Most of the Cortland County legislators at the Health and Human Services Committee meeting Tuesday weren’t wearing masks as the meeting started.
One by one, as they discussed whether to require county employees to wear masks indoors, how effective public education has been and could be to stem the spread of COVID-19, and how fully vaccinated people can still contract and spread the virus, which has killed 65 Cortland County residents, half the legislators put their masks on.
“We continue to get more information every day,” said Lisa Perfetti, the county’s interim public health director. “Unfortunately, it (used to be) get the vaccine so you can take the mask off. And now it’s about getting the vaccine so we don’t die, so we don’t overwhelm our healthcare system.”
“I’ve attended all committee meetings this morning, and all this information about CDC guidelines has been out there for quite some time, about the rise of the disease — so I made a note, as we all might have, of who wore masks at every minute during these meetings,” said Legislature Chairman Paul Heider (RCuyler, Solon, Truxton). “Most folks didn’t, and they only put them on in response to a discussion, not by their own judgment.”
But the county has yet to require employees to mask while indoors, even though the county triggered a federal guidance over the weekend that advises wearing masks in indoor public. Over the past seven days it has had a transmission rate of 71.46 cases per 100,000 people the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, enough for a “significant” risk of spread.
Onondaga, Chenango and Broome counties have already tripped warnings of a “high” risk, with transmission rates of more than 100 cases per 100,000 people.
“I believe it is the duty of this county, as an employer and as a leader in this county, to be looking at our vaccination rates to make sure that our numbers — which are woefully inadequate, despite the extreme efforts of everyone in this office right now — increase,” said Legislator Beau Harbin (D-Cortland), the Legislature’s Democratic conference leader. “We are still well under the herd immunity level for our county.”
County Administrator Rob Corpora said he does not know the vaccination rate of county employees so far, but if the county’s positive COVID-19 cases continue to rise, employees could soon be required to wear their masks whenever not at their desks.
“In response to what everyone is saying, I do not have a problem issuing a statement to mandate mask-wearing in the county buildings, following CDC guidance,” Corpora said, but did not issue one Tuesday. “This is something we need to do and to encourage vaccines for all county employees.”
But the efforts need to go beyond that, said committee Chairwoman Cathy Bischoff (D-Cortland).
“There is a need for much more public engagement on this issue by our leadership,” Bischoff said, “and that we’re much more aggressive, with some sort of engagement campaign that promotes not only an issue of masks but also deals with the issue of vaccination.”
The Family Health Network is hosting a walk-in vaccine clinic on Thursday at the Cortland Family Practice Health Center.
“We’re partnering with United Healthcare and anyone who gets vaccinated will get a box of food,” said Legislator Ann Homer (D-Cortland). “That might be incentive to get some folks over there.”
Legislator Joe Nauseef (U-Cortlandville) said many people he’s talked to got their COVID-19 vaccine because they wanted to go back to normal, without masks.
“Now the world is saying that the shots aren’t working, and people who have had the shots are still getting sick and are transferring it,” Nauseef said. “Those people who were teetering on that line are just going way back — it’s going to be hard to try to get things in motion again, and getting those people out there and get vaccinated.”
Legislator Susan Wilson (DCortland) said her 85-year-old mother recently contracted the Delta variant of the coronavirus, but said having the vaccine may have saved her life — the vaccine does reduce the severity of the virus.
“I just want to say, personally, get the vaccine,” Wilson said. “It’ll save your life, and I think that’s the most important message we need to get out there.”