Thursday, 14 May 2020 12:54

Tick Tock: Preparing to Enter Phase 1

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Robin Dalton surveyed the all-important region’s chart of metrics. There are seven metrics in all and once all seven are satisfied, Saratoga Springs, Saratoga County and the seven other counties that flank it may begin a phased reopening of their businesses. 

Number of tests that will be conducted on residents: check. Contact tracers: check. Hospital beds and ICU beds available: check, and check. 

“I think we’re getting close,” says the city’s Public Safety Commissioner, who alongside Fire Department Chief Joe Dolan and Chief Aaron Dyer, Police Chief Shane Crooks and Chief John Catone, Deputy Public Safety Commissioner Eileen Finneran, and Risk and Safety Manager Marilyn Rivers comprise the City of Saratoga Springs COVID-19 Task Force. 

The group is, among other things, putting the finishing touches on safety guideline protocols and procedures for businesses in Saratoga Springs. 

“I think it’s really important for businesses to think about a plan of what things will look like when they open,” she says.  “Soup-to-nuts we’re trying to make it as easy as possible for businesses to reopen without having to seek out additional guidelines from anywhere else.” The list of protocols will be made available during the next few days, with copies distributed to city businesses and available for download on the city’s website.    

“Recovery will look different in every business, because you have unique situations. You have to accommodate social distancing, mask-wearing, hand-sanitizers. Every business will look different,” Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, said during a Facebook Live event forum hosted by Saratoga County on May 13.

Before it may start its phased re-opening however, the region as a whole must hit on all its metrics. The tallies change daily, but at this point in mid-May, it has not reached acceptable grades regarding declines in hospitalizations and patient deaths in hospitals. 

The seven-metric standard for reopening were established based on guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, the U.S. Department of State, and other public health experts. 

New York State is separated into 10 geographical regions each comprised of a half-dozen or so counties. Saratoga is located in an eight-county “Capital Region” sector which stretches from Columbia County to Warren County. This week, four of the ten regions announced they had met all seven metrics. They include: the Finger Lakes Region, Mohawk Valley, Southern Tier and the North Country – which begins north and west of Warren County and stretches to the Canadian border.

NY ON PAUSE

Two months ago, an Executive Order signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s put New York State on PAUSE.  The plan went into effect March 22 and put social distancing measures in place, closed non-essential businesses, and limited public gatherings in an effort to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Those efforts to “flatten the curve” were successful. After peaking in late March and into early April, the charted rate of infections, hospitalizations and number of deaths slowly began to decline. 

The governor’s daily public briefings have showcased the graphs and tracked the trends. 

May 8: “We have the beast on the run. We haven’t killed the beast – but we’re ahead of it. The hospitalization rate is coming down, the death rate is coming down, so that’s all good news and I feel that – for the first time in this engagement – we are actually ahead of the virus. We have the virus on the run because we have been smart, because we have been disciplined.” 

May 10: “We’re right about where we were March 19, when we went into the abyss of the COVID virus…from my point-of-view, we’re on the other side of the mountain. All the arrows are pointed in the right direction.””

May 11: “It’s an exciting new phase. We’re all anxious to get back to work. We want to do it smartly. We want to do it intelligently, but we want to do it. That’s what this week is going to be all about.”

AFTER REOPENING, STAYING OPEN

One key component after reopening is having a keen eye on potential rising infection rates, and a steady hand to slow that rise. 

“Watch for infections,” Cuomo said. “The local region has a Control Room and a Circuit Breaker: If You see those dials going into the red zone – if you closely watch the dials you won’t have to turn the valve off – you would just have to slow the valve a little bit. You can’t overwhelm your hospitals. It depends upon how smart you are with your openings.”

The person in Saratoga charged with having that keen eye and steady hand is County Administrator Spencer Hellwig - who was named to Gov. Cuomo’s Regional Control Room team for the Capital District alongside leaders from other counties in the region.  It is his responsibility to watch the dials and “slow the valve,” before the numbers spike to a point where everything must shut down.   

“When you hit all seven metrics that doesn’t mean: OK, we’re done. Monitor every day. That’s the regional responsibility. Look at those numbers every day. See what’s happening with those numbers every day and respond to those numbers. That’s the responsibility of every county. That has to be watched every day and you have to calibrate your level of activity every day,” Cuomo said May 13. “If people get cavalier, cocky, if they get arrogant, we’ll be right back in the same situation.”

