Written by Cara Chapman in the Press-Republican on May 8, 2020
PLATTSBURGH — The need for increased testing capacity, broadband coverage and cell service, direct aid and tourism numbered among the topics discussed in virtual working group meetings hosted by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville) with leaders from all counties in New York’s 21st Congressional District Wednesday and Thursday.
Elected officials addressed both their immediate needs in the context of the region’s reopening process and long-term necessities in order to promote its overall economic health post-COVID-19.
Stefanik plans to take the feedback from these and other meetings back to the reopening task forces she sits on.
This week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo outlined seven criteria the state’s individual regions must meet in order to reopen, including testing 30 people per 1,000 residents monthly and having at least 30 contact tracers per 100,000 residents.
State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury), who listened in on both calls, said clarification is needed on whether the stipulated level of testing must be completed or if the regions simply need to have the capacity to carry it out.
Clinton County Legislature Chair Mark Henry (R-Area 3, Chazy) spoke to the need for increased access to testing, and said Clinton County is in good shape with regard to contact tracing.
“Obviously that has to be done on a regional basis, and we are prepared to do our part to make sure that this entire region moves forward.”
Franklin County Legislator Lindy Ellis (D-District 7) expressed concern about the increase in the probability of an outbreak as short-term tourists come in, since they visit for a matter of days or a week and may not self-isolate when they arrive like long-term tourists might.
She stressed the importance of fast-testing capabilities in quickly detecting such outbreaks.
Ellis added that the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe at Akwesasne had received testing equipment that has the capacity to rapidly analyze samples, and that if compatible test kits were made available, “we could use them in a situation where we needed fast turnaround and go to them as neighbors asking them to run the tests quickly.”
Stefanik noted that the challenge with regard to testing is that, even if she were to go to the White House and ask for more tests, allocations are made at the state level through the governor’s office.
Franklin County Legislature Chair Donald Dabiew (D-District 5) said direct aid will be huge, since so much money that his county and its municipalities depend on is not coming in.
“It took us years to get to where we are, and I’m afraid we’re going to go back a long ways in history.”
City of Plattsburgh Mayor Colin Read said that, while he appreciated that funds are being allocated based on population, that method puts full-service cities at a disadvantage due to expenses that come with large workforces.
“Based on our estimates, the numbers that Congress is working with really only cover about a quarter of the loss in revenues that we’re expecting,” Read said.
“I really hope you can work out some sort of funding formula based on true revenue decline from state and other sources rather than simply on population if we want to try to stretch these resources as evenly as possible based on the burdens we all face.”
Plattsburgh Town Supervisor Michael Cashman said one of his constant concerns is making sure the large manufacturers situated in the town are supported.
Appropriate personal protective equipment is “one of those factors that’s really slowing down people getting back into the process of on-boarding their employees or keeping them on the line,” he said.
BROADBAND, CELL SERVICE
Essex County Board of Supervisors Chair Shaun Gillilland (R-Willsboro) said that, though direct support for state and local governments is needed, it is a short-term measure.
There needs to be a “Marshall Plan” to get rural America back up, he continued, adding that the region’s economic future is going to hang on broadband coverage and cell service.
“It was critical before. It is absolutely life-critical at this point.”
Essex County Board of Supervisors Vice Chair Jim Monty (R-Lewis) said that, when he was first elected five years ago, he focused on broadband and had discussions in a small group about what would happen if schools could not open or if there was a lack of hospitals or medical facilities in the community — essentially distance learning and telemedicine.
“We were on top of that five years ago with those suggestions and they seemed to have fallen on deaf ears for whatever reason,” he said.
“I think we’re in a place now where maybe we can get some traction on this.”
Essex County is very dependent on tourism, and the effective shut down of that industry showed there was not much back-up for the area’s economy, Gillilland added.
“We have to look for resiliency and diversification of industries in all our rural areas, so that we are not so dependent upon one industry.”
Lake Placid Village Mayor Craig Randall said he is concerned about how to reintroduce the traveling public, since Lake Placid is totally dependent on tourism, and July and August are critical months for local businesses.
The village is working closely with Adirondack ROOST to develop a plan for marketing which first addresses reopening for the local community, then tourists.
Many major events are on the verge of being cancelled, while others could be postponed, Randall continued.
“The important question for all of us is we need to make our own local community feel these people (tourists) are welcome when they come back here and that means we’ve got to get our community members beyond the fears of this pandemic and what it has unloaded on us.”
Malone Village Mayor and Franklin County Legislator Andrea Dumas (R-District 3) asked if, as Airbnbs open up for summer vacation, travelers need to quarantine themselves for 14 days.
Assemblyman D. Billy Jones (D-Plattsburgh), who listened in on Wednesday’s call, said the state has not put such a rule in place, noting that officials recommend people take those measures when traveling.
“There’s nothing more in the world we want to do than to keep our residents safe and healthy, but there also is a balance when you’re talking about tourism and the economy and we can only stress and educate the people that they have to take personal responsibility to be safe.”
Dannemora Town Supervisor Bill Chase asked for guidance on his town’s beach and local campsites.
Jones said boat launches are allowed to open, but guidance on campgrounds gets tricky.
Overnight camping is currently banned and public facilities cannot open, though RVs (recreational vehicles) and tow-behind campers are allowed, he added.
Little added that it will be important to get answers on beaches as the weather warms up, and Assemblyman Dan Stec (R-Queensbury) said Cuomo is expected to have an answer regarding camps this week, hopefully by close of business Friday.
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