Earlier this week, Heidi Bond, Otsego County public health director, said, “I think it will open up pretty quickly with Johnson & Johnson,” a reference to the new one-shot vaccine approved over the weekend.
It’s even encouraging to read the daily reports in the doom-and-gloom national newspapers.
Monday, March 1, the Washington Post told us the seven-day average of “cases reported” dropped from 248,128 to 68,040.
As of that day, WAPO said 50 million Americans had been vaccinated, about the same number of us over 65.
Now, that’s progress.
After the state website kept complaining the whole State of New York had only been receiving 400,000 vaccines a week for its 16 million eligible citizens, Monday, March 1, it posted:
“New York is expected to receive approximately 164,800 doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine this week, pending final FDA authorization.”
That, plus 400,000 a week we’re already getting: It would still take 80 weeks to serve New York’s eligible citizens, but it’s accelerating.
The good news is if New York State gets the vaccine, New York State can administer it.
Editor’s Note: By covering stories other big newspapers have ignored, the New York Post, founded in 1801 by Alexander Hamilton, is regaining some of its luster. In this latest editorial on the Cuomo Administration’s latest crisis, it questions whether campaign contributions played a role in the March 25 order requiring nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients. Also, below, is a sampling of editorials on the issue.
Governor Cuomo is trying to rage his way through the horrific nursing-home scandal, vowing to “take on the lies and the unscrupulous actors” even as he repeats his own lies blaming the feds for his fateful March 25 mandate that homes accept COVID-contagious patients. Will the feds let him get away with it?
New Yorkers who lost family members in nursing homes were cheered by news of a federal probe into the matter. But the Biden Justice Department might buy his effort to blame the Trump administration, even though it’s transparently false.
‘Extension Master Gardener programs educate people, engaging them in learning to use unbiased, research-based horticulture and gardening practices through a network of trained volunteers directed and supported by land-grant university faculty and staff.”
Underneath the quiet of pandemic strictures and social-distancing, the world hasn’t completely come to a stop. Just as, soon, crocuses (not, croci, we’re told) will begin poking through the snow, so will the Otsego County Master Gardeners’ exciting plan start to become a reality.
“The Grow With Cornell Cooperative Extension” fund drive has reached 70 percent of its $200,000 goal, Extension Director Don Smyers announced this week, and thus, with spring, an innovative redo of the organization’s parking lot at 123 Lake St., Cooperstown, (just before you get to The Farmers’ Museum), will get underway.
The Master Gardeners’ organization – its members instruct would-be gardeners in how-to and best practices, and its Memorial Day plant sale is an annual hit – is a low-key, but beloved entity, as underscored by how $140,000 was raised since October, in time of pandemic.
“Growth” Co-Chair Pati Grady of Cooperstown – the other co-chair is Jason Stone, who runs a Toddsville topiary business – is predicting the construction, overseen by McManus Construction of Fly Creek, will get underway this spring.
With herd immunity headed our way – by mid-summer or earlier – it IS time to look toward what’s next.
So interim Otsego Chamber President Al Rubin’s letter to members, which arrived Monday in e-mail boxes, is ideally timed.
The letter was an appeal to members to volunteer for chamber committees: Marketing/Education, Membership Services/Events and Finance/Audit.
“We want your input, we want your voice,” wrote Rubin, “and we encourage your engagement to step in and involve yourselves in any way you might be able to utilize your skill sets and connections within our community.”
For sure. Intrigued chamber members should jump in.
Likewise, all other organizations and businesses should be preparing for the rebound, be it this spring, mid-summer or sometime this fall.
Someone was remarking the other day that, over almost four decades, Otsego County had two key players that could be called upon in any crisis.
One, Bill Streck, Bassett Healthcare Network president/CEO since 1984, who spent years developing contacts in Albany. A Democrat, he was a go-to guy around here, someone who could call the Governor’s Office and expect an answer.