Striking the perfect balance of “reopening” the economy while maintaining the safety of public health is key.  “That is the struggle, constantly weighing these two things,” Dalton says. “Both have to win. We can’t have a loser. The economy has to do well, and people have to stay alive and healthy.” 

Businesses in each region will re-open in phases. Re-opening refers to non-essential businesses, essential businesses that are open will remain open. The breakdown of industries in each phase: Phase One - Construction, Manufacturing, Retail – Curbside Pickup, Wholesale Trade, Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting; Phase Two - Professional Services, Retail. Administrative Support, Real Estate / Rental & Leasing; Phase Three - Restaurants / Food Services; Phase Four - Arts / Entertainment / Recreation and Education. Regions aside, drive-In movies have been deemed able to reopen by the governor. Malta Drive-In, located on Route 9, is slated to open their season Friday, May 22 with new protocols and guidelines.

There is a recommended 14 day wait in between the opening of phases. “Fourteen days is a preliminary estimate,” Cuomo said May 12. “Why 14 days? You got infected, the virus manifests. If you get seriously ill, you end up in a hospital. That takes about 14 days. But, you can watch it all along. If those rates are staying low, can you accelerate the 14 days? Theoretically yes. If you’re testing isn’t moving (in a negative direction), then you could say: we’re in good shape, less accelerate.”

On May 12, Saratoga County Board of Supervisors Chairman Preston Allen announced the creation of a reopening advisory group tasked with guiding the county’s reopening efforts. The group will focus on CDC guidelines in a phased-in approach for businesses and necessary health precautions related to the county and coordinate these efforts with the other seven counties that comprise the Capital District region.

The advisory group is made up of supervisors Jack Lawler, Ed Kinowski, Eric Connolly, Tom Richardson, Kevin Tollisen, Dan Pemrick, and Matt Veitch; Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo; County Public Health Services Director Cathi Duncan, Stewart’s Shops President Gary Dake, county Chamber President Todd Shimkus, and Charles V. Wait, President and CEO, Adirondack Trust Co.

“The County has selected this diverse group to navigate the complicated reopening process, Supervisor Preston Allen said in a statement. “While we all recognize that the economy must open back up soon, we cannot do this hastily or without regard for the serious public health concerns. This group will be thoughtful and pragmatic, with the best interests of county residents serving as a guiding principle.”

On May 12, Saratoga Springs extended its State of Emergency for another 30 days, until June 12. The order allows the city the ability of its emergency management committee to make decisions regarding how it responds to the virus in the city and is a critical component of following ICS (Incident Command Systems) forms, as well as ensuring  FEMA guidelines are being followed. 

“We’re doing this in a way so that we’re documenting every single thing we’re doing in the hope that we’re getting reimbursed after the fact, but it also gives us the freedom to react as a city, as opposed to whatever the state’s doing, if for some reason our numbers suddenly go up,“ Dalton said. 

“I would implore people to follow the rules, because if we have a group of businesses that just open up out of their own self-interests, it is going to have a dramatically negative effect on our area,” Dalton says. “We all need to be working for the collective good.” 

TESTING

There are two different types of tests; a nasal swab test determines whether a person currently has the COVID-19 virus. An antibody test – which is a blood test – seeks to identify whether a person previously had the virus.

Currently, just two venues located in Saratoga County where testing is conducted – there are additional resources in Warren and Albany counties - and the criteria for testing in either case is for persons symptomatic or who have had exposure to a positive case.

Saratoga Hospital conducts the swab test at a tent located at the Alfred Z. Solomon Emergency Center on Myrtle Street. Appointment and referral from physician or local health department is required. Contact your doctor for assessment. Providers may call to set up appointment. Go to: www.saratogahospital.org/covid19.

Well Now Urgent Care on Route 9 in Clifton Park offers both tests. No appointment is needed. Testing is covered in full for patients that carry insurance as part of the CARES Act. For self-pay patients, testing costs $150 for the molecular (PCR) test and $100 for the antibody test, in addition to a charge for the base visit. Go to: wellnow.com/covid-19.

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