MALONE –– A third case of COVID-19 coronavirus has been confirmed in Franklin County, and three Malone Village Police officers are in quarantine because one was in direct contact with one of the infected individuals.
Franklin County Public Health Director Kathleen Strack was notified Thursday that a person tested at the Alice Hyde Medical Center the day before had been confirmed to be positive. A third case was confirmed Friday.
In both cases, the county is conducting risk assessment and contact tracing and will get in touch with anyone who may have been exposed, according to an email from the Health Department Friday.
The county is not releasing any information about the individuals, citing patient privacy laws, but village Police Chief Chris Premo confirmed one of the cases involved a friend of one of his officers who had been working out of the area for six months and had recently come up from the Albany area.
The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, acting before the latest case was announced, had asked anyone who traveled more than 50 miles from Akwesasne to self-quarantine to prevent the spread of the virus.
The officer and two other members of the 13-member force they had worked with are in quarantine, with the officer exposed to the person who has the virus scheduled to be tested Friday morning, Premo said. County health officials would not identify the latest cases, but Premo said Friday evening it was not one of his officers.
The exposed police officer was showing symptoms of the virus, Premo said.
The officer initially exposed had been on planned leave since March 19. They had been notified of their exposure as the county was conducting contact tracing on the infected individual, the chief said.
The Police Department has been taking precautions, including sanitizing police vehicles and the station and limiting access to the station since the beginning of March, he noted.
All officers remaining on duty are having their temperature checked when they arrive at the station, Premo said, and those who have a fever are being sent home.
The unplanned absences of three officers from the 13-member force creates serious complications for the village police and other small agencies, Premo said.
“It’s going to be devastating for small departments,” the chief said. Larger organizations can reassign officers and take other steps to fill in for those out because of the virus.
“We don’t have those options,” he said.
The pandemic has already forced the chief to use 72 hours of overtime and the absence of the three officers will only make that worse. Premo also said he has canceled all time off for the foreseeable future.
The chief said he hopes he has sufficient funds in his overtime budget to see him through the crisis. Mayor Andrea Dumas said the Village Board will work with the department to make sure law enforcement services will continue to be provided — even if it means shifting funds from other village operations to cover the police costs.
The Village Board is already working to “tighten things down” in the proposed 2020-21 village budget and that the police situation may force even further tightening.
Premo met with the Village Board on Thursday — prior to learning his officer was exposed to the virus — and had largely settled on his next year’s budget plan.
Dumas also said the village is exploring options such as bringing back retired law enforcement officers to help cover holes in the departments manpower schedule.
As the number of confirmed cases grew in Franklin County, the Alice Hyde Medical Center is instituting an outdoor screening and check-in station for anyone entering the hospital. The center has also erected a “triage tent” in the emergency room parking lot to handle a surge in the number of people coming to the hospital.
The screening station is located outside the hospital’s main entrance.
The triage tent — a large, heated tent set up to serve as a temporary triage area during a patient surge event — has a wood floor, electricity and oxygen service. It is not currently in use.
“Essentially we want to be prepared for this tent to become an extension of our Emergency Room waiting room,” Physician Assistant David Griffin, who is a member of the hospital’s surge planning team, said in a release announcing the new facilities. “It’s only going to be used when all the other usable areas of the hospital have been filled.”
Physician Assistant Derek Reynolds, another member of the surge planning team, said the triage tent will be staffed by a health care provider who can treat patients as they are admitted to the hospital. He called the tent a critical piece of the hospital’s preparedness work amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You always want to be one step ahead,” said Reynolds. “Having this facility set up and ready to go means we are prepared in the event of a surge in patients, so we can provide care to those who need it most.”