Two, state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, who served in Albany from 1986 until this past Dec. 31, rising to leadership and maintaining it until the Senate shifted to the Democrats. Even then, he – like Streck – knew where the levers of power were and how to push them.
In the past year Streck, 74, and Seward, 69, both retired. In tackling the largest crisis in a century, which arguably the COVID-19 pandemic is, their departures left a void.
With the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the summer-long riots following George Floyd’s death and debates over race relations, we can forget: We live in a great country, where ambition and hard work are almost assuredly rewarded.
A case in point – a life in point – is Sam Nader, the respected and beloved former mayor of Oneonta, who passed away Tuesday, Feb. 9, at age 101.
When Sam Nader was born in 1919 in Oneonta’s Sixth Ward, you might have thought his prospects were limited.
His parents, Elias and Rose, had married in the old country in 1907, and had come to America in hopes of a better life. He joined the Delaware & Hudson in 1911 as a stationary fireman, tending the fire that heated the boiler and created the steam to power the steam engine – hot, dirty work.
But young Sam’s boyhood in “the Beehive,” a six-apartment house on West Broadway, next to the busy, noisy D&H yards, didn’t weigh him down. Quite the opposite.
It launched a life of joys and accomplishment (and, of course, some tragedy, too), as he related in an anecdote-filled interview on his 100th birthday in his living room at 96 River St., when he spoke:
Do we really expect our local elected officials to tell us what to think? Quite the opposite, probably.
And yet instead of focusing on paving streets, keeping tax at a reasonable level, and providing whatever might be considered essential services, they seem increasingly determined to do just that.
Three examples popped up in the past few days that suggest this may be spinning out of control, including at the February meeting of the county Board of Representatives, where discussion of two proposed resolutions on the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol ate up an hour of rancorous debate.
A few days earlier, it surfaced that two unspecified Milford Town Planning Board members had threatened to fine the Village of Milford if it failed to remove the “Trump 2024” on Route 28 across from Wood Bull Antiques. (The billboard is in the town, but on property owned by the village.)
Let’s get back to basics. State law that created counties describes such as “formed for the purpose of exercising such powers and discharging such duties of local government and administration of public affairs as may be imposed or conferred upon it by law.” Pretty work-a-day, as it should be.
The loss of innocence. And we thought it could only happen once.
“I can’t help but think: You see these photos of the West Side of the Capitol, where presidents have stood and the transition of power has occurred. It’s so tainted now, with insurrectionists actually storming the Capitol. It’s hard to go back.”
That’s Joey Katz, son of Cooperstown’s former mayor Jeff Katz, then a teenager, who – with his mother, Karen, the village former first lady – saw the second inauguration of Barack Obama. Then-congressman Chris Gibson, a Republican (and now Siena College president), provided his tickets, so the Katzes had a pretty good view.
It’s a day that will live in infamy, Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob attacked the U.S. Capitol, vandalized and ransacked the venerable building, and was driven out by National Guard units and Capitol Police with some loss of life.
Prior to Jan. 6, 2021, few Americans could visualize that ever happening. The natural response here in Otsego County, as throughout our United States, is horror, sadness and fear for the future.
Illuminatingly, the AllOTSEGO.com daily poll that sought readers’ opinions on the next steps found people chose the mildest options by a large majority.
In reflecting on Jim Seward’s tenure as our state senator, one vignette always comes to mind.
It was the fall of 2006, and Cherry Valley’s Pam Noonan, on a Sunday afternoon at her home on Montgomery Street, was hosting opponents of Reunion Power’s 24-turbine wind farm proposed for East Hill.
Senator Seward had been invited and, prior to his arrival, attendees expressed some vexation that the senator, with his interest in jobs and tax-base enhancement, would not support the opposition.
The senator arrived and, as he always does, listened intently to his constituents’ concerns, not exactly Sphinx-like, but without letting on too much about what he was hearing and thinking.
The outcome, a few weeks later, was Seward’s reaffirmation of support for the state’s “Home Rule” doctrine – whatever powers are NOT given to Albany in the state Constitution devolve to localities.
