Despite the chilling toll – 3,483 COVID-19 cases and 54 deaths – Otsego County people, our neighbors, friends and family, have a lot to be proud of as we ended The Year of The Pandemic on Monday, March 15, we found in revisiting the last 52 editions of this newspaper.
Throughout, there was worry, dismay and grief in the face of the implacable and mysterious foe, but little panic. In reviewing the newspapers, there was, and is, much determination, focus and purpose among our neighbors and our community leaders.
At the county level, board Chairman David Bliss promptly issued an emergency declaration on Friday, March 15, 2020, that outlined many of the steps that have marked our lives since then. Going forward from there, the county board was tough and visionary in the face of disappearing sales- and bed-tax revenues.
The reps laid off 59 FTEs, no fun for anyone. Then – guided by county Treasurer Allen Ruffles – they assembled a plan based on historically low-interest loans and fast-tracking roadwork, which the state CHIPS program still reimburses, to ensure solvency. When President Biden’s $11 million stimulus allocation was announced in recent days, it was appreciated at 197 Main, but not essential.
On a parallel track, county Health Department rallied under Public Health Director Heidi Bond, doing the COVID testing and contact tracing that – along with masks and social distancing – have been central in controlling the disease to the extent we have.
She was already heralded as this newspaper’s 2020 Citizen of the Year, but not enough appreciation can be expressed to her team’s hard work and accomplishment.
Bassett Hospital was fast off the mark, with then-President/CEO Bill Streck immediately announcing a COVID Hotline to answer people’s questions and, when necessary, hurrying those infected into treatment, part of an extensive planning process that had begun in January. The hospital, as you would expect, has been central to the anti-COVID fight.
Slowed at first by the lack of COVID vaccine, Bassett’s new President/CEO Tommy Ibrahim announced this past Tuesday that a daily vaccination clinic will be launched this Thursday, the 18th,
and be ongoing for the next two months. That’s as ambitious a plan as it is necessary.
In Oneonta, six-year Mayor Gary Herzig rallied the community under the banner of the Survive, Then Thrive Committee, which – among other things – organized outdoor dining on Main Street during summer weekends, a morale builder for sheltering citizens.
The mayor helped bring SUNY Oneonta to account when a lack of rigor allowed runaway infections – more than 700 in one week – to get out of control. He quickly firmed up relations with the new COVID-fighting president, Dennis Craig, and his liaison to the city, Franklin Chambers, to ensure what could be done to limit the scourge would be done.
In Cooperstown, Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch, cheered on by Trustee Richard Sternberg, enacted the Masks on Main program, requiring tourists and residents alike to follow COVID-fighting practices on cramped sidewalks between Fair and Chestnut streets.
Her “Porch Lights for Support” program ensured frontline workers wouldn’t be driving home through darkened streets from long shifts at Bassett. That was extended when homeowners kept their Christmas lights on for months after the holiday season – in some cases, even until today.
The new Community Foundation of Otsego County, launched ahead of schedule to join the COVID fight, has been bashful about promoting its efforts. But, to mention just one, it launched a phone bank of volunteers a few weeks ago that helped connect seniors lacking computers with vaccination sites. Hundreds of our neighbors benefited from this sensible, low-cost initiative.
What was notable in the first few months of the newspapers over The Pandemic Year was hope. You may remember, infections tailed off last May, only to rebound in July. But even
12 months since Bliss’ emergency declaration, you see no indications of despair. We’re grinding it out. We’re going to get through this and come back stronger.
A plea: As we near the end, don’t flag, continue to follow the proscribed precautions – masks and social distancing, in particular. And, please, if you have a chance to get the vaccine, take it.
No one wants to be the last person in Otsego County to die of COVID-19.