDATE
The declaration notes continued high transmission of COVID throughout the county despite efforts to combat the virus.
It also "highly recommends that all residents and visitors practice physical distancing, wear face coverings, wash or sanitize hands frequently, and get vaccinated."
Asked why the legislature did not take the step of mandating masks, such as in local businesses, Dabiew said the county did not want to hurt businesses any more than they had been already.
"There's businesses across the county that may never open back up again and Franklin County, being the size we are, we don't want to hurt any of our businesses and put them out of business."
He said individual businesses, towns or villages may require masking, as the county has at its courthouse.
The legislature also voted Thursday to use American Rescue Plan Act funds to offer a $250 vaccine bonus to employees who have received or will receive the COVID vaccine, as well as an incentive for employees who have worked through the pandemic.
WAKE UP CALL
Dabiew said the order does not change any county operations at this time.
"It's just more of a wake up call to let people know that we need help."
During the state of emergency, Dabiew may issue orders in accordance with state executive law.
"Emergency orders would be issued in order to protect the life of the residents of Franklin County and to allow emergency and government municipal personnel time to bring the emergency conditions under control," the declaration says.
Dabiew hopes the order will result in people congregating in big groups less.
"We don't know what caused this (jump in cases), but more than likely to have that many, it was some kind of group gatherings."
NEW STRATEGY NEEDED
Dabiew said Franklin County has been keeping an eye on surrounding counties also experiencing high positivity rates.
"It just seems like it isn't going the way we want it to go and we need to do something different right now."
Essex County Board of Supervisors Chair Shaun Gillilland (R-Willsboro) agreed. On Friday, he said, the state is hosting a teleconference meeting with himself and the other North Country legislature chairs about COVID-19.
"I think we just definitely need a new strategy that's going to have to be led from the top of how we combat this," he said. "It's beyond just the individual counties being able to do it."
Gillilland said Essex County is getting close to an emergency, noting that he is discussing what the best strategy is with County Manager Dan Palmer and Director of Public Health Linda Beers.
"We're getting very close but, before we declare a state of emergency, we need to have a plan and we're working on it now," he said.
"The most worrisome thing right now as I understand it is we're basically, in the North Country, out of capacity in our hospitals."
According to state-posted data, as of Wednesday there were 118 people hospitalized in the North Country with COVID-19, 24 of whom were in the intensive care unit.
On Tuesday, there were 125 people hospitalized, just two shy of the highest level seen on Jan. 15 during the surge that followed the winter holidays.
Last week, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed an executive order that, effective today, allows the state Department of Health to limit non-essential, non-urgent procedures at hospitals and health systems with limited capacity.
In Clinton County, the state of emergency that was enacted early on in the pandemic in 2020 was never lifted, Legislature Chair Mark Henry (R-Area 3, Chazy) said.
The county will continue to watch the case counts and decide what action to take.
"We are very concerned and monitoring it and watching it, and having all the important conversations with the health care professionals that we need to have," Henry said.
He hopes the county gets some answers from the teleconference with the state on Friday.
"We will be looking to see what steps we need to take to mitigate this, and we will probably be looking for some help from the state for testing and vaccines," he said.
Henry said the cause for concern is greater now not only because of the higher number of COVID cases in the region, but also because of the emergence of the omicron variant.
"That is a huge unknown right now, and we know that it doesn't take long for it to take off so that is a major concern," he said.
BY THE NUMBERS
Franklin County Public Health reported 171 new cases since Monday, 86 of which were posted Thursday, bringing the active total to 263 cases.
The Clinton County Health Department announced that 154 new cases were detected from Tuesday through Thursday, and two new COVID-related deaths brought the fatality total to 50.
The agency said 306 Clinton County residents were in isolation and an additional 376 were in precautionary quarantine.
The Essex County Health Department posted 88 new positive cases as well as another coronavirus-related death, putting the death toll at 42.
"The individual was sick with COVID-19 and other underlying medical conditions before passing away in their home," ECHD Program Coordinator Andrea Whitmarsh wrote in the Thursday update. "They were unvaccinated."
Essex County's active total Thursday was 155.
The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe's Emergency Operations Center and Health Services reported eight new cases in the southern portion of Akwesasne since Monday. As of Thursday, 19 members were in isolation, two of whom were hospitalized, and seven were in quarantine.
Whitmarsh said ECHD wants to remind residents to follow up with their health care providers when experiencing worsening COVID symptoms, or symptoms that cannot be managed at home.
"Emergency warning signs that require prompt medical attention include difficulty breathing, persistent chest pain or pressure, inability to stay awake, or bluish lips or face," she said.
Whitmarsh added that there has been a significant uptick in hospitalizations in people of all ages regionally and in the county.
"We urge you to recommit to layered prevention strategies such as mask-wearing when indoors, testing before and after gathering, handwashing, physical distancing, and most importantly — vaccination."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone age 5 and older get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Information on where to get vaccinated is available at vaccines.gov and listed on page A8.
COVID testing is available throughout the tri-county area.
Go to tinyurl.com/uaa2tmcc to find a testing site near you anywhere in New York State.
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