Influenced by that or not, the Town of Cherry Valley adopted strict guidelines governing windmills, and Reunion went away.
But the Home Rule concept moved to center stage: A few years later to the state Court of Appeals, which ruled the Town of Middlefield, using its zoning powers, could block Cooperstown Holstein’s fracking plans.
What observers learned at Pam Noonan’s that afternoon was this: Seward’s prime interest wasn’t in ideology or partisanship – it was in representing his constituents.
Over the years, many praiseful words about state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, have appeared in this space.
We are proud to say that, throughout the current ownership, we’ve had the honor of endorsing him for reelection in 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017.
The central reason for this was, again, not partisanship or ideology, but because of Seward’s main focus: To serve the people of his 10-county Central New York state Senate District but, foremost, to serve its centerpiece: Otsego County, where he was born, raised, educated and built his political career.
Another word that comes to mind is “nurturing.” Jim Seward sought to nurture his constituents, to protect them, to enhance their opportunities for a better life, to solve their problems on the macro and micro level.
Jim was stricken with cancer in 2016. When it recurred in the fall of 2019, he – weakened by one disease – was stomach-punched last March by deadly COVID-19 and almost lost his life. Then, the people he would nurture for 34 years nurtured him in return.
At the time, the outpouring of support and love on social media and www.AllOTSEGO.com was specific and impressive. People spoke about what he’d done for them, and they praised him, offered support to him and his family – wife Cindy, son Ryan and daughter Lauren, and granddaughters Nora and Vivian – and prayed (effectively, you might argue) for his recovery.
There are many examples to follow in the dozens of tributes to the retiring senator that appear in this week’s newspaper. We can enjoy them. But we can also be guided by them. Thanks, senator.
Eileen Lishansky’s tribute is a favorite. Approaching Seward with a sticky issue, he picked up the phone and started setting it right. “From that day on, whenever my husband or I would meet him in the community he addressed us by name,” she wrote.
It’s that personal touch, which grew out of who he is. Several tribute writers note, he likes people. Or that he’s not an angry man, and that doesn’t have to win every fight: He’s willing to talk things through, to take the long view.
In return, people like him. If you’re ever seen him walk across a crowded room, it’s a miracle he ever gets to his next appointment: Every half-step, someone wants to shake his hand, make a plea or give him an attaboy.
One of the people who knew him best is former state Sen. Hugh Farley, a Republican from the Capital District, now retired to Port Richey, Fla. They sat side by side in the Senate chamber for decades, and Farley saw Seward in action. (Only John Marchi of Staten Island, who served 50 years, was in the Senate longer than Seward, Farley said.)
“He got along with people,” said the retired senator in an interview from his Florida home. “It makes for a much better situation if you don’t get personal in your partisanship. He was always a gentleman. I never heard him confront or insult anybody. I was very proud of him for that.”
As we bid Senator James L. Seward farewell from his current job – thankfully, he plans to stay active in a manner still to be revealed – the dozens of complimentary tributes that appear in this edition give us pause for rumination.
We’re in a period of intense partisanship, where we believe we’re right and the other guy is wrong – or worse, immoral. In reflecting on Jim Seward’s 36 years serving all of us, we realize it doesn’t have to be that way.
We can disagree without insulting. We can believe strongly, without demonizing the other. We can have a diverse country – diverse lifestyles, diverse culture, diverse thinking – by being who we are and accepting that others may be different. No sweat.
It can be done. Jim Seward’s life to date proves it.
The choice of Heidi Bond, “General in the Fight Against COVID-19,” as we put it, has been seconded by many since the “Citizen of the Year” edition appeared last week. She and her team at the Otsego County Department of Health rose to the challenge.
All of us thank her for her tireless contributions in 2020.
Otsego County has been lucky in leadership this year. Here are four other individuals who shone, and there are many others who, unheralded, have as well.
