CAPITAL REGION — A person who works in Schenectady, lives in Rensselaer County and has many contacts in Albany County recently tested positive for COVID-19, meaning public health officials in all three counties had to coordinate an investigation.
Situations like that — and exploding case numbers across the Capital Region — brought leaders from those three counties together for Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy’s daily briefing on Saturday. They bypassed their geographical and political differences to say they’re working together against the rising tide.
“We’re all in this together, what happens in Albany County happens in Schenectady and Rensselaer County and the entire Capital District,” McCoy said.
McCoy and Schenectady County Manager Rory Fluman were joined by Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin, an often-outspoken Republican conservative who joined with the two Democrats to urge the public to continue to wear masks, maintain social distance, avoid large groups, and continue measures to prevent spread of the novel coronavirus.
“Help is on the way, but it’s a massive undertaking when you roll out the vaccine in the different phases of who is going to get it and when…It’s going to take a little while,” McLaughlin said. “Just hanging in there a little longer and working together will really serve us really well.”
In further proof of how local counties are closely connected, the Schoharie County Department of Health on Saturday reported it now has four confirmed cases of COVID-19 associated with attending a Skeeter Creek concert at Frog Alley Brewery in Schenectady on Nov. 25, Thanksgiving Eve. They were not all part of the same group.
“We did want to alert you that if you attended this event you should monitor yourself for symptoms,” the department said in a Facebook post. “If symptoms develop, please self-quarantine and get tested.”
All the counties in the region have seen their daily COVID count spike upward in the last few days, which could be tied to Thanksgiving gatherings a week ago.
According to figures released Saturday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office, Albany County had 165 new cases; Schenectady 136; Saratoga County 91; Fulton and Montgomery counties 42 new cases each; Rensselaer 66; and Schoharie County, 15. All either set a new daily record or fell just short of a daily record set a day earlier.
“I understand New Yorkers may be feeling COVID fatigue, especially now that we have entered the holiday season and the first batch of vaccines is a couple weeks away, but if there was ever a time to double down and be vigilant, it’s now,” Cuomo said.
Of the 69 COVID deaths across the state, the only local death was in Rensselaer County.
The Capital Region’s seven-day average test-positivity rate was 4.32 percent, up more than 1.5 percentage points in the last week, but lower than the 4.59 percent seven-day average in the state outside of micro-cluster zones. So far, none of the designated clusters are in the Capital Region, but McCoy has warned that could be coming.
The county leaders couldn’t answer whether the rising rates mean their counties will be declared micro-clusters by the state — a decision that would come from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office, and would impose new restrictions on restaurants and businesses.
“We’re waiting for guidance,” Fluman said. “What comes comes, and we are ready.”
With the impact of Thanksgiving gatherings only starting to be seen, there’s now concern that Christmas — three weeks away — could lead to further outbreaks.
“It’s going to be a tough two months ahead of us, with the Christmas holidays,” McCoy said. “Please help us do our job protecting you.”
Fluman also noted that vaccines are expected to become available in the next few months, though public health officials generally agree it will be late spring or summer before a large percentage of the population will be vaccined.
“The help is coming, it’s just a matter of getting through these next few months,” Fluman said. “It’s important that we be here in unity. We’re going to beat this, and we’re going to beat it together.”
All three county leaders said their counties are seeing increases in mental health calls, and higher rates of suicide and overdose deaths that appear tied to COVID stress, COVID fatigue, and the difficulty of providing counseling services during a pandemic — but they said help is available through their mental health departments.
“There is stress out there, COVID-19 has caused community stress, and we know that unfortunately people will turn to those illegal (drugs) and to other things, whether it’s arguing with your wife, kicking the dog, drinking too much beer, they are the realities with community stress,” Fluman said. “Check us out. We can help you.”
On Friday evening, Montgomery County Executive Matthew L. Ossenfort also reported that county had a new daily record high, 39 cases — part of a steady increase in the county in recent weeks. The state said Friday evening that there had been two more deaths in the county.
“New daily positive cases are increasing tremendously,” Ossenfort said. “Clearly, we are seeing a climb and we urge the public to be cautious, continue hand-washing and safe social distancing practices. We need to remain vigilant.”