By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Last Tuesday, Nov. 17, there were 37 new cases of COVID-19 reported.
In the seven days since, that number tripled to 126 by Nov. 24, with hospitalizations up two, from four to six, since last week, according to Heidi Bond, Otsego County Public Health Director.
That makes the highest number of community cases – that’s not counting the 700-plus SUNY Oneonta outbreak – since the pandemic started in March.
“If our cases continue to increase the way they have, even taking the holiday out, we are facing unprecedented community spread,” she warned. “Now put in the holiday, and if we don’t take precautions, that number is going to continue to rise.”
Forty-one of the cases are already linked to a gathering of people eating and drinking at the Copper Fox Tavern in Oneonta, making it the largest community cluster.
“Reportedly, they were following all guidelines,” she said of the Copper Fox outbreak. “But patrons don’t have to wear a mask when they’re eating or drinking, so dining out is still a risky activity.”
Two more Oneonta bars have also reported cases, with one employee testing positive at the Beer Barrel Inn in the Sixth Ward. At the Red Jug Pub on Main Street, patrons who were at the popular college bar on Friday, Nov. 20 are being asked to quarantine and monitor their symptoms after an employee who worked that night tested positive.
First responders, including several in the Oneonta Police Department, and both residents and employees of both residential and nursing homes, have also tested positive in the last week.
SUNY Oneonta had a spike in cases, with 12 students and three employees testing positive before students returned home for the rest of the semester, while Hartwick College saw four cases.
By the end of the semester, SUNY’s numbers totaled 764, Hartwick’s, 71.
In all, Oneonta has 66 of the cases, the highest concentra-tion in the county. By contrast, Cooperstown, had numbers “too small to say,” according to Bond; “America’s Most Perfect Village” was singled out by Governor Cuomo at his daily briefing Monday, Nov. 23, for having the lowest numbers in the state.
However, to keep those numbers low, the Cooperstown Village Board this week voted 6-0 to return to meeting over Zoom, beginning at its Dec. 28 meeting.
“I know members who feel that, with the increase in cases, would like to return to virtual meetings for now,” said Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch.
Bassett Healthcare restricted visitors at their hospitals to “only individuals considered essential to the medical care of a patient” – parents, birth partners and those with family members receiving end-of-life care, effective Monday, Nov. 23. Visitation is also suspended at the Fox Nursing Home.
And with the holidays looming, Cuomo issued an executive order banning gatherings of more than 10 people in an attempt to combat the spread. Sheriff Richard J. Devlin said he has insufficient resources and no plans to enforce the order.
“We’re having trouble handling police calls as it is,” he said. “We don’t need to be checking on people’s Thanksgiving dinners, and we won’t.”
He did say, however, if his deputies respond to a domestic or a fight, for instance, and guidelines are being flouted, they might issue tickets.
It’s a sentiment echoed by the state Sheriff’s Association, who issued a statement on Monday, Nov. 24 saying that they lacked the resources to enforce the order. (See text, page A5).
“We in law enforcement do not have the resources nor the legal authority,” said the statement, which was unsigned.
“We have trust that our citizens will be responsible,” said Devlin. “And the governor’s executive order doesn’t have the teeth for us to even enforce or make arrests.”
But even if enforcement isn’t possible, Bond said that’s no excuse to pack a house full of out-of-town guests.
“My recommendation is not to have Thanksgiving with anyone you don’t associate with on a day-to-day basis,” said Bond. “There is so much community illness, and people are unintentionally spreading it, because they don’t know they have it.”