One, County Treasurer Allen Ruffles, who returned Jan. 20 from a 12-month deployment in Djibouti with the 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion, Army Reserves, expecting to settle back into civilian life with wife Amy, daughter Mia, now 12, and son Cooper, 7.
Instead, he went from one foxhole to another.
By the end of March, he was in the midst of COVID-19, and county government found itself in a financial crisis, laying off 58 FTEs, and looking ahead to a hefty tax increase.
Then came the Ruffles Plan, which the first-term treasurer developed in consultation with colleagues in similar-sized counties: one, cuts; two, borrowing; three, chase limited money still flowing from Albany.
The plan reduced the deficit from $13.5 million to $5.4 million; borrows $4 million over 20 years at a historically low interest rate (1.0033 percent), and front-loads road work next spring (CHIPS money is still flowing from Albany).
This kept the county 2021 budget under the 2-percent tax cap.
Ruffles could have been buried under county-budgeting minutiae, but was able to see the big picture: COVID isn’t going to last forever – it could be at bay in weeks, certainly months. Then, tourism will return, sales tax will return – and the county will be able to fulfill its obligations.
Two, Tommy Ibrahim, recruited from nine-hospital Integris in Oklahoma with a goal of elevating quality and efficiency at the eight-county Bassett Healthcare Network, and returning it to profitability.
He arrived in June, and by December announced implementation of “OneBassett,” flattening the five “silos” – the five hospitals – and managing them horizontally, by discipline.
It’s hard to wrap one’s brain around, but Google “Bassett Hospital HR” and see how hiring, formerly scattered across the system, has been unified, a one-stop shop to getting a job at Basset, if you will.
Think it through. You can see how organizing and managing Bassett services individually – enabled by technology that wasn’t there a few years ago – could raise efficiency and lower costs across the board.
This isn’t just theoretical. Bassett has lost money for four years. Ibrahim – “call me Tommy,” he’ll say when you meet him – expects “OneBassett” to put the system at break-even by the end of 2021 and in the black after that.
A prosperous Bassett is essential to our aggregated health, prosperity and quality of life. Important stuff.
Three and Four: SUNY Oneonta’s new president, Dennis Craig, and the new SUNY chancellor, Jim Malatras.
A “super spreader” event on Friday, Aug. 21, the first weekend students returned, had pushed on-campus “positives” to 107 within a week.
Sunday, Aug. 30, the new chancellor was at SUNY Oneonta, trying to figure out what went wrong. And he acted, suspending classes for two weeks. As positives went over 300, he closed the campus for the semester.
By mid-October, campus President Barbara Jean Morris had resigned and, to succeed her, Malatras named Dennis Craig, who as president of SUNY Purchase kept a campus outbreak to seven cases in New Rochelle.
Craig’s action team came up with a plan of reopening within two weeks, and he successfully quelled a faculty revolt, and lined up enough support to aim at reopening on Feb. 1.
This is leadership.
In crisis, leaders emerge. And that happened here. Happily, identifying Heidi Bond and four other high-profile leaders doesn’t take anything away from the many others.
County Board chair David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Middlefield, as he does so well, brought together the talent around him – Ruffles, Meg Kennedy, Bond, Brian Pokorny and many others.
The mayors of Oneonta and Cooperstown, Gary Herzig and Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch respectively, Bill Streck in his final weeks at Bassett’s helm, and his COVID team, were all great.
And this doesn’t mention all of our fellow citizens who soldiered on – businesspeople and non-profits alike – and church, and schools, and police, and …
The point is, there are a lot of people we can thank as Otsego County begins to come back to life in 2021.
“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” William Shakespeare
Can it be 15 years since The Freeman’s Journal and Hometown Oneonta, (after its founding in 2008), have recognized a Citizen (or Citizens) of the Year in the final edition of the 12th month?
In 2006, Cherry Valley Town Supervisor Tom Garretson, digesting information brought before him on industrial-scale wind turbines, changed his mind and led the charge to block them. That took guts and flexibility.
