By MIKE FORSTER ROTHBART & JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
With 39.5 percent, or 23,588 of our Otsego County neighbors, having received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, the focus is turning to people who are adamant about doing without.
About 25 percent of us, 16,242, have completed the two shot-cycle. (Tuesday, April 13, Governor Cuomo suspended use of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson option.)
“Anybody who’s refusing to get a vaccine is perpetuating the pandemic,” county Public Health Director Heidi Bond said bluntly. “We know the vaccine works. It works well. It’s safe. Now’s the time to really up your personal responsibility and get vaccinated.”
As reported in this newspaper two weeks ago, Springbrook is offering a $500 bonus to overcome workers’ resistance to vaccinations. But not everybody has that option.
In an interview in recent days,Lacey Rinker, Cooperstown Center director of nursing, said 44.5 percent of the nursing home’s staff is “fully vaccinated,” but 44.5 percent “declined.”
Part of the reason, she said, is “misinformation,” but others “are concerned about the long-term effects of vaccines that were rushed to market. What will happen six years from now?” they ask.
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.
By MIKE FORSTER ROTHBART • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Deaths from COVID-19 rose sharply in Otsego County in January, following about a week behind a peak in active coronavirus cases.
Sixteen Otsego County residents died from coronavirus-related causes in January and 10 to date in February, the county health department confirmed today. There were 19 COVID fatalities from the county in all of 2020.
For 12 consecutive days starting Jan. 17, the number of active cases among Otsego County residents exceeded 200. This had only happened once previously, in early September during the height of the SUNY Oneonta outbreak.
COOPERSTOWN – The daily count of active COVID-19 cases has been steadily declining for the past two weeks, according to county Public Health Department Heidi Bond’s latest report.
The county’s positive rate was 1.7 percent on Friday and the seven-day average was 2.7 percent.
There were 743 cases reported in January 2021. Of that total, 6 percent are college students, 4 percent are healthcare workers, 13 percent live in nursing homes, and 12 percent are students or staff in K-12 classes.
COOPERSTOWN – The COVID-19 death toll continues to climb. Why? According to Public Health Director Heidi Bond, the fatalities are still largely related to the holidays, including as far back as Thanksgiving.
“A lot of these people were those that were hospitalized for a long period of time,” Bond said today.
One ongoing cluster remains active at a nursing home within the county that has yet to be disclosed.
COOPERSTOWN – In a memo released Friday evening, county Public Health Director Heidi Bond advised local school superintendents that sports can resume as early as Monday.
“Effective Feb. 1, participants in higher-risk sports may participate in individual or distanced group training and organized no/low-contact group training,” Bond wrote, “…including competitions and tournaments, if permitted by local health authorities.”
In a single day, reported county-wide cases have climbed by nearly sixty increasing the active case count to 210 and the hospitalizations by three for a total of 18.
No new COVID-19 related deaths have been reported, keeping the 2021 fatalities at three and the fatalities to date at 21.
Based on the figures, more than twenty people have successfully completed isolation and are considered no longer contagious. That said, the newly reported cases are more than three times higher than that of the same category only a mere 24 hours ago.
A few minutes ago, county Public Health Director Heidi Bond reported two more coronavirus deaths, in addition to the one reported yesterday. The in-county total is 20 since the pandemic threat arose last March.
Yesterday, there were 129 active cases in the county; today, 145.
COOPERSTOWN – While the eve of the New Year has reported no new deaths, 33 new cases for the county were reported today – a near all-time high next to the 35 cases reported on Dec. 8 and Dec. 18.
December has been the deadliest month in the county since the first cases were reported and has also seen the highest rate of transmission – next to the SUNY Oneonta outbreak in August – with a total of 615 new cases reported throughout the month.
County Public Health Director Heidi Bond warns against social gatherings amid the most fatal and communicable month of the pandemic in the region thus far.
“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.
Thirty-four years ago, during her first summer as a nurse’s aide at Bassett Hospital, Heidi Bond’s mother, Registered Nurse Cindy Brophy, gave her advice that has carried her through her career to date.
“She told me, ‘I don’t care if you have to go cry in the bathroom every shift – you finish this summer,’” said Bond. “She had a very strong work ethic, and she instilled that in me.”
That fortitude was put to the test when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Bond, also an R.N., has worked tirelessly, seven days a week, since the first case arrived in mid-March, assisting with contact tracing, scheduling testing clinics and monitoring the rise of the virus throughout the county.
For her steady hand and firm compassion, Otsego County Director of Public Health Heidi Bond has been named the Citizen of the Year by Hometown Oneonta, The Freeman’s Journal and www.AllOTSEGO.com.
“I know I’m proud of the work she’s done,” said Dave Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, chairman of the county Board of Representatives. “And I’m confident in saying our board is too.”
“The challenges of COVID would have caused others to curl up in the corner,” said county Rep. Andrew Stammel, D-Oneonta, who chairs the county board’s Health & Education Committee. “But not Heidi. She works diligently, confidently and without complaint.”
“She’s a phenomenal person, and I’m not just saying that because she’s my daughter,” said Brophy, now a nurse in Scarborough, Maine. “She is gentle and kind, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen her lose her temper. Everybody loves her.”
Bond was raised in Richfield Springs, graduating from Richfield Springs Central School with the Class of 1991. Working at Bassett, her mom got her the candy striper job in 1986, when Bond was a teenager.
“I really enjoyed helping people,” Bond said. “Even just things like bringing them fresh water to drink.”
The next year, she applied to be a nurse’s aide, a job that was considerably more challenging. “I didn’t think she had the stomach for it,” said her mom. “I thought she’d change one bedpan and be out of there!”
