Madison County has worked diligently to adapt to COVID challenges

Administrator says workforce pivoted to provide testing, contact tracing and other services


WAMPSVILLE — Despite the immense challenges of 2020, Madison County Administrator Mark Scimone said the county, adapted to meet them, continuing to provide the services county residents want and need, during his annual review last week. “2020 was a year like no other,” Scimone said. “Our county had to quickly adapt to provide critical services to our residents while our campus was closed. Our staff rose to that challenge and were able to provide that high-level services our residents are accustomed to while working mostly remotely.”

The COVID-19 pandemic became the main focus of the Public Health Department as it sought to track cases and test individuals in its effort to reduce the spread of the virus.

“Since March of 2020, the department has worked daily to coordinate our public health response efforts, committing both staff capacity and financial resources to address this pandemic,” Scimone said. “Over the course of the year, public health staff and a number of volunteers comprised of county and state employees, committee members, and medical reserve corps members have investigated 2,353 COVID positive cases and conducted contact tracing for over 10,000 individuals.”

At the Emergency Management Department, the staff has worked throughout the pandemic both for instant response and for training operations.

“The Office of Emergency Management was critical in the county’s COVID-19 pandemic response by partially activating the county’s emergency management center for 31 weeks during the county’s state of emergency,” Scimone said. “They assisted with planning and logistic support, they created a continuity of operations plan for all departments, and integral for opening plans for both the county and the public sector.”

In partnership together, the Emergency Management Office, the Public Health Department, SUNY Upstate Medical, and Essentia Health administered 2,012 PCR tests between May and December to Madison County residents. Tests were done either on location or via the mobile lab.

And while the county worked to contain the virus, departments still had their own jobs to ensure Madison County residents receive the level of service they’ve come to rely on, Scimone said.

The Board of Elections faced numerous challenges, Scimone said, including changes in voting laws. On top of this, the 2020 election saw record turnout — 79% in total countywide — with a nearly 300% increase in absentee ballot voting.

“New York state was not equipped for that,” he continued. “However, the Board of Elections was able to recruit and train 200 new election inspectors during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over at the county attorney’s office, the Department of Law contributed to the county’s response to COVID-19 by participating in committee meetings and acting as a resource to the public health department as they worked to enact policies regarding isolating patients and violations of executive orders.

Despite being shut down for over a month, COVID protocols, and state funding cuts, the Highway Department was able to around 14 miles of cold in-place recycling, 17 miles of contracted paving, 57 miles of crack filling and chip sealing, 445 miles of road striping, replacement of four large culverts and 39 cross culverts.

At the Information Technology Department, the job of ensuring remote work and access went smoothly was designated to two teams — one on-site and another at home.

Scimone said all government functions were able to continue, and Madison County residents could still receive the support they need.

“[IT] worked quickly and efficiently when we shut down to make sure individuals could still work when we were not physically in the building,” he said. “They continue to find ways to make us more functional as a remote workforce.”

The Mental Health Department was able to shift its clinic to provide telehealth via phone and video to clients and operate almost entirely remotely when needed.

“The Mental Health Department’s staff provided 2,206 video sessions during 2020, and 726 new clients start services,” Scimone said.

The Planning Department’s career staff volunteered to answer calls for the COVID hotline, answering questions for Madison County residents and directing them to the right resources as needed.

And as the county moves into 2021, Scimone reflected on the end of the year and what it means for the future.

“The end of 2020 brought a glimmer of hope to our residents,” he said. “Madison County was one of the first counties in New York to begin vaccinating eligible residents. We administered our first 100 doses of vaccine on New Year’s Eve.”

Scimone thanked the Board of Supervisors and the department heads, not just for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s been an honor to have you all by my side as we navigate through this storm,” he said.

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