In 2020, Heidi Bond is a worthy successor. Like Garretson, she didn’t expect the worst epidemic in a century to explode upon us. But, like Garretson, she rose to the occasion, deploying her limited staff and doing what needed to be done, including long hours of hard work many days on end.
When called for a comment, but not yet knowing who had been chosen, county Rep. David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, said, “Your Citizen of the Year should be Heidi Bond.”
Of course, she is. Greatness was thrust upon her, and she was ready.
That is the case in several of the 42-some people who have been Citizens of the Year. (Several years, more than one person was chosen, the peak being Oneonta’s 12-person Charter Commission.)
But that idea: Not expecting a specific challenge, regular citizens can still be prepared, discovering that, through training, discipline, energy, intelligence and mental toughness, they can rise to the
occasion and overcome the challenges at hand.
That certainly applies to Heidi Bond, but also to Adrian Kuzminski (2010), who led the anti-fracking movement; Cooperstown then-mayor Carol Waller (2007), who led the village through a trouble-free record turnout to Cal Ripken’s 2007 Induction, to Pastor Sylvia Kevlin (2017), who responded to the fiery destruction of the Milford Methodist Church with the declaration, “We will rebuild.” And her congregation did.
Some achieved greatness in a more conscious way: Hartwick College President Margaret Drugovich (2016), who raised a record $32 million, launched numerous innovations and renovated the campus. Is it any surprise that she largely succeeded in limiting the COVID spread on Oyaron Hill?
Or former Oneonta Mayor John Nader (2009), who, required to resign when he was promoted to SUNY Delhi dean, put the pieces in place for the renovation of the former Bresee’s Department Store into a reborn downtown anchor?
Or state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford (2013) – he is retiring this week after representing us in Albany for 34 years – whose hiring of a hard-driving economic developer and the elevation of the IDA to Otsego Now grew out of two “Seward Summits” on economic development and a personal determination to help his natal county better succeed at job creation?
It’s interesting that some of the Citizens, chosen with high hopes, didn’t quite work out.
The new team of Kathy Clark, Kay Stuligross and Linda Rowinski (2012) on the county board helm was heralded as a “return of amity,” but it didn’t turn out that way.
Entrepreneur Tom Cormier’s plan (2010) to revive the Oneonta Theatre as a concert venue was an exciting one, and had traction for a few years before collapsing.
Arguably, the Oneonta Charter Commission was visionary in professionalized governance (2011) through creating a city-manager position. But three failed or iffy city-manager tenures later, the City Fathers and Mothers are looking for a greater role for elected officials.
Still, these have been learning efforts. While economic developer Sandy Mathes’ energy didn’t prevent his forced departure, his successor – the more low-key Jody Zakrevsky – has been able to move Mathes initiatives forward. Plus, Mathes – and Seward – underscored the importance of jobs, jobs, jobs.
Not all promising initiatives succeed. As John Kennedy declared in his Boston brogue: “Why do we go to the moon? Not because it is easy – but because it is HAWED.”
One thought: Over 15 years, Otsego County – north and south – has been operating as more of a unit, with much more communication and collaboration between Oneonta and Cooperstown.
At first, it made sense to have separate Hometown Oneonta and Freeman’s Journal Citizens of the Year. No more, with Senator Seward, the Hager family (hops yards in Pierstown, Northern Eagle’s new brewery in West Oneonta), Stacie Haynes, serving distressed animals countywide, with Oneontans working at Bassett, and Cooperstonians at the colleges, a single county agenda made more and more sense.
Another thought: While eight of the first 10 Citizens were men, six of the last nine were women.
That brings to mind a quibble: In the recent efforts to fill state Sen.-elect Peter Oberacker’s county board seat, both Republicans and Democrats declared it should be filled by a woman.
Folks, that battle’s been won; we can knock it off. The “little ladies” are beyond needing a leg up. They’ve fully arrived.