But Heidi – determined to see the summer through – found joy in the work. “She fell in love with it,” said her mother. “She would write letters and cards for the older patients if they wanted to send one. She found the work very rewarding.”
She attended Utica College’s four-year R.N. program, graduating in 1995 and returning to Bassett’s pediatric inpatient unit, providing care for children who had surgery, the flu or accidents requiring an overnight stay.
There, she learned another critical-care lesson.
“So many people told me, ‘Oh, I could never do pediatrics, I’d get too attached,’” she said. “But I got very good at separating my personal emotions from my work, and I learned how to be strong for the kids and the families.”
She married her high school sweetheart, Stephen, in 1992. The couple had their first daughter, Katie, in 1998, and the young mother switched to part-time in pediatrics so she had more time to stay home with her daughter. Daughter Emily was born in 2001.
In 2000, when Katie was 2, Bond heard about an opening for nurses at the county’s Health Department. “I enjoyed my public health classes at college,” she said.
At that point, part of public health involved home-care visits. “It’s a much different style of nursing,” she said. “In a hospital, you’re seeing a patient in a sterile environment and you have no idea what their home life is like. But in home care, you’re able to see them where they’re most comfortable.”
Sometimes, home care involved more than just nursing. “You’d go into these places and see that they didn’t have running water or there would be holes in the floor,” she said. “When you see someone in the hospital, you never imagine they’re living that way.”
Facing her new challenge, she didn’t retreat to cry in the bathroom, either.
“You can help them get the help they need,” she said. “And sometimes, they don’t want to accept that, so you help them as much as you can with the resources they do have.”
In 2005, the county department gave up its Home Health Agency certification, switching more focus to scheduling rabies vaccinations for pets, flu-shot clinics, visits to new mothers, lead-prevention poisoning and education, and prevention of chronic diseases and injuries.
She was promoted to Communicable Disease Control director in 2004. “Before the pharmacies began offering the shot, we had to put out a clinic schedule,” she said. “One year, we got a message from the state saying there was a shortage of the vaccine, and we had to cancel all the clinics.”
“It’s funny,” she continued. “Back then, people were clamoring to get the flu vaccine. Now we have to educate people into taking the COVID vaccine. It’s a culture change – a lot of people have never had to deal with a serious communicable disease in a way that affects a whole society.”
She was appointed public health director in 2008, just one year before swine flu hit. “We did have cases,” she said. “But nowhere near as many cases of that as we do of COVID.”
Part of her new duties included pandemic preparations, such as “war games” scenarios. “When Ebola hit in 2014, we would have a practice station where we would get PPE on and off,” she said.
“We would go to hospitals and make sure they were putting it on right.”
No cases of Ebola ever arose in Otsego County. Still, those two test runs, she said, helped mentally prepare her for when she got the call in January.
“I had taken a Friday off because my daughters and I had planned to get massages,” she said. “But the state Department of Health scheduled a mandatory webinar, so I had to cancel them. That started the alarm bells ringing, and they haven’t stopped going off since.”
The first case in the county arrived in March, when a SUNY Oneonta student and his mother went on vacation to Lake Placid. “Mom was sick and the student didn’t want to quarantine with her,” Bond said. “So he returned to campus, and cases spread from there.”
From March until August, there were five deaths and 117 cases, and by June, the county seemed to have gotten the pandemic under control.
“There was a point in the summer where we went three weeks without a case,” she said. “I didn’t think it was over, but I’d tricked myself in to a complacency where I thought we could handle it.”
But the return of the college students jeopardized all of that.
A “super-spreader” party Friday, Aug. 21, SUNY Oneonta students’ first weekend back, resulted in 107 cases by the following weekend, when newly appointed SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras made a whirlwind trip to Oneonta and cancelled classes for two weeks. When cases hit 300 a week later, he closed the campus for the remainder of the semester.
“That really opened my eyes to just how fast the virus could spread,” she said. “Even with measures in place, in congregate living, it spreads no matter what you do.”
In the months since, SUNY’s infections topped out at over 700, with Hartwick College infections totaling 71 over the semester.
Community spread from the college outbreaks was minimal, in part, thanks to rapid testing sent in by the state. But as the weather got too cold for outdoor dining and “COVID fatigue” set in, cases began to trend upward, with more than a thousand cases and 11 deaths since September.
“We have the highest number of hospitalizations we’ve had, but people just aren’t as concerned as they were in the spring,” she said.
“I know she must be frustrated, but she remains professional and always does her job,” said Bliss.
“It breaks Heidi’s heart when people aren’t wearing masks,” said Brophy. “She isn’t angry, she just really cares about people.”
Bond is in constant communication with the state Department of Health, as well as the county board. “I talk to her daily,” said Bliss. “Sometimes multiple times a day. Before this, I might talk to her once or twice a month.”
“I feel confident when we go to her with questions,” said Stammel. “She explains the answers, and if she doesn’t know, she knows who to get the answer from, and brings it back to us.”
With the arrival of the vaccine – last week, 350 Bassett employees received the Pfizer shot and more than 500 received the Moderna – and with the recent approval of funds to hire three additional nurses, Bond is finally seeing the end of the crisis nearing.
“I try to tell myself that, in the grand scheme, a year or two is not a lot of time,” she said. “But when it’s all over, we’re all planning to take a long vacation on the beach.”
COOPERSTOWN – A man who caught COVID-19 from someone who tested positive following the outbreak at the Copper Fox in Oneonta has died after a month in the hospital, according to Heidi Bond, Otsego County Public Health Director.
“This person didn’t go to the bar, but they contracted the disease through secondary spread from someone who did,” she said.