As the number of COVID-19 cases spike in Cortland County, county officials announced this morning they will step up enforcement of safety protocols at businesses, and may fine them, but stopped short of saying they will close businesses.
“There is no indication we are going to be ramping down on our businesses,” said Paul Heider, chairman of the Cortland County Legislature.
The county will also discuss with the state today the possibility of creating additional testing sites.
The developments were announced at a 10 a.m. news conference at 10 a.m. today by Heider (R-Cuyler, Solon, Truxton) and Lisa Perfetti, the interim county public health director.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared Cortland County a micro-cluster of coronavirus infection Tuesday afternoon following weeks of elevated spread of COVID-19, which has seen more than 550 new cases since Aug. 21.
“We have put together an enforcement team,” Heider said, noting it would include the county attorney’s office, an unidentified county enforcement officer with an investigative background, the county administrator and assistant to the county administrator.
The enforcement team will investigate complaints and may issue citations, Heider said, adding the first infraction can bring a $500 fine.
“We are not promising right now that we are going to fine businesses.” he said. “If we need to cite, we will.”
The county planned to discuss with state officials at noon the possibility of opening additional COVID-19 testing sites in the county.
“… The County of Cortland had a 7 percent infection rate and there is at least one microcluster there that we are dealing with related to a SUNY school,” Cuomo said during his daily coronavirus briefing.
However, the numbers reported on the state Department of Health coronavirus tracker lags numbers from the Cortland County Health Department 436 reported this morning compared with the county’s 665.
Perfetti couldn’t explain the discrepancy.
“All of the state numbers are reported through the state laboratory reporting system,” she said. “That is how the state and all county governments get reports about a communicable disease. With the advent of rapid testing, those are not necessarily reported through the state system, but we get them directly much quicker. Pool testing results from the college, rapid testing sites those come directly to us.”
“We do so much testing and it’s so targeted that we can focus in on micro-clusters, small areas that generate higher rates of infection so we can focus on them,” Cuomo said. “Our microclusters have the higher infection rate in our state, but the rate of infection in our micro-cluster, our red zone, is lower than most states’ statewide number. The relativity is important here.”
“We as a community have let our guard down,” Heider said. He did not wear a mask during the 30-minute news conference, even though he was within six feet of Perfetti.
Members of the public made 17 complaints against businesses for not following coronavirus safety protocols in July, 20 in August, 40 in September and 32 so far this month.
The state’s “red zones” include Brooklyn Queens, Rockland and Orange counties, which have a positivity rate of 2.9%, Cuomo said. Cortland’s rate over the past two weeks exceeds that.
Heider said the county spoke with a state representative and was told there is no threat of the state rolling back the reopening of the county economy.
Perfetti warned about the need for vigilance to stem the spread of the potentially deadly virus.
She warned people to avoid travel at Thanksgiving and urged them not to host or attend large family gatherings.
Cuomo didn’t outline what being declared a micro-cluster would mean for Cortland although he did say that new guidelines would be issued today.
“We’ll see this through the fall. Micro-clusters will pop up. We will attack them. We will abate them and another microcluster will pop up somewhere else and we will attack it and we will abate it and then another micro-cluster will pop up,” Cuomo said. “Welcome to the fall. That is going to be what is happening.”