With MacGuire Benton’s election to the Cooperstown Village Board in a hard-fought race, and county Rep. Clark Oliver’s elevation to county Democratic chairman, it seems the county’s gay community is also claiming its proper place in our public life.
Fifteen years of recognizing our fellow citizens’ strivings to achieve, to solve problems, to realize visions, to meet challenges, demonstrate that imperfect human beings can do great things, whether they pursue us or are thrust upon us.
As COVID’s first anniversary approaches, the 42 Citizens provide reasons for pride and hope.
WE can overcome.
►FROM GARRETSON TO BOND, GREATNESS PURSUED
Tom Garretson: Cherry Valley town supervisor led opposition to industrial-scale windmills.
Carol Waller: She proved to be Cooperstown’s “Little Mayor That Could” during record attendance at Cal Ripken Induction.
• Hometown Oneonta: The Centennial Committee – Tom Klemow, Kevin Herrick and Mayor John Nader – which organized city’s 100th-anniversary celebration that ended in a knock-out parade.
• The Freeman’s Journal:
Penney Gentile; her son Chris’ death in a Holy Thursday car crash spurred her campaign to make drivers’ education mandatory in state’s schools.
• The Freeman’s Journal: Reinventing 22 Main – Mayor Joe Booan, Trustees Eric Hage, Willis Monie Jr., Neil Weiller. Republicans took control of Village Board and vowed clean-sheet look at Cooperstown government.
• Hometown Oneonta: John Nader, who resigned as mayor when he was promoted to SUNY Delhi provost (he is now SUNY Farmingdale president), but not before the Bresee’s renovation was assured.
• Hometown Oneonta: Tom Cormier – Entrepreneur bought Oneonta Theatre, launched
• The Freeman’s Journal: Adrian Kuzminski, activist led
local fight against fracking.
• Hometown Oneonta: 12-person City Charter Commission recommended professional city manager, got idea through referendum. Dave Rissberger, chairman; John Dudek, Martha
Forgiano, Karen Geasey, Tom
Kelly, Larry Malone, Steve Londner, Sarah Patterson, Paul Scheele, Kay StuliGross, Kathy Wolverton, Laurie Zimniewicz.
• The Freeman’s Journal: “Farmers of the Future” – Hartwick beef farmer Chris Harmon’s profile launched monthly profiles of futuristic farmers over 2012.
New amity on county Board of Representatives hailed as County Reps. Kathy Clark, chairman, Kay Stuligross, and Linda Rowinski took over leadership.
Jim Seward, “Building a
Consensus on a Properous
Future,” as former Greene County Economic Developer Sandy Mathes prepared to lead
The Hager Family, “Reviving the Golden Age of Hops.”
“Fighting The Scourge: They Opened Four Fronts Against Heroin Tide”: County Judge
Brian Burns, now Supreme
Court judge; Oneonta Police Chief Doug Brenner, LEAF executive Julie Dostal; District Attorney
Hartwick College President Margaret Drugovich: “Beacon on Oyaron Hill,” as record $32 million fund drive came to a successful conclusion.
Pastor Sylvia (now kEVLIN): “Gethsemane & Back,” as new Milford Methodist Church building was rising after fire razed former church that March.
Stacie Haynes: “For The Love Of Misty,” a childhood pet who nurtured a love of animals, and inspired drive to build new Susquehanna Animal Shelter,
now rising on Route 28, Index.
Meg Kennedy: “The Kennedy Method,” where county board vice chairman, first local rep to serve on NYSAC board, built momentum behind county-manager system.
Heidi Bond: “General in the
COVID-19 Fight.” The county’s public health director led
contact-tracing, much more to limit disease’s spread.
Last Sunday, www.AllOTSEGO was able to trumpet the news: “VACCINE HERE! 350 Bassett Tier 1 Workers Getting Shots Over Weekend.” Within hours, thousands had clicked throughto read the good news.
It – the COVID-19 pandemic – is not over, but it’s on the way to being over.
