SARATOGA COUNTY - In a suite of poorly lit rooms deep below the Saratoga County office complex in Ballston Spa, bustling teams of 40 to 50 county employees and volunteers are fielding public calls from dawn until after sunset about coronavirus and whether to get tested for having COVID-19.
"I would say we're getting one hundred calls or more per day," said county employee Lori Prock, who is overseeing the call intake center, which can either help people seeking information or pass those who may need testing on to public health nurses. "Until yesterday it was more people seeking information, but now we're getting more people calling because they're not feeling well."
County Commissioner of Emergency Management Carl Zeilman said the county's Emergency Operations Center was activated 12 days ago, after county officials concluded the arrival and spread of the novel coronavirus was inevitable. The teams include employees drafted from various county departments, as well as some volunteers.
"We've been discussing and pre-planning since late last year," he said. "Residents of Saratoga County can rest assured we are all working together."
County officials on Monday declared a countywide state of emergency. As of Tuesday afternoon, the county had 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19. In other counties, the state Health Department reported that as of Tuesday afternoon, there were 23 confirmed cases in Albany County, five in Schenectady County, and one in Montgomery County. Rensselaer County reported its first case.
In Saratoga County, Clifton Park has six of the cases. The Shenendehowa school district on Tuesday reported that two students -- one who attends Shenendehowa schools, another who attends a private school but takes a Shenendehowa bus -- have tested positive. While not specifically referring to the school, Duncan said there are families in the town where more than one member has tested positive.
Other confirmed Saratoga County cases are a couple in Northumberland who had the first confirmed cases, and lone cases in Saratoga Springs and Ballston Spa. None has been hospitalized.
"We do have community spread in our county," county Director of Public Health Cathi Duncan said a press conference Tuesday on the county's response. "It's important to pay attention. If we are around those who are ill, we need to protect ourselves. We know there's community spread because for some of these people we can't trace to a source."
In addition to those individuals who have tested positive for coronavirus, Duncan said 73 individuals in the county are in mandatory 14-day quarantines due to known or likely exposure, and 40 people are in precautionary quarantine, mostly due to having traveled to countries where coronavirus has spread. Some people have completed their quarantine and been released.
Primarily, testing has been offered to those who are already feeling ill. As of Tuesday morning, more than 240 people had been tested, so the majority of those tested do not have COVID-19, they have a cold or the flu. "It looks very similar to the common cold or flu," Duncan said.
At the press conference, county officials announced other measures stemming from the emergency:
-- The county Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday afternoon to appropriate an additional $1 million in the 2020 county budget to be used for hiring additional public health personnel or supplies needed to fight the virus outbreak.
-- Sheriff Michael H, Zurlo said that, effective immediately, sheriff's deputies will be wearing N-95 respirator masks in all interactions with the public, to avoid becoming sick themselves. He also said the Sheriff's Office is keeping a list of 86 special needs households -- primarily the elderly -- whom deputies will check on every other day, and also help them obtain items like groceries and medicines if they are homebound. "We'll get them anything they need," he said.
-- The county jail in Milton has been closed to all visitors since last Thursday, and all programs involving outside personnel have been suspended. That's to protect both inmates and staff, Zurlo said.
-- Zeilman said the county is working with realtors and has found large vacant spaces in Clifton Park, Malta and Halfmoon that could be converted into temporary quarantine or medical housing if the pandemic becomes significantly worse.
-- A reverse-911 call to every landline and registered cellphone in the county told people about the emergency, and reminded them of the basic precautions being recommended -- maintaining social distance from other people, frequent handwashing, and calling medical offices rather than visiting if people fear they have contracted the coronavirus.
In the emergency operations center, Zeilman said the county could use more volunteers with medical knowledge to help answer the phones. He also praised the county buildings and grounds staff, which in addition to setting up portable tables for the center has been frequently cleaning and disinfecting the work area.
Anyone who wants to volunteer can contact the county emergency services office at 518-885-2232.