Despite almost-record hospitalizations and case counts, Greene and Columbia officials take no new action to slow COVID-19 spread
Natasha Vaughn-Holdridge reports for Columbia-Greene Media that Columbia County is currently recording near-record numbers of hospitalizations for COVID-19 cases. “We have seen the case numbers increasing over the last six weeks,” Columbia Memorial Hospital spokesperson Bill VanSlyke said Tuesday. “So what’s occurring nationally is in our community as well.” The hospital currently has 26 COVID-19 cases. “We had some days in the 30s back in January, February, but this is the highest since last winter,” Columbia County Department of Health Director Jack Mabb said. In January 2021 Columbia County has its highest numbers of hospitalizations with 36. “Interestingly enough, nine of the 26 are vaccinated people,” Mabb said. “I think there’s one individual under 60, but they’re all pretty elderly. We have one vaccinated individual in the ICU. He’s vaccinated but he’s got a lot of comorbidities.” Finding a booster shot in Columbia County is getting more difficult. “This morning we had a run on people who wanted boosters,” Mabb said. “It’s clear that there’s a certain urgency for them, they want that booster now and the assumption has to be that they’ll have some sort of immunity, which they would to some degree, improved immunity by Christmas time. I think that people are definitely hearing that information coming out of Washington.” Local officials have not confirmed any cases of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19, but officials believe it is here. “We haven’t gotten any direct word from any laboratory that we have the new variant here,” Mabb said. “But, given that they are now claiming that it’s 75 percent of the cases out there, and that New York City is a hot bed for it, I think you have to assume it’s migrated its way up here.” The Omicron variant seems more easily transferred, but it was only discovered less than a month ago, and scientists continue to study results. Columbia County officials have not announced any new policies, or changes in policies, in the face of the rising case counts. Meanwhile, across the Hudson River in Greene County, officials are avaoiding taking efforts to slow the spread. Previously, Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden said Dec. 13 that Greene County would not enforce the new state mask mandate. He said it was because the state was not providing money to enforce the mandate. But now that Gov. Kathy Hochul is giving counties millions of dollars to help, Greene County Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger is still letting Greene County citizens catch a deadly disease rather than take any efforts to stop it. “If they’re going to make things like PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) available like we had in the beginning of the pandemic where counties were handing it out, we’d certainly take that and give it out to our businesses,” he said. “But if this is a ploy to get people to go out there and enforce this at the county level, the resources just aren’t available. That doesn’t translate to money, that translates to people.” Hochul's offer does include masks for counties, and people can be hired with money. “We’re putting $65 million on the table to help counties associate with the costs for the protocols we put in place,” Hochul said in a press conference Dec. 20. “I’m ensuring there’s at least $1 million available for the small counties and up to $2 million for the larger counties. They will be able to use this for creative ways, either for enforcement, or masks, or signs. We want to make sure that we pick up the costs for this.” Linger also complained about a lack of testing. “I would love to run a vaccine booster clinic once a week or testing three of four days a week,” Linger said. “Those are all good things that we’d like to be able to do, but we don’t have the staffing for it.” President Joe Biden and Hochul have both recently announced funding for testing. Hochul announced 10 million tests for New Yorkers Dec. 20, and 26 million more on Dec. 22. That's because COVID-19 case counts are climbing everywhere. Albany County, for instance, reported 299 more cases on Dec. 22, up from 218 on Dec. 21, and some Albany schools shifted to remote learning this week. Read more about this story at HudsonValley360.com.