Amsterdam Mayor Michael Cinquanti has been placed on quarantine by the Montgomery County Department of Public Health after a confirmed COVID-19 exposure at the city’s Dec. 2 tree lighting ceremony on the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook Bridge.
“I didn’t put myself in quarantine, but I have been in quarantine because I was in an exposure situation,” Cinquanti said. “I have no symptoms. I think I’m fine, but I was put into quarantine by county public health.”
Cinquanti said he was placed in quarantine this past Sunday and will remain in quarantine for 14 days from that time.
“The results of my test are due any day. I’m projecting those to be negative, and if they are negative then I think I can get out of here after that,” he said. “I’m working from my office at home now.”
Montgomery County Public Health Director Sara Boerenko confirmed that there was a COVID-19 exposure at the bridge on the day and time of the tree lighting event. She said no public release was made regarding the exposure because all of the people involved were identified, but she would not reveal the identities of those people.
Cinquanti was at the tree lighting ceremony with Rob Spagnola, director of the city’s Tourism, Marketing and Recreation Department, Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, State Senator-elect Michelle Hinchey, D-Saugerties, a city staff person and city resident Chris Carpenter.
Carpenter said he was the positive COVID-19 case.
“I’m the cause of the exposure,” Carpenter said. “My doctor thinks I contracted it [Nov. 30] or [Dec.1], and, because of the incubation period, I don’t know if I was contagious on [Dec. 2], but I know that I started having symptoms on [Dec. 5].”
Carpenter said he got his positive test results this past Saturday, and began telling everyone he could that he might have exposed them.
Cinquanti said he was notified directly by the county.
“What was good about it was, I found out through the normal channels, through a tracing exercise, they called me and told me,” he said.
Carpenter described the tracing work done by Boerenko’s office after he tested positive.
“They dissected my life for three days, and the county was amazing, Sara’s office was amazing,” Carpenter said. “They asked me all of these details that I didn’t think of, and they were very inquisitive because they really cared about notifying the people I was with.”
Boerenko refused to confirm the identities of anyone involved in the exposure, but said a COVID-19 exposure constitutes anyone who is less than six feet away from a confirmed positive case for more than 15 minutes. She said she has no authority to place people from outside of Montgomery County on quarantine. She said when her office determines an out-of-county resident was exposed to a positive case inside Montgomery County she enters that information into a state database and the information is then emailed to the county department of public health in the person’s county of residence.
Hinchey said she was not contact-traced after the tree-lighting ceremony in Amsterdam, and her home county public health department did not contact her about a possible exposure, but that could be because she called them first after Carpenter called her immediately after receiving his positive test.
“He called me and told me personally, so I immediately went and got a test just out of caution, and that came back negative,” Hinchey said. “It was only out of an abundance of caution. What we’ve been hearing out of all of the counties is exactly what Montgomery County has said, if you’re within six-feet for longer than 10 minutes, unmasked, but that never happened with us. We were outside, and it was a short event.”
Hinchey said out of caution she has not done any public event since the tree-lighting.
Spagnola said he was also contacted by Carpenter and was tested and the test came back negative. He said he received an email from the county public health department on Monday warning him of the possible exposure.
“We’re all familiar with the situation, and, if the worst thing that happens to us is we have to quarantine for 14 days, then I consider myself lucky,” he said.
Several calls were placed to Santabarbara’s office and staff, but he could not be reached for comment Friday.
Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort said he wasn’t at the tree lighting ceremony, but he’s not surprised that people were quarantined after any small gathering inside Montgomery County.
“The mayor has been a gentleman about it, and he’s doing the right thing and we certainly appreciate that,” Ossenfort said. “This is happening more and more. Just today on the [Mohawk Valley Region control room] call our three-day average positivity rate [for COVID-19 tests] was up around 9 percent. The mayor of Utica has talked about how he has tested positive. As this grows and this wave continues you’re going to see more and more of this, and there’s no discriminatory fashion about it. It can happen to anyone.”
Carpenter said his COVID-19 symptoms have been “horrible,” but he’s starting to feel better.
“There was nothing I could do to catch my breath,” he said. “I’d walk five feet, and I couldn’t breathe. My chest is still really tight, but the breathing treatments are working and I feel like I’m getting better.”
He said he’s been taking medicines to fight the virus, one of which dramatically increases his blood sugar, a major problem for him since he’s a diabetic.
“I’ve had to go on extra insulin to get my sugar down because of the COVID drugs,” he said. “The first five days were a blur, and I was worried I was going to end up in the hospital, because I have a heart condition. The first five days I couldn’t breathe.”
Carpenter said the experience has also been difficult psychologically. He said he also suffers from depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which makes being quarantined even more difficult. He said he was wearing a mask at the tree lighting and tries to always wear one when he’s in public, but he knows the virus is being spread in part because of people who continue to believe the pandemic is a political hoax designed to hurt President Donald Trump.
“We used to be a country that believed in science, but somewhere along the way we stopped,” he said. “It’s been frustrating to hear people say ‘it’s a made-up illness’ to hurt the president. That’s just idiotic, but unfortunately in this political environment people are susceptible to believing that when they only get their news from a couple of different sources.”
Carpenter said he thinks the guidelines should be stricter, and that anyone exposed should be required to be tested.
“I had been with my daughter a lot of days before that, and she has tested negative. I even wear a mask around her,” he said.
Cinquanti said his family has dealt with COVID-19 directly before when his daughter, Marissa Franklin, contracted the illness while she was pregnant in April near New York City. He said his daughter’s experience also helped inspire his oldest teenage granddaughter in Syracuse to volunteer to be a part of the COVID-19 vaccine trials.
“She’s received the first of two vaccine shots. She is doing well. She keeps a diary, a journal, every day and she’s been excited to participate in this,” Cinquanti said. “It was published in the paper, and my granddaughter’s pediatrician urged her to participate, because they needed people of her age-group, and she decided to do it.”
Cinquanti said he is grateful that the pandemic has given his family opportunities to give back and attempt to set an example for others.
“I’m very fortunate to have a family who wants to help others because they have that compassion,” he said.