Local Surges Bring Yellow COVID-19 Caution Zones

By Edie Johnson

UPDATE: Highland Lakes was added as another Yellow Zone on 11/19 along with the City of Newburgh, Town of New Windsor and City of Middletown.
In a Mid-Hudson ZOOM Meeting CE’s of Orange, Putnam, Dutchess and Ulster counties discussed “How we got here, and what should we do now.” See review of that meeting online later today.

11/18 -When a spike this week in Orange County identified 203 diagnosed COVID-19 cases in just one day, along with  a leap of total cases  from 14559 to 15345 by Wednesday,  conference calls between the County, Local Officials and State of New York  on Tuesday foretold that  the City of Newburgh, Town of New Windsor and  City of Middletown could expect to be designated yellow viral caution zones by Thursday. As a yellow caution zone,  the implications include limitations of 50% of capacity at church services and a limit of 25 person assemblies  elsewhere.  A spike in cases was expected with the onset of colder weather and people spending more time in close quarters, but the degree of this spike was alarming.  Orange County Health Commissioner Irena Gelman has issued a list of precautions for Thanksgiving family gatherings (see page 3).  Schools may be required to do additional testing and/or have remote learning if a student is exposed.  Municipalities have been encouraged to adopt additional precautionary measures such as rotating office staff so that if one tests positive that entire section of workers will not have to be quarantined.

There may be good news on the horizon, however.  Medical research companies have reported extremely positive results this week, with vaccine efficacy results in the upper 90th percentile, including the new RNA modifier version as well as a more traditional vaccine of attenuated virus that is showing especially good results for the senior population.  The race is on for production now. While millions of doses are already being produced, they will first be given to essential workers like doctors, nurses, emergency medical services , the elderly, and others with high risk factors.

Joe Donat, City Manager of Newburgh, said that the City is taking all possible precautions, is limiting access to the building,  and is ready to have non-essential personnel work remotely if necessary.  With the City’s population currently at 30,000, the number of COVID positive cases is about 2,030.  But don’t let the numbers fool you.  Municipalities with a higher population count will obviously have higher numbers.  A percent of population would  be a more meaningful measure.   Donat also said that with outside temperatures plummeting this week, the warming centers are busy and there are many outreach workers on the job to help the homeless and poor of the City.  Ironically, he said that with so many companies looking to move farther out from New York City, the City of Newburgh is experiencing bidding wars for available property, and he hopes that will continue when the emergency is over.  And by and large the population is abiding by recommendations.  A walk or drive through Newburgh shows people distancing and almost all are wearing masks.

In New Windsor, Supervisor George Meyers said that he too is going to limit access to Town Hall, beginning Thursday and Friday.  Unfortunately, he said, “Many people seem to want to pay their tax and water bills in person at the Town Hall”, whereas it would be safer to mail in a check.  Meyers said that they have had warnings that this surge might be imminent, because of frequency of ambulance calls. Most often they are from the western areas of town. He remains concerns that a yellow zone could change to orange or read easily, and says he will take all preventive measures possible.

Blooming Grove, whose Village of South Blooming Grove shares a small southern border with Town of Palm Tree,  had  19 cases on Monday and 18 on Tuesday, raising their total to 482 out of a population of about 18,000.  Half of it’s Highway Department had to go on quarantine after one member felt ill, tested positive, and experienced  24 hours of virus symptoms. Fortunately none had to be hospitalized. Supervisor Rob Jeroloman acted quickly to split staffing and switch to ZOOM meetings for Town Board, Planning and ZBA as of Nov. 30. Town Hall is closed except by appointment . He said that during the conference call they were cautioned that county hospital ICU beds which had maintained available beds in the 70%’s had dropped to nearly 30%. Highway Superintendent, Wayne Kirkpatrick said that the employee who first became ill had no warning whatsoever.  He was at work, feeling fine, but toward the end of the day was not feeling well. He went home and then came up with a positive test, thus pointing out the real danger of carrying the virus unknowingly.  While he was asymptomatic, he apparently carried the virus to other team members. Kirkpatrick said that he was gratified that other highway departments called to offer help if needed, even though some of them were shorthanded as well, along with one area highway department that is essentially closed down.  He added that with rotation and Building Department  and Central Garage cross-training, residents should not be worried whether snow  plowing and other work will be done, “Rest assured, the plowing will get done”. Supervisor Jeroloman added that the Town has permission in the unlikely event that it needed to they could hire private contractors.  Police, fire, and ambulance departments, he said, already function under a rotation pattern.  The Senior Center is closed, but the 2 individuals that do Meals On Wheels will be able to continue to provide them, and other office employees on rotation will have laptops available along with plenty of assignments to do from home.

While there has been a definite surge in COVID-19 cases throughout the area, the death rate in Orange County has remained relatively stable and is currently at 514.

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