The Schenectady County Legislature on Sunday met during a special session to approve extensive sick leave for county employees if they need to receive treatment for the coronavirus, and the hiring of over a dozen new employees to help combat the spread in the community.
Specifically, the legislature unanimously approved 30 days of sick leave, called the pandemic Emergency Sick Bank, for eligible employees. That sick time can be used by employees who require testing for the virus, isolation, quarantine or medical treatment.
Schenectady County also declared a State of Emergency Sunday over the threat to ensure school districts aren't penalized missing classroom days, officials said.
Other municipalities, including the towns of Glenville and Halfmoon, also held special meetings on Sunday afternoon to address the evolving virus situation.
In addition, the Schenectady County Legislature authorized Schenectady County Manager Rory Fluman to hire 10 public health nurses and five cleaners for the county, along with $1 million to cover the costs of equipment meant to help combat the virus, including medical supplies, personal protection equipment and other cleaning or disinfecting materials.
The special meeting occurred at the same time as a press conference given by New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who announced the third death in the state related to the virus. He also announced that total cases in the state have jumped to 729. The three who died all had underlying medical conditions.
Of those 729 cases, 137 were hospitalized, 65 were in the ICU and 46 patients were intubated. He also indicated more than 5,200 tests have been administered.
Cuomo also asked all businesses in New York State to voluntarily close to fight coronavirus transmission and have people work from home. Depending on the results, he could consider mandatory actions later on, Cuomo said.
The Schenectady County resolutions were approved after various members of the legislature provided updates regarding the virus and highlighted what exactly county employees had already been doing to try to contain the spread of the virus as effectively as possible.
Jeffrey McDonald, Vice-Chair of the legislature, thanked county health employees, who he said had been working “around the clock” to respond to what he called the rapidly evolving situation of the coronavirus.
Those employees, he said, are continuing to work to provide essential services to residents who need them.
“These are uncharted waters for all of us, and we appreciate everyone’s continued cooperation” he said.
Councilwoman Michelle Ostrelich, who chairs the county’s Health and Human Services committee, said that Schenectady County Public Health Services has been working diligently to keep up to date on all information regarding the coronavirus using guidance from the Center for Disease Control and from the New York State Department of Health. That includes daily briefings at the county level regarding the evolving situation, Ostrelich said.
“We have a duty as a community to protect ourselves and, above all, protect others,” she said.
Other legislators highlighted the importance of practical steps that can simply be taken to protect community members who are the most vulnerable to the virus, including the elderly or those with underlying health conditions.
“We want to stress the importance of social distancing, so keeping a safe distance between yourself and others and avoiding large groups will slow the spread of the disease” Councilwoman Sara Mae Pratt, vice chair of the Health and Human Services committee, said.
During the meeting, clarifications and announcements regarding the functions of municipal services were also given. Libraries will also be closed for at least two weeks, and visitation at both the Schenectady County Jail, as well as the Glendale Home has been suspended. Catholic Charities is working with the county to coordinate getting meals to county residents who rely on such services on a regular basis.
“It is a public health emergency,” Councilman Gary Hughes said. “I’d like to commend our employees for going above and beyond.”
Fluman outlined how exactly the resolutions up for approval would help county employees and why they were necessary.
The sick time, he said, will go far to alleviate any fears of financial instability workers might deal with when faced with having to not work for multiple weeks in a row, and the surplus medical staff and cleaner will allow the county to take an “all hands on deck” approach to the situation, he said, which is crucial to containing the virus.
“We are gonna get through this, and we’re going to be a better county when we’re on the other side of this,” Fluman said.