County ready to help reopening schools as needed, Picente says

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Oneida County is prepared to help school districts with testing, contact tracing and related assistance as they reopen for the coming school year, County Executive Anthony Picente says.

The county is establishing a separate unit with Health Department and emergency response personnel, and setting up a dedicated hotline specifically for schools, Picente told the Sentinel Friday.

In giving the go-ahead to public schools to reopen from a public health perspective, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday said testing students and teachers and tracing the contacts of those who test positive is among the top three issues facing schools. Contact tracing, or tracking down people those who test positive have been in close contact with, has fallen to the county Health Department.

The Health Department also receives notice of and details about cases confirmed by tests, wherever they are taken, if they involve county residents. Results are reported to the state Health Department, which in turn relays the information to county health departments.

“We'll do whatever we can and work with the schools whatever we we can to assist them if there's ongoing testing or pop up testing,” Picente said.

“That’s normal course of business or what we’ve been doing since March anyway, so we’re pretty well staffed on that.”

Oneida County on Friday reported 14 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19, and one death related to the disease, which involved a resident of a nursing home. So far, 116 county residents are known to have died with COVID-19.

As of noon Friday, 11 county residents were hospitalized with COVID-19, including one at Rome Memorial Hospital and 10 in the Mohawk Valley Health System.

There were 128 known active cases, 1,862 resolved cases, 128 people in isolation and 1,036 in mandatory quarantine.

Regionally, the Mohawk Valley region’s rate of tests that are positive for COVID-19 stood at 1.1 percent on a rolling seven-day average, compared to the statewide rate of 1 percent. The region’s seven-day average of new daily cases per 100,000 people was 3.80, compared to the statewide 3.38 daily average.

Central New York, of which Madison County is a part, was at 0.7 percent and 2.36. The North Country, which includes Lewis County, was at 0.3 percent and 0.85 new cases per 100,000.

While the daily number of new cases was up from fewer than 10 earlier in the week, the trend of generally smaller numbers continues. Picente said it’s a good sign for schools that many major employers who reduced operations have been able to resume work without a surge in cases.

“In the case of our offices, and it goes for a lot of other businesses, being able to space out and being able to have the masks and proper distancing and PPE, etc. — it can be done.

“We’re going to have to learn to live with this. It’s going to be with us a while and so we have to get back to some of these things and do them the way we’ve done other things: watch the capacity, follow the numbers and go from there.”

County finances, however, remain hard-hit from the economic restrictions related to the pandemic, with revenues for county government still about 30 percent from what was budgeted, and it’s not clear yet whether the county may have to borrow to meet its obligations, Picente said.

The Board of Legislators is to consider on Wednesday formal authorization of an early retirement incentive plan for employees. The county also has not received payments through New York state from the Oneida Indian Nation’s gaming revenues, which stopped in March only to resume on a limited bases in early summer. The county gets about $20 million a year from the arrangement.

The Health Department announced two incidents of possible public exposure to a person known to have COVID-19 and recommended anyone in these locations at the respective times self-monitor for symptoms:

Walgreens on Herkimer Road in Utica, 7:30-7:45 p.m. July 30; self-monitor through Aug. 13.

Walmart on Horatio Street in Utica, 7-7:15 p.m. Aug. 1; self-monitor through Aug. 15.

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