Gray should treat school athletics more thoughtfully

If Jefferson County’s 14-day rolling average percentage positivity rate for the novel coronavirus is less then 6% on Feb. 22, school sports may proceed. Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — During these unprecedented times, members of the public look to their elected officials for leadership.

From empathizing with parents whose children are out of school and struggling with mental health issues to supporting small businesses that are hanging on by a thread, the challenges we face as a community are innumerable. In light of this, many of our elected officials have risen to the occasion to guide the public with true leadership as well as compassion.

Unfortunately, that is not true of Jefferson County Board of Legislators Chairman Scott Gray. In recent weeks, Chairman Gray’s behavior has been both unprofessional and unbecoming of a community leader. One has to look no further than his social media accounts to see inappropriate and insensitive comments that again are wholly inappropriate coming from an individual tasked with guiding our county through the pandemic.

As a member of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Control Room, Chairman Gray is privy to communication from the governor’s office related to the pandemic response. Through his social media platforms, he should focus more on reminding people of steps they can take to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus than on belittling the public.

The pandemic has caused chaos, uncertainty, fear and extreme emotional backlash in all of our lives. Most recently, news that interscholastic competition for high-risk sports could not begin until Jefferson County’s 14-day rolling average of positive cases was less than 4% caused much discontent in numerous families with thriving, anxious-to-play athletes. Our children have been put through enough disappointment already.

Last spring, Jefferson County’s positivity rate was 1% and sports were suspended. Kids have been ferociously working throughout the winter months in preparation for spring sports and have been eagerly awaiting news they could start playing. Now, our young athletes were being let down again.

Chairman Gray’s facetious tweet with a picture of an abacus, mocking calculations for high school sports, followed by another tweet implying that families of athletes should take advantage of “free testing” at Samaritan Medical Center’s drive-through were disparaging and irresponsible. As a community leader, he should not be directing people to misuse our coronavirus testing resources as means to rectify a metric that was dictatorial in the first place.

As an urgent care physician assistant who has provided medical services during this entire pandemic, I know firsthand how difficult it has been to secure testing supplies for our patients. Limited supplies should be utilized for those who genuinely need testing and for children who are required to get tested in order to return to school.

Testing supplies have been scarce and at times difficult to obtain. The “free testing” allotment granted to SMC should be reserved for patients who truly need testing and do not have other means of getting tested.

Instead of pushing people toward “free testing” — again, something that takes away important resources from those who truly need them and puts added stress on our health care system — Chairman Gray should use his social media platforms more often to encourage continued social distancing, hand washing, wearing masks and vaccinations to those eligible. This messaging would help move our area closer to a downward trending infection rate.

The simple solution to allowing interscholastic competition was to re-evaluate the 4% metric. A news release was issued Thursday notifying the public that this metric was revised to 6%. This change ensures public health is protected and provides children with the opportunity to engage in sports — something that will benefit both their physical and mental health.

While I am pleased students may soon be given the green light to play sports, it is disappointing that for more than a week now families have been stuck in limbo trying to figure out how our region was going to reach an unattainable metric. Simply put, realistic action should have been taken sooner — and it shouldn’t have taken backlash from inappropriate social media commentary to push our County Board chairman to make the right decision.

Elected community leaders must continue to listen to their constituents and facilitate compromises that are beneficial to all. Throughout this pandemic, our youths have been forgotten and negative mental health impacts continue to surface daily.

Sports are the core of what keeps our kids active, whether they are playing or just watching their friends play. We need to protect our youths; they are our future.

Milly C. Smith, PA-C, is the wife of Watertown Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith. She is the chief physician assistant and practice manager of QuikMed Urgent Care in Watertown.

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