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County: 'Dire need' for supplies

Cayuga County is "in dire need" of personal protective equipment to respond to the coronavirus outbreak, according to an appeal by the county's emergency management office Wednesday. 

The agency is asking local companies to donate personal protective equipment — gloves, gowns, masks and Tyvek suits — to the county. The equipment would be used by staff at Auburn Community Hospital, law enforcement, fire departments, the county health department and other medical facilities. 

"Being able to supply our front-line staff with sufficient supplies of (personal protective equipment) goes to the heart of the county's response to the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to protect them, their families and everyone they work with and serve," the county wrote in its statement. 

If construction companies or other businesses have extra personal protective equipment they can donate, contact Harry Sherman at the county emergency management office by calling (315) 702-7643. 

There has been a nationwide shortage of gloves, gowns and masks due to the coronavirus pandemic. With the number of cases soaring, especially in New York, the demand for the equipment exceeds the supply. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this week that the state was able to acquire more equipment for New York hospitals. Most of the supplies went to downstate hospitals. A vast majority of the COVID-19 cases are in the New York City area.

More than 100 people have been tested for the novel coronavirus in Cayuga County, but there has been no change in the number of confirmed cases. 

The county health department has received 106 test results, according to a situational update provided Wednesday. Three people tested positive for the virus. They are in mandatory isolation, but not hospitalized. 

Thirty-four people are in mandatory quarantine due to possible exposure to COVID-19. Like the individuals who are isolated, anyone in quarantine is monitored by the health department. 

The novel coronavirus is a respiratory illness. The symptoms include a cough, fever and shortness breath. 

There are 30,811 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New York — more than any other state. Over 3,800 people are hospitalized and 285 deaths have been reported. 

In its news release, the health department said it has received calls from employees and employers asking what is considered an essential business or service. Beginning at 8 p.m. Sunday, businesses considered nonessential have been closed. 

The list of essential businesses is lengthy. Some businesses that are considered essential include grocery stores and hospitals. 

Health officials have been fielding questions from employees at essential businesses about whether they should be working due to health conditions or other concerns. The department referred employees to their human resources departments and asked employers to be "sensitive to concerns raised by individual employees during this time."

"Sick individuals should be home," said Kathleen Cuddy, public health director of the Cayuga County Health Department. "They should not be at work, they should not be at the grocery store. The only time a sick individual should be out of their home is to seek care and many physicians locally are offering phone and telehealth consultations to reduce sick people being in public." 

Cayuga County farmers deal with safety precautions, economic uncertainty amid COVID-19

Jon Patterson said he wasn't surprised farms were designated essential businesses that didn't have to reduce their workforce in light of the coronavirus outbreak in New York.

Patterson, who runs Patterson Farms in Aurelius, said he appreciates the state deeming businesses such as his dairy farm essential.

"We had to be (considered essential.) It's just inconceivable to believe that it couldn't be," he said. "Things run 24 hours a day, seven days a week and to think we can just shut them off or stop, it just doesn't make sense. How would we feed the world if we can't produce milk or produce beef or anything?"

The business, which has 28 regular employees plus family, has taken extra precautions due to the respiratory illness. Additional sanitation has been added to working stations, Patterson said, and equipment has been wiped down. The business has been trying to stock up on extra products. He has been worried about the possibility of staff having to go into quarantine and what that would mean for others on the farm, but that hasn't happened so far. In any case, there aren't extra employees who could simply fill in.

"You can't turn them off. It's not like we can just stop feeding the cows or stop milking the cows. This has to happen every day," he said.

There has been economic uncertainty on what the long-term effects of the pandemic may be, Patterson said, but the business has been stable so far. He expressed concerns about the effects the outbreak might have on the local economy when "people are laid off and not working for who knows how long."

"We're in a spot we've never been before, and there's some uncertainty about how quick things will rebound and get back into whatever the new normal is," he said.

Patterson isn't the only Cayuga County-area farmer dealing with uncertainty. Ray Lockwood, president of the Cayuga County Farm Bureau and co-owner of an Aurelius dairy farm with his son, said the pandemic has brought some challenges. The business has been making sure those on the farm, including its three employees, keep their clothes clean, wash their hands and have done their best to make sure they are healthy. Nobody has been shaking the hands of delivery or equipment service people who have come in.

Dairy price projections were good at the beginning of the year but have since dropped, Lockwood said, thanks to issues such as "the scarcity of product and people not being able to get out and shop and just the general panic." He said projections for products such as beans and corn are also not as favorable as they had been at the start of 2020. Going to a local machinery dealer is a lot more difficult than it used to be, he said, since people have been required to call ahead, adding that some parts stores aren't open and some parts don't have the same availability they used to. He said he has heard from other farmers about those same machinery issues and that others have been taking the same safety precautions.

Mark James, field adviser for the Cayuga County Farm Bureau and five other counties, said the New York Farm Bureau has provided daily updates from the state on COVID-19 and has given recommendations on how farmers should handle stopping the spread of the illness. He said social distancing in the face of the pandemic can sometimes be challenging in a confined space such as a milking parlor "but they are adapting to that."

