Health commissioner says police will be called if COVID contacts don’t cooperate

Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

 “We are getting pushback from people,” said Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen.

ALBANY COUNTY — Hospitalizations from COVID-19 both statewide and in Albany County have hit new lows since mid-March, both the governor and Albany County executive announced in their Monday press briefings.

But both leaders, as well as the county’s health commissioner, also expressed impatience as the pandemic heads into its sixth month.

Governor Andrew Cuomo voiced support for experts that are calling for a reset of the federal government’s response to the coronavirus disease 2019.

“Start with the truth,” Cuomo urged.  

He went on to name a long list of mistakes from the White House, first denying or downplaying the virus and then pushing to “liberate the economy,” while denying the science, Cuomo said.

He contrasted  the federal approach to his approach in New York, saying, “I trust the people of New York. I told them the truth. I told them the facts. I never sugar-coated … so they knew what to do and they did it.”

As Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy urged caution for residents, he said he himself was cautious.

Although he said he had “tested negative every time” for COVID-19, McCoy revealed that an antibody test he’d had done at Priority 1 Urgent Care in Guilderland showed he had antibodies.

“So I had the COVID back in December, January … before it even broke here when I was traveling with County Executives of America and traveling with the military all through Texas,” said McCoy.

He added, “It doesn’t mean I can’t get it again … so I am cautious.”

McCoy also said, “You have to lead by example.” He noted his daughter had twice postponed her wedding from May to August, and now is planning a scaled-down event for October.

“I can assure you, as much as a lot of people think the governor likes being a dictator, he doesn’t. He’s just trying to do the right thing,” said McCoy. “And when you put your head on your pillow at the end of the day, you hope every decision you made was the decision that didn’t cost someone their life.”

McCoy concluded, “The decisions I have to make, I go to bed every day saying, ‘Please, God, please; hopefully I did the right thing.”

For her part, Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen sternly reported, “We are getting pushback from people.”

She informed residents that, if they get a call from the health department because they have been identified as a contact of someone who has COVID-19, “This is a serious thing and with it comes a legal quarantine.

“If you are going to hang up on my staff, if you are going to be difficult,” Whalen went on, “the next step will be to have law enforcement at your door. So please take this seriously … We are working to stem the spread of this disease … We want to help you.”



In addition to announcing the declining numbers of hospitalizations and deaths — three New Yorkers died of the virus on Sunday — Cuomo also announced that over 3,000 compliance checks were made over the weekend on bars and restaurants not following COVID-19 restrictions — bringing to 596 the charges that have been processed so far.

Businesses face up to $10,000 per violation while egregious violations can result in liquor-license suspension.

As the arrests go on downstate, Albany County continues to use an approach of educating business owners who aren’t following COVID-19 protocols.

“These businesses are hurting,” said McCoy, adding that business owners have cried in explaining their desperate situations to him. “They don’t know if they’ll survive the next 30 days.”

Among the 19 new suspensions of liquor licenses that Cuomo announced on Monday, only one was of an upstate business — the New Elbo Room at 170 Delaware Ave. in Albany.

A July 30 undisclosed compliance check by the state’s task force, led by the State Police and State Liquor Authority, found “the bar crowded with patrons mingling, drinking and walking around the premises without facial coverings,” according to a release from the governor’s office.

The account continued, “Numerous sales of alcohol to patrons without food were observed, with the bartender informing investigators they only needed to purchase chips with alcohol. Investigators also observed patrons playing pool, and witnessed several patrons exiting the premises with alcoholic beverages without food. At no time during the inspection did investigators observe employees ask patrons to be seated, wear masks, not to stand and drink at the bar, or maintain social distancing.”




Finally, Cuomo said on Monday that he’d  make a determination later in the week, based on infection rates, whether schools will reopen in the fall for in-person learning. The more than 700 school districts across the state were required to submit reopening plans by Friday.

“Just because a district puts out a plan, doesn’t mean that, if we reopen the school, parents are going to come or teachers are going to come,” said Cuomo.

In its extended-school-year program, housed in Shaker High School, the North Colonie school district had a positive case of COVID-19, Whalen reported, noting the superintendent had been “incredibly pro-active.”

“We identified all contacts of the individual,” said Whalen. “It was out of an abundance of caution that the school was closed today.”

The state’s Department of Health will do expedited testing on the 19 contacts, she said.


Newest numbers

As of Monday morning, Albany County has 2,304 confirmed cases of COVID-19, an increase of 9 since Sunday, with 609 county residents under quarantine.

Of the new cases, three are health-care workers, two are out-of-state travelers, two had close contact with people infected with COVID-19, one has no clear source of infection, and one is linked to the Fourth of July weekend party that drew about 200 college-aged people to Hudson Avenue in Albany.

The five-day average for new daily positive cases has dropped to 8.6 from 10.8 on Sunday. There are currently 33 active cases in Albany County, up from 28.

So far, 7,472 Albany County residents have completed quarantine. Of those, 2,271 of them have tested positive and recovered, an increase of 4.

One county resident is hospitalized due to the virus, and the hospitalization rate remains at 0.04 percent. The county’s COVID-19 death toll remains at 126.

“We all need to work together to be able to do things like open up the schools,” said Whalen.

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