Written by Elena Barilla for NBC 5 on April 9, 2020

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — Thursday’s tele-town hall, hosted by the North Country Chamber of Commerce, was an opportunity for local officials to talk about keeping track of where COVID-19 is in the community, and how to prevent it spreading further into the region.

Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, Senator Betty Little and Assemblyman Billy Jones also spoke to the telephone conference of over 100 people.

One issue they discussed was the spread of COVID-19 in the community by people fleeing high-risk areas to their second homes in the North Country.

“We like our second home residents, we depend upon them, we are certainly looking for them to be here. All we’re asking is when they come from a population that has a high incidence of this COVID-19, that they self-quarantine,” said Little.

She says there aren’t any laws in place to force visitors to self-quarantine, but it’s up to the locals to encourage it.

Assemblyman Billy Jones says while visitors support local businesses, he’d like to welcome them back after the COVID-19 pandemic, saying public health takes priority right now. He says it’s especially because the North Country’s limited access to testing kits prevents the community from knowing where the virus is.

“My office and I look into this every single day, by the hour. We are pushing our partners and the state and federal government to provide more testing,” said Jones.

Congresswoman Elise Stefanik says getting more testing kits for the North Country is her number one priority right now, especially kits with a fast turnaround for results.

A listener question drew answers about struggling dairy farmers in the region.

Stefanik says she is working directly with the USDA to provide direct support and relief for dairy farmers.

“It’s heartbreaking to talk to dairy farmers and hear about the dumping of milk,” she said. “What we’re looking at with the USDA is potentially a reimbursement mechanism for the milk that had to be dumped.”

Officials also talked about cell-phone coverage in the region. Sen. Betty Little says lack of internet connection is disrupting online classrooms, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more apparent now, than ever, that the region must get more coverage.

“Kids are not getting their education. They have Chromebooks, they have the things they need,” Little said. “Internet service has to become like electricity, and it has to be affordable and regulated.”

Jones says good, reliable internet is also important for people who are working from home.

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