MALONE –– Even as the region prepares to enter phase four of the state’s plan to reopen the economy, the number of active cases of COVID-19 in Franklin County has risen steadily since June 17, the last day the county reported no cases of the virus.
The county had three active cases of the virus as of Wednesday morning, County Manager Donna Kissane reported in her daily briefing email. The announcement came the same day that Adirondack Health reported an employee at the Tupper Lake Health Center had tested positive for the virus the day before.
“Yesterday, an Adirondack Health employee at the Tupper Lake Health Center tested positive for COVID-19,” Adirondack Health’s communications director Matt Scollin said in a statement. ‘Adirondack Health immediately enacted the appropriate contingency plan, which included notification of the New York State Department of Health, Franklin County Public Health Department, and targeted internal contact tracing to identify any other Adirondack Health staff who may have interacted with the positive employee in or out of the workplace.”
Scollin said the employee, along with four other Tupper Lake Health Center employees who were determined to have been in close contact, were quarantined at home under the observation and direction of the Franklin County Public Health Department. However, Kissane’s Wednesday morning report shows only one additional person in quarantine or isolation, bring that number to 20 countywide.
The county also continued to report a total of 98 probable cases –– people who had been diagnosed with the virus but not yet been tested or received their test results. That number has been unchanged since June 12.
A total of 8,868 tests had been administered in the county as of Wednesday morning.
An employee at The Alice Center nursing home in Malone tested positive for the virus on June 17. An employee at Tupper Lake’s Mercy Living Center had a positive test come back May 31, but two subsequent tests came back with negative results.
The North Country, Finger Lakes, Central New York, Mohawk Valley and Southern Tier regions of the state are on track to enter phase four of the state’s four-phase reopening plan for nonessential businesses on Friday.
In phase four, the state will allow social gatherings up to 50 people — up from 25 in phase three.
The state had 581 new positive virus cases Tuesday, or about 1.1 percent of the 51,144 conducted tests, bringing the statewide total to 387,272 cases. The state’s 10 regions reported 2.3 percent new cases and lower Tuesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said during a pandemic briefing Wednesday in his Manhattan office.
The state saw 17 virus-related fatalities Tuesday, bringing New York’s COVID-19 death toll to 31,257, according to John Hopkins University’s online COVID-19 tracker.
The governor pleaded with New Yorkers to watch the rising cases and hospitalizations in other states and remain diligent in keeping six feet away from others and wearing face coverings in public.
“The reopening, done intelligently, done on the data, is better for the public health, and it’s better for the economy,” Cuomo said. “It was never a choice between saving lives and reopening the economy. It was always you have to do both, or you do neither. The only way to get the economy back was to have a smart reopening plan. And now, the proof is in the pudding.”
North County Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas said he was glad to see the region moving forward in its economic recovery.
“We clearly welcome the North Country’s impending movement into phase four of the state reopening process, first and foremost because it represents continued progress on the health front which is a testament to our counties and others but especially to the cooperation and compliance of North Country residents and businesses,” Douglas said in a statement.
“While phase four status initially opens the door to only a few additional categories of activity, including certain low risk outdoor and indoor arts and entertainment such as area museums and historic sites for example, it should then open the way for further announcements in the coming days and weeks. We hope at some point soon this will include guidelines for indoor mall access, gyms, movie theaters and other indoor recreation. The state has delayed these for now , pending further study, but we continue to believe workable standards and guidelines can be developed. We of course also note the increase in allowed gatherings under safe conditions from 25 to 50, as well as a higher occupancy allowance for places of worship now that we will be in phase four.”
But it was that incremental approach to the latest phase that bothered Assemblyman D- Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay.
“What still remains unclear is guidance for hundreds of businesses who have long standing practices of disinfecting such as fitness centers, malls, movie theatres or even bowling alleys,” Jones said in an email statement. “While I am encouraged that dozens of categories such as indoor museums and outdoor events received guidance on how to open safely in this next phase, too many businesses have been left in a lurch.
“It is clear that the North Country region will take longer to recover economically than some other regions, and we have worked hard to stop the spread and meet the necessary metrics to safely reopen. I am calling on the Executive to evaluate further businesses and provide guidance so that they can safely reopen,” Jones said.
Cuomo and the governors of two adjoining states announced Wednesday that they will require travelers coming to those states from states with high coronavirus transmission and positive testing rates to self-quarantine for 14 days when they arrive or be subject to fines or other penalties.
As a COVID-19 surge sweeps through more than 20 states and Puerto Rico, Cuomo, Gov. Phil Murphy, D-NJ; and Gov. Ned Lamont, D-Conn., implemented a tri-state order mandating a two-week self-quarantine for travelers who fly or arrive in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut from states with more than a 10% positive coronavirus test rate over a seven-day average.
The advisory goes into effect at midnight tonight and applies to both out-of-state and in-state residents. The order affects travelers from Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, the Carolinas, Washington, Utah and Texas.
“It’s just common sense,” Cuomo said. “If you’re in a place that has a high infection rate, we don’t want to see the infection rate increase here. We worked very hard to get the virus transmission rate down. We now have to make sure the rate continues to drop.
“It’s the spirit of community,” the governor added.
The quarantine policy is uniform across the three states, but each state is responsible for enforcing the policy.
“We have taken these three states to hell and back,” Murphy said. “The last thing we need to do is subject our folks to another round. If you’ve been in a state that has a high infection rate, do the right thing. Take 14 days to self-quarantine. It’s the responsible thing to do.”
The quarantine is an advisory, Cuomo said, and will be enforced through local officials and people with whom travelers may interact, such as hotel clerks. Airlines, airports and related businesses will be informed about the quarantine.
“The virus may come here by jet airplane, but it won’t leave here by jet airplane,” Gov. Lamont added. “This is what we’ve got to do to make sure our regions stay safe and make sure we can get our schools and businesses back to operating this fall.”
Cuomo suggested an example in which a police officer stops a Florida vehicle and inquires about the passengers’ required quarantine. People who violate the advisory will be subject to a judicial order and mandatory quarantine in which a state Department of Health official checks a residence or dwelling once per day to ensure a person has remained separated from the public.
Violators may be fined $2,000 for the first offense and $10,000 if they caused harm by violating the quarantine.
“Violators may have to pay the costs of quarantine,” Cuomo said, adding while officials will enforce the order, travelers will be trusted to self-quarantine.
“Quarantine doesn’t stop people,” Cuomo said. “It’s not that you have ever prohibited someone from entering the state. That is a blockade. That is what the federal government threatened to do to us at one point (at the pandemic’s start in March). That would start a civil war.”
Johnson Newspaper Corp.’s Kate Lisa contributed to this report