SARATOGA SPRINGS -- City officials could fine people who violate state social distancing guidelines by playing basketball or otherwise gathering close together outdoors, city Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton warned Tuesday.
"Maintaining social distance and the guidelines put in place by Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo will be key. As a city, we will be enforcing them through warnings, and ticketing and fines if needed, because your actions are that important," Dalton said. "Our health and safety depend on them."
Those who violate the rules put in place to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus will be warned first, but if necessary will be ticketed and could face a fine of up $250, Dalton said on the steps of City Hall. City officials gathered there -- spaced 6 feet apart -- to give an update on the city's response to the virus.
"We don't want to do that," Dalton said of fines. "We want to educate people. This not the time for sleepovers, for play dates, the parties, for dinner parties.
"As the weather gets nicer, we foresee an on-going problem," said Dalton, an elected City Council member who oversees the city's Police and Fire departments and is overseeing the city's emergency response.
Saratoga Springs isn't alone in enforcing social distancing rules. Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy acknowledged that the county has been investigating reports of bars and restaurants that are still open despite orders to stop in-facility service.
[The Albany County Sheriff's Department] will go to these establishments, and they will take care of it," McCoy said at his daily coronavirus press conference. "There will be a $10,000 fine and you could lose your liquor license ... Obedience saves lives."
The federal Centers for Disease Control and state officials are urging people to remain at least 6 feet apart to avoid spreading the highly contagious virus that causes COVID-19, a potentially fatal respiratory illness.
In Schenectady, police have been informally warning people gathering outdoors, but there are no plans so far to start issuing tickets.
“I hope not," said Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said. “I would hope people use common sense. The best way to not get the virus is by practicing social distancing."
Saratoga Springs' police and fire chiefs said their departments are ready if the situation becomes any worse, while Saratoga Hospital President and CEO Angelo Calbone said his hospital is currently treating 10 COVID-19 patients, but is prepared to accept patients from downstate if it becomes necessary.
Saratoga Springs has been operating under a state of emergency since March 13, and the majority of city staff is now working from home under the city's emergency plan, Mayor Meg Kelly said. She said she has received a number of emails from residents concerned about youths playing basketball in city parks and other gatherings that appear to violate the CDC guidelines.
The city is looking for voluntary cooperation from residents. "We need the help of every resident of the city, it's key to slowing down this virus," Kelly said.
"Our city faces one of the biggest threats to public safety in recent history," Dalton said. "Please support our police officers and firefighters ... How we come out the other side depends on you, the public."
While the playgrounds at Saratoga Spa State Park have been closed, city playgrounds remain open, but Dalton said users are expected to take disinfecting measures if they decide to let their children use a city playground.
"Social distancing is key. It has to be practiced at home as well as in public," said city Fire Chief Joseph Dolan. He said people who become sick are being asked to manage the illness at home, if possible, rather than call for an ambulance. "If you call EMS, they will ask you if you've called for healthcare provider."
Calbone said Saratoga Hospital, which normally has a capacity of about 170 medical patients, is at less than half that now because of the cancellation of elective procedures and other measures. The hospital building is closed to the public, and anyone who comes in is having their temperature taken, since a fever is a common sign that COVID-19 is developing.
"This is all in an effort to protect our staff," Calbone said.
The hospital currently has sufficient personal protective items like masks and gowns, Calbone said, and he said he thanked contractors and other community members who have donated protective masks to the hospital, and the hospital is ready to respond if the pandemic requires it.
"If downstate needs capacity we will help in any way we can," Calbone said.
Staff writer Pete Demola contributed to this report.