PLATTSBURGH — Recent parties appear to be the cause of an increase in COVID-19 cases in Clinton County and officials are concerned.
Have you been tested for coronavirus?
“This is exactly what people should not be doing,” Clinton County Legislature Chairman Mark Henry (R-Area 3, Chazy) said.
“They are putting their own health at risk, their friend’s health, their relatives and health care workers lives at risk.”
According to the County Health Department, there have been nine new positive cases of coronavirus in recent days.
The cases are associated with several recent parties in the Plattsburgh area, the department said in a news release.
This weekend would have been the traditional graduation weekend for SUNY Plattsburgh as well as Clinton Community College.
Henry said apparently there were recent parties in the City of Plattsburgh and perhaps elsewhere that could have featured guests from downstate, where the epicenter of the coronavirus has been.
Only takes minutes
On Thursday night around 9 p.m., a group of about 30 college-aged students gathered on Broad Street near Rugar Street and were celebrating with loud music and signs urging passing motorists, “You Honk, We Drink.”
There were no masks visible and the social distance recommendation of staying at least six feet apart was not being followed.
By shortly after 10 p.m. the group had dispersed.
“It only takes five minutes in a situation like that to get infected,” Henry said.
“Imagine being there for three hours.”
There were also several mentions of parties on various social media platforms.
The Health Department said the nine new cases are now isolating in their homes, and none are currently hospitalized.
Contact tracing as of Friday evening had identified 27 individuals as close contacts. Those people are now in quarantine, but no other details were made available.
The development of more cases did not sit well with officials of the area that recently became one of five regions in the state to be eligible to reopen under state guidelines.
The region qualified for reopening largely because the number of COVID-19 cases was low as was the number of those hospitalized.
Officials have attributed the region’s success to the strong efforts of people to stay at home, social distance and wash hands.
“This rise in cases is very disturbing because it was preventable,” County Director of Public Health John Kanoza said.
If the number of hospitalizations rises too much, the region could be forced to throttle back on reopening.
“Because these individuals are infected but not hospitalized, they will not immediately affect the county’s reopening. However, any spread of COVID-19 may lead to serious illness in some people,” Kanoza said.
“I am concerned for the health of all who may have been exposed and concerned that new cases could result in new hospitalizations.”
Maintain health practices
CCHD’s contact tracing team is continuing to identify and quarantine contacts. The team will need to monitor each of the new cases and their contacts along with approximately 46 other individuals already in isolation or quarantine.
“People are tired of staying home and distancing. I get that,” Kanoza said.
“But, this virus will not go away just because we are tired. We need to maintain the health practices that got us to the point where we are able to slowly begin to reopen our county.”
City of Plattsburgh Mayor Colin Read said he recently ordered a stepping up of patrols by City Police when he learned of the parties.
“Without a warrant that a crime is being committed, there is not much that can be done on private property, as I understand, unless the officer observes a violation,” Read said.
“It is hard to tell if the people hanging around outside are residents or not, and impossible to tell who may be inside.”
Police Chief Levi Ritter said if officers see a large gathering outside, they will stop and order people to disperse.
“If there is a keg party with 300 people and it is bursting at the seams, you can easily see that,” Ritter said.
“But if there are 20 people inside, it can be difficult to detect because many of these houses (college housing) are large houses with a lot of rooms.”
Ritter said they have gotten calls for noise in the past week or two in the college housing area, and officers have ordered groups to break up.
Read had initiated a curfew on April 2 at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak that did not allow people to travel outside by foot at night unless to go to work, for education, exercise, to volunteer or do faith-based work, civic duty and caring for others.
The curfew expired after five days, and Read could not re-implement another one after Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that localities could not adopt their own such policies.
“That is why the curfew is so important,” Read said.
“That gives them (police) the tools to stop people before they arrive at the party.”
‘This is ridiculous’
Clinton County Sheriff David Favro said not following coronavirus health and safety guidelines by having parties is just disrespectful.
“We’ve been doing pretty good as a society as a whole, and for the most part, people have done what they are supposed to do, but this is ridiculous,” he said.
With high school graduations just around the corner, Favro wondered if some kind of law against parties is needed.
“I hate to be the heavy and say we have to have laws and arrest people, but if we had at least a $100 fine that might help,” he said.
“Some people just think they are entitled to have a party because their kid worked so hard and deserves to be recognized. Well, there is no entitlement in life. Just be thankful you have a job and be thankful that you have your health.”
Strategies have worked
Kanoza said the region still needs to bear down on safety.
“We must stay home when possible, maintain distance between ourselves and others when we go out, wear a face covering when distancing is not possible and wash our hands often,” he said.
“These strategies have worked so far. We must continue.”
Henry said the most important issue is the health of the public, but the potential impact on the economy also has to be considered.
“I worry about things like this because a big spike in numbers could affect the entire region, and not just us,” he said.
“But the most important thing is health and safety.”
Protection of others
Town of Plattsburgh Supervisor Michael Cashman said the town is still doing all it can to help educate the public on the dangers of COVID-19, and what precautionary steps to take.
“It’s not just parties that we have to worry about, it’s any type of social gathering,” Cashman said.
“This is an individual responsibility and the message is that we need to remain vigilant in this and people have to see interconnected relationships and therefore we must not be thinking only or ourselves, but of the protection of others.”