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Justin Rodriguez Daniel Torres Tom Feighery Colleen Pillus
Poughkeepsie, NY … A week prior to Thanksgiving and the start of the winter holiday season, leaders from Dutchess, Orange, Putnam and Ulster counties gathered virtually today to ask residents to remain vigilant in the coming weeks and curtail small social gatherings. Such parties or “hangouts,” even among friends and family members, have led to a recent increase in local COVID-19 cases, raising the Mid-Hudson region’s positivity rate, affecting the ability of schools and businesses to remain open and further stressing the region’s healthcare resources.
Many residents assume COVID-19 cases are on the rise due to exposures at workplaces, schools and businesses. In recent weeks, however, the Mid-Hudson region has seen a surge in cases resulting from gatherings in casual settings such as homes, where many residents have become lax about adhering to proper safety guidelines – proper mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing – and one infected individual can expose many more. With the broad roll-out of a COVID-19 vaccine still months away, the region’s leaders implored residents to keep their gatherings small, preferably to immediate members of their household, and continue to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines whenever people are interacting with others beyond their immediate household.
Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro said, “With the holidays soon upon us, accompanied by the traditional get-togethers, we are at a critical moment in the COVID-19 pandemic. Each of us can keep our families, community and region safe. Keeping our gatherings small and putting get togethers on pause are sacrifices we can make to protect our health and the health of those we love. We need to dig deep, summon the compassion and do our part to stay healthy.”
As of Wednesday, Nov. 18th, the most recent data available from New York State, the Mid-Hudson’s regional positivity rate was 4.6 percent, with a seven-day average of 3.8 percent.
In recent weeks, counties throughout the region have seen confirmed positive cases grow exponentially, largely attributable to individuals who were infected at a casual gathering presenting in the community and exposing those around them.
Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus said in the past week, two COVID-19 deaths in his county were residents in their 20s, proving the virus can affect every individual differently, regardless of age or underlying condition.
“Thanksgiving and other holidays are usually a wonderful opportunity to get together with our loved ones, but we must remain vigilant against the spread of the virus as we continue to see an uptick in cases. Out of an abundance of caution, please avoid large family gatherings this Thanksgiving, and celebrate with those within your immediate household. Our future success in getting safely through this pandemic depends greatly on the precautions that you take today,” Orange County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus said.
The effects of COVID-19 exposure from social gatherings ripple through a community, impacting those exposed, their contacts, local schools where exposed individuals attend and businesses at which they work.
As they have since the start of the pandemic, leaders today again asked residents to stay home if they feel they have broad symptoms – such as fever, cough, sore throat or congestion, among others – as it’s better to remain home for a day or two only to find they don’t have COVID-19 and not expose others, as opposed to needing to quarantine for 14 days as the result of a confirmed positive case.
Putnam County’s Deputy County Executive Tom Feighery noted that Putnam saw a direct correlation between people ‘letting down their guard’ (not following safety measures in casual, social settings) and COVID-19 transmission in the six days following Halloween when positive case doubled in that county.
“We appreciate all of the essential workers, especially all the Health Departments for their efforts and hope the public will do their part,“ said Putnam County Deputy County Executive Tom Feighery.
COVID-19 cases stemming from casual gatherings have a ripple effect on counties’ contact-tracing efforts, by creating an increased workload for contact tracers, which slows down the entire tracing process for all infections. Leaders today asked residents who think they may have been exposed to COVID-19 to please reach out to possible contacts so they can get tested and begin the quarantine process.
Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan described a small Halloween party attended by just three families in late October. Four children who attended that small gathering were COVID-positive, unbeknownst to themselves or their families. Since then, 15 positive cases have been traced back to that casual get-together, impacting a local college, elementary school, middle school and high school, proving the wide impact of “living room spread.”
“We know that this is a make or break moment for us as a county and a community,” Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan said. “As we see our numbers increase to levels that we have not seen in months, we must remain proactive to blunt a much more significant second wave. We will be doing everything that we can to remind residents to continue to social distance, wear masks, and take all precautions necessary.”
County Executive Molinaro concluded, “We have been battling this pandemic for eight months, and we don’t want our best efforts to go to waste. COVID-19 remains a deadly disease, and we must not become complacent and casual in our efforts to fight it. Even when you gather among your immediate family, please wear a mask, wash your hands and remain at a safe distance. The pandemic doesn’t let up for the holidays – neither can we.”