Mayor Brian Tobin had intended to spend his 2020 state of the city address talking about progress, such the Clinton Avenue infrastructure overhaul, the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, future brownfields redevelopment, the potential purchase of the former Parker School and the creation of new businesses and new development.
But, as with many things in the past few weeks, COVID-19 called for a much different speech.
Also, a much different venue: Normally the mayor addresses the city common council at city hall.
But this year, Tobin delivered his speech from a podium in the Youth Bureau building, with three news media representatives in the audience.
One city employee helped set up, but no one else was in the room.
Tobin touted the efforts of city officials to prepare for “the challenges that lie ahead,” and he commended the community for working together for the common good.
“This has been a collective accomplishment that we can all take pride in,” he said.
But the previously abstract threat of COVID-19 is now a fact of life.
“Now that we have diagnosed cases in Cortland County, it’s going to seem more real to you,” Tobin said.
And it’s certainly become real for Tobin, who said his own sister, who lives in New Jersey, recently tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
“At this point, seven days later, she said it feels like a bad sinus infection,” he said. His sister’s experience of the virus is what many people — about 80% — are likely to experience if they become infected, he said.
But about 20% may require hospitalization, he said, and it is because of the sheer numbers of people likely to fall in that category that emergency measures are being required, such as people staying at home, practicing good personal hygiene and social distancing.
Other problems may also crop up — especially financial problems, he said, or people running out of basic supplies, especially people in home isolation who test positive for the coronavirus or who are suspected of being infected.
Tobin’s advice is to call his office — 607-753-0872 — for help.
“If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask,” he said. He also suggested calling 211 for a listing of services offered by government agencies and nonprofits.
Tobin also asked that people stop canceling events. Postpone them, sure. But don’t cancel them.
St. Patrick’s Day, for instance, was hit hard this year after mandatory restaurant and bar closures. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be rescheduled.
“We haven’t celebrated it — yet,” Tobin said. “We need to have things to look forward to.”
Tobin said city officials have been in talks with Guthrie Cortland Medical Center officials about how the city can help the hospital expand capacity, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo has requested all New York hospitals do.
Drive-through testing is something the city and Guthrie likely will soon be able to offer. Tompkins County recently opened such a drive-through test site at the Shops at Ithaca Mall.
“I would anticipate at some point in the near future, Cortland would have that capacity as well,” he said