After two weeks in state-mandated isolation, there is reason to be (very cautiously) optimistic: Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Monday that the curve may be flattening; local, county, and state police say residents aren’t dropping dimes on one another; and not only are New Yorkers practicing social distancing but, where space allows, it’s working.
“We’ve seen what social distancing does [in Albany County],” said Commander Brian Wood, who heads the Office of Emergency Management for the Albany County Sheriff’s Office.
Wood said that, according to the Albany County Department of Health, there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in the four Hilltowns or New Scotland — rural municipalities where social distancing really isn’t a problem. The majority of the confirmed cases, he said, are in the county’s densely populated cities: Albany, Cohoes, and Watervliet.
Wood said the county hadn’t received any calls from residents complaining that a neighbor or someone else the caller had encountered had shown signs of contracting the coronavirus. Altamont Police Chief Todd Pucci, Guilderland Deputy Police Chief Curtis Cox, and New York State Police Director of Public Information Beau Duffy each said the same.
The overall call volume to the county has dropped, Wood said, but, since the stay-at-home order has been implemented, there has been an increase in the number of domestic-violence and mental-health calls. Wood did say that the county is also getting calls from people who live near churches who are concerned about the size of congregations.
Cox, too, said that Guilderland’s call volume has dropped, which he attributes to businesses being closed, which has led to a drop in property crimes and larcenies.
Wood said the sheriff’s office is trying to deter large gatherings with education rather than with enforcement because the enforcement part of it is so limited in terms of what police can actually do. Deputies won’t arrest the people at the gathering, he said; what they will do is encourage them not to hold such a large get-together so people won’t get sick.
As for protecting the county’s first responders, Wood said, all sheriff’s office employees have been issued personal protective equipment, known as PPE. Sheriff Craig Apple was able to procure approximately 15,000 N95 masks from the state — some of which have been allocated to nursing homes and hospitals, he said.
Pucci said that his department’s personal protective equipment had been supplied by the county. Cox said that Guilderland’s officers had been supplied with PPE and that there were mechanisms in place for decontaminating vehicles. Troopers are provided with gloves, masks, and Tyvek suits, according to Duffy.
Additionally, Albany County is working to build a sterilization cabinet using UV-C light (short-wavelength ultraviolet), the same light that is used in operating rooms to kill microorganisms, Wood said. So, if the sheriff’s office does run short on masks then it has the option to sterilize its own masks and they will be safe for reuse by its own people, he said.
County Executive Daniel McCoy had expressed frustration recently with local businesses not following the governor’s orders and threatened to call them out by name or revoke their licenses.
Wood said the county hasn’t had to resort to a name-and-shame tactic; rather, an investigator or a deputy armed with a cease-and-desist order is dispatched to the business to talk to the owner about the importance of not letting the general public into the business and the risks involved with that.
So far, there haven’t been any problems, he said; any business the county has had to remind about the rules has complied — no one has been arrested and a ticket hasn’t been issued. Fewer than 10 businesses have been visited.
Part of the issue is people not understanding what is going on, Wood said. Someone orders a takeout meal and comes to the restaurant to pick it up, but it’s not ready, so they sit down at the bar to wait. Then another customer comes in to pick up their meal, and they see the first customer sitting at the bar waiting for their meal and think the worst: This place is serving patrons, Wood said, “And that’s not the case.”