There was a lot of information in Albany County Executive Dan McCoy's Wednesday briefing on COVID-19.
He discussed the county’s efforts to set up new test sites in high-need neighborhoods. He reminded people to social distance. He listed the number of county residents under quarantine and in the hospital, and noted that four adults had died since his previous briefing, just 24 hours earlier.
“My heart goes out to the families,” he said.
It was a somber and heartfelt moment, and I saw it the way most people did -- at home, on Facebook Live.
I don’t tune in to McCoy’s briefings every day, but I appreciate the effort he and other local leaders are making to keep residents informed of the latest developments in the crisis that’s upended all of our lives.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve watched COVID-19 briefings hosted by different Capital Region counties, and I’ve been fairly impressed -- with one big exception.
Five weeks into an unprecedented public health crisis, Schenectady County has yet to use technology such as Facebook Live to communicate with residents, nor held so much as a single press conference.
This is a major disservice to the public, which has been called upon to make extraordinary sacrifices and is entitled to insight and information from local officials, not a wall of silence.
Most upstate counties understand that keeping the public informed in a time of crisis is important.
Why doesn’t Schenectady?
The county does provide updated numbers every day, but this brief, running tally of quarantines, hospitalizations and deaths is simply not sufficient.
There’s no attempt to explain what any of it means, or answer questions from a worried public, or reinforce important messaging about, say, the ongoing need for social distancing. Some of this information is posted to social media, but having a human being deliver it, in a public forum, would do a world of good.
As an Albany County resident, I get regular, verbal updates from public officials on how COVID-19 is impacting the community where I live. The same would be true if I lived in Montgomery, Rensselaer or Saratoga counties.
In Schenectady County, residents get very little insight into how COVID-19 is affecting the community.
County manager Rory Fluman told The Gazette’s Pete DeMola that a Schenectady County briefing would provide duplicative information, but I disagree.
The county-level briefings I’ve watched are tailored to the communities they serve, address local concerns and provide local data.
Yes, some of the information is duplicative.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t helpful. A recent Saratoga County briefing included a demonstration of how to wear a face mask -- something that seems especially pertinent now that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has ordered all New Yorkers to wear face masks in public when they can't practice social distancing.
At his Wednesday briefing, McCoy turned the mike over to his public health commissioner, Elizabeth Whalen, who spoke about the need to do more testing in needy communities that are likely to be harder hit by COVID-19. Officials made it clear that testing is free, but requires an appointment at one of the new, walk-in sites.
Watching the briefing gave me a better understanding of Albany County’s efforts to contain COVID-19. And it won't be long before officials provide another update, with new and timely information -- McCoy hosts a briefing every day at 10:30 a.m.
Schenectady County residents are largely in the dark about local efforts to contain the virus. Local leaders haven’t shown them how to wear a mask, or discussed the need for social distancing or even offered public condolences to the families of those who have died.
And it must change, ASAP.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.