Not all of the recent developments have been bad, James said, since there has been a high demand for meat, and farmers who sell meat directly have seen good business. He noted craft beverage business, wineries and others are able to currently do takeout and delivery.

Lockwood said he believes the crisis has given people new insight into the importance of local farms and that people have gained a better understanding of where the food on grocery shelves come from.

"They find out that it's really coming from an actual farm and not just from the shelf," he said.

In surprise move, Ken Bush III drops out of NY Assembly race

A month after receiving the support of three parties to run for state Assembly, Kenneth Bush III abruptly dropped out of the race. 

Bush, a Republican, was the first declared candidate after Assemblyman Gary Finch announced his retirement in early February. Several GOP contenders emerged, but Bush won the support of the party's committees in Cayuga, Chenango, Cortland and Onondaga counties. 

The Conservative and Independence parties also endorsed Bush in the state Assembly race. 

But according to Republican and Conservative party leaders in the district, Bush decided to end his campaign. After filing his petitions last week, he submitted paperwork to the state Board of Elections to decline the party nominations in the 126th Assembly District. 

Bush did not respond to requests for comment. 

Onondaga County Republican Chairman Tom Dadey and Onondaga County Conservative Party Chairman Russ Johnson told The Citizen Wednesday that Bush exited the race for personal reasons. 

"I thank him for pursuing the opportunity," Johnson said. "I understand the family dynamics and family should come first." 

With Bush declining the designations, committees to fill vacancies identified on his petitions have the authority to replace him with another candidate. Dadey said Republicans will consider three candidates for designation: LaFayette Supervisor Danny Fitzpatrick, who sought the GOP endorsement and decided to force a primary against Bush, former Onondaga County Legislator Michael Plochocki and John Lemondes, a retired U.S. Army colonel who was a candidate for Congress in 2014. 

According to Johnson, the Conservative Party has already selected Lemondes to take Bush's place on its ballot line. 

Cayuga County GOP Chairwoman Roberta Massarini, who is on the committee to fill a vacancy, said Tuesday that Republican leaders will meet this week to evaluate the candidates. Monday is the deadline for vacancies to be filled, according to the state Board of Elections. 

If Republicans choose Fitzpatrick, there won't be a primary in the 126th district. If Lemondes or Plochocki is the choice, there will be a primary. Fitzpatrick has already filed petitions to appear on the June primary ballot. 

The Republican nominee will face former Auburn City Councilor Dia Carabajal, a Democrat. Jermaine Bagnall-Graham, a Chenango County resident who ran for state Senate in 2016, is planning to run as an independent.

Republicans hope to retain the seat that Finch has held since 1999 when he won a special election. There are nearly 5,000 more active GOP voters than Democrats in the 126th district. A vast majority of all voters live in the district's two largest counties, Cayuga and Onondaga. 

How Cayuga County 911 is handling coronavirus

Staff at the Cayuga County 911 Center have been split into two teams, both with nine dispatchers. In order to limit potential spread of the coronavirus among the essential workers, administrator Denise Spingler said one team works from the main center and the other works from the backup center.

“What I was concerned about was somebody being sick, not knowing it prior to showing symptoms, and then infecting three quarters of the staff,” she said.

Relocating half of her staff is one of the coronavirus prevention measures Spingler has put in place for the 911 centers.

She also oversees keeping the physical spaces clean, requires staff members to wear masks when they leave the center on duty and updates their continuity of operations plan.

She’s also hoping to start taking the temperatures of each dispatcher at the start of their shift once the center can get enough thermometers.

“Should we end up with staff sick, we’re going to end up in a very critical situation and we’ll have to manage that as it comes,” she said.

To help protect first responders, like law enforcement and emergency medical services, 911 dispatchers use a questionnaire called an Infectious Emergency Tool to screen callers for potential coronavirus infection. People requesting emergency medical services are asked whether they have flu-like symptoms, headaches and difficulty breathing.

“If there is potential, we’re advising responders,” Spingler said.

Screenings are also done for callers requesting law enforcement assistance, but Spingler said the screening is especially thorough for people requesting medical help. Callers are also asked about the health of the other people living in their homes.

Depending on the results of the screening, Spingler said responders may contact the caller before they provide assistance in order to limit potential exposure.

It’s a system she feels works "very effectively." They’ve been screening calls for medical help for a few weeks and started screening every caller, including requests for law enforcement, about a week and a half ago.

But Spingler and her staff have another challenge to contend with: the continuing demand for discovery materials in criminal cases. Both Spingler and the Cayuga County District Attorney have been vocal about the heightened demands placed on their departments by discovery reform

For 911 dispatchers, that's meant taking between 45 minutes to two hours to pull between 20 to 100 pieces of audio for every arrest, including traffic stops, in order to fulfill discovery requests from the DA's office.

Despite a March 15 memorandum from the New York State Unified Court System suspending all "non-essential" court proceedings due to the coronavirus, Spingler said the requests still need to be fulfilled. And, as they had to split up their staff and reduce the number of people on the floor, they're behind.

"We're well over our numbers from the past two months at this point," she said. "They're still continuing to come in very consistently. It hasn't slowed down at all."