This happy news comes at a time when, as the Gospel of Luke had it, humanity wishes for “peace on Earth, good will toward men.”
It’s the time of year when we pause and reflect on how close we’ve come to the ideal.
The reality, this year as always, is that we missed it, given we live in an imperfect world, populated by imperfect people looking to find the way through a glass more or less darkly.
To what? To a modicum of happiness, prosperity, good will, not just for ourselves, but to our fellow humans. Not just here, in our relatively safe and secure Otsego County,
but throughout our state, country and even world.
Perfection, whether you’re religious or not, is not of this world – but the journey is life’s meaning.
Statistically, we can reflect with some satisfaction on meeting the COVID-19 challenge, (although it’s not over yet, and continued vigilance is essential.)
The crudest measurement – mere numbers – affirms this. As of this writing, 11 local people have succumbed to COVID. According to the state Health Department, 700 people die in our county annually, so this worldwide health challenge, the worst in a century, raised the local death rate by 1.4 percentile points.
Even with the post-Thanksgiving spike, only 1,300 people were infected.
Take out the 750 on SUNY Oneonta’s campus – only one person in the community was determined to have been infected by that outbreak – only 550 people in the county at large have been stricken with the virus.
That’s less than one percent of our county’s population of 59,493 people.
To focus on the numbers shouldn’t harden us to the grief suffered by those 10 families, or to the lost wages, damaged and closed businesses, stunted educations, or the other very real negative impacts of the disease.
But Otsego County achieved something special and we can be proud: We can take comfort in how our neighbors, professionals and political leaders reacted to what could have been a devastating onslaught.
First, we can thank ourselves.
The widespread – in some cases, almost universal – wearing of masks, is an expression of caring for our fellow citizens. Masks, it’s been widely reported, may protect the wearer – but, mostly, they protect us from infecting people with whom we come into contact.
In that sense, wearing a mask is an act of love, the central Christmas sentiment. We should be proud of ourselves and others.
Second, we can thank our professionals.
Our Bassett Healthcare Network was up to the challenge. Brinton Muller, the local hospital’s emergency preparedness manager, formed a committee to prepare for a possible coronavirus infestation as early as January, well ahead of our state and national leaders.
In March, when the worst began to happen, then-President/CEO Bill Streck was able to roll out a “hotline” and testing tents almost immediately. He was assisted in those early days by Drs. Bill LeCates, Steve Heneghan (since departed) and Charles Hyman.
Fingers crossed, but an expanded ICU has yet to reach its capacity, a fear in those early days.
(Astonishingly, Bassett accomplished all this during a transition to the new president/CEO, Tommy Ibrahim, who devised and began implementing a futuristic, system-wide reorganization parallel to the COVID fight. That reflects a first-rate operation – and brings the famous Scott Fitzgerald quote to mind.)
Outside Bassett, county Public Health Director Heidi Bond became the face of the COVID-19 fight.
Third, of our political leaders.
Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig reported the other day that, in limiting the campus outbreak’s impact, the City of Oneonta’s infection rate is among the lowest in the state.
Cooperstown Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh achieved similar results, with Governor Cuomo singling out “America’s Most Perfect Village” last month for its particular success. This, despite hosting baseball fans from around the country over the summer – fewer, for sure, but enough to pose a threat.
At the county level, the Big Three – Treasurer Allen Ruffles, with the support and encouragement of the county board’s top leadership, Chairman Dave Bliss and Vice Chair Meg Kennedy – put together a package of borrowings and revenue streams designed to get county government through a historic challenge with minimal impact.
Of course, as we wish for “peace on Earth, good will toward men” at Christmastime, let’s not forget pride is considered a sin. We’ve done well, but we’re not out of this yet.
It could take weeks, maybe months – let’s hope otherwise – before the anti-COVID vaccines are available locally. Let’s stay the course, wearing masks, social distancing, washing our hands and avoiding crowds – as we have.
We’ve proven we can do it. As we count our blessings this Christmas, let’s stay the course.