SCHENECTADY —While counties across the Capital Region are embracing the use of Facebook Live to host daily briefings on the coronavirus crisis, Schenectady County has no plans to do so.
“We’re still evaluating if we want to do an on-camera presence,” said county Manager Rory Fluman. “It’s something we’ve chosen not to do as of yet.”
As the pandemic stretches into its fifth week, counties are increasingly using the technology to provide updates and field questions from the public in real-time.
Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, who provides briefings seven days per week with a rotating cast of officials, appeared with the Guilderland Central School District superintendent on Tuesday to discuss the unlikelihood of schools reopening this semester.
Public health officials in Saratoga County used Facebook Live on Tuesday to explain how to properly wear a face mask and sign up for testing.
They also fielded questions from a rattled public, including if family members can accompany loved ones to the hospital in an ambulance (no) and how many of the county’s 15 hospitalized patients are currently on ventilators (five).
Rensselaer County also also been holding daily livestreams.
Although each county has its own public health department serving communities with unique needs, from inner-city Schenectady to affluent Saratoga Springs suburbs, Fluman said Schenectady County entering the fray would simply provide duplicative information shared by those counties.
(The county is, however, broadcasting its regular county Legislature meetings on Facebook Live, including on Tuesday night, when Fluman fielded questions from legislators.)
County workers are in regular contact with the public as part of the county’s Emergency Response Coalition, a muscular operation which has made over 4,400 deliveries of food and other items to county residents to date — most of them in the city.
“We’ve probably talked to 10,000 people directly over the phone,” said Fluman in a telephone interview, who also said he’s in contact with his fellow county leaders in the Capital Region, including McCoy.
Unlike neighboring localities, Schenectady County doesn’t have a chief elected official, but rather an appointed county manager, Fluman said.
“Our communication strategy is the daily press release,” he said.
That daily release, typically issued in the late-afternoon, contains the latest data on quarantines, positive cases and hospitalizations, as well as links to tutorials on state and federal relief packages and how to access county-provided services.
But it doesn’t include public health alerts like those issued by other Capital Region localities seeking to pinpoint and stop potential outbreaks.
Officials Albany County, for instance, are currently attempting to track down customers who frequented a Latham Burger King and M & M Variety, a Lark Street bodega, for potential exposure.
The Rensselaer County Health Department issued an advisory on Tuesday about an East Greenbush Walmart employee who tested positive.
Crises call for clear communication from elected officials, said Bradford Horn, professor of practice in public relations at S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.
“In a time like this, people are desperately seeking insights from leaders,” Horn said. “To not be able to offer messages that provide clear daily updates, particularly when everyone else around you is seeking or doing some level of providing it, is a misunderstanding of the role of management to the people they serve.”
Whether a politician is appointed or elected doesn’t detract from the responsibility to communicate, Horn said, and localities can also enlist trusted outside messengers to deliver messaging, including business leaders and neighborhood figures.
The combination of a slower coronavirus spread upstate, Cuomo’s tack towards recovery and upcoming warm weather could lead to a false sense of security from people, said Horn, who said local messengers must continue to underscore social-distancing safeguards and the fact the crisis hasn’t passed.
Schenectady County reported 249 positive cases and 27 hospitalizations, said county spokesperson Erin Roberts.
The county reported four new deaths on Tuesday, the highest one-day spike since the county announced its first four fatalities on March 31.
All but one of the four were county residents, Fluman said at Tuesday’s county Legislature meeting, and each had pre-existing conditions.
To date, 12 county residents have succumbed to the virus. All were over the age of 70, according to county officials.
The county does not release demographic information on those who have the virus as part of their daily updates.
Fluman said Ellis Medicine reports demographics directly to the state Department of Health, and University at Albany will ultimately study the information.
Fluman also said both the county-owned Glendale Home and County Jail were not in immediate danger of running out of personal protective equipment.
Officials at the meeting read several comments submitted by the public through the county’s website.
While some lauded county relief efforts, the majority implored the county to hold daily briefings and release demographic data.
“The county should provide more detailed information regarding coronavirus,” wrote Brian Wright.