ELIZABETHTOWN – Essex County has a tip for those planning to flee the coronavirus from more densely populated areas: don’t come here.
“That’s the message,” County Attorney Daniel Manning III confirmed Tuesday.
The county issued a release from Board of Supervisors Chairman Shaun Gillilland (R-Willsboro) telling visitors, weekenders, and second-home renters that “you should not have an expectation that resources will be available to you here that are not available to you in your hometown.
“Essex County has a limited number of healthcare resources and hospital beds and there is no testing.”
Gillilland said Essex County currently has four confirmed cases of COVID-19 and is responding with measures to proactively reduce further exposure as it impacts our limited resources.
The first case was a woman tested at Adirondack Health in Saranac Lake, with the next two a couple who went to University of Vermont Health Network-Elizabethtown Community Hospital to be tested.
The fourth case was announced by the Essex County Health Department on Tuesday, and was tested at University of Vermont Health Network-Elizabethtown Community Hospital.
Andrea Whitmarsh, spokeswoman for the Essex County Health Department, said the person “traveled domestically and has since been home, self-isolating.
Contact tracing activities have begun, with Health Department staff identifying and reaching out to anyone who may have had interaction with the confirmed case.”
She said any person who may have an exposure risk will receive information and guidance from the Essex County Health Department.
“To date we have seen an alarming influx of travelers from outside the county who are staying at second homes and short term rentals, like Airbnb and Vrbo,” Gillilland said in the release.
“While you may be seeking refuge from the larger amount of cases downstate, you must be aware that this is a global pandemic.”
NONE ORIGINATED IN COUNTY
He said none of the confirmed cases originated from within the county, and all were persons who traveled somewhere else, contracted the coronavirus, and returned with it.
“A number of exposures will increase with the movement of non-residents into our area from other parts of the state and country, which will result in an inordinate strain upon the resources of public health, first responders, healthcare providers, our hospitals and other government personnel,” Gillilland said.
“Essex County is an extremely rural county with only 38,000 residents. We have few hospitals and those that we do have are not capable of handling an increased number of patients. Additional needs presented with the increased presence of out-of-county persons at our hospitals will tax our medical care system beyond its capacity.”
Gillilland said most small businesses are closed, services are severely strained, and grocery stores, while still open to the public, are experiencing a shortage of food and basic supplies like toilet tissue and paper towels.
“We have limited capacity to test, our hospitals are small and incapable of handling additional influx and our stores and infrastructure are incapable of providing supplies to a larger population,” the supervisor said.
“We are asking that you respect the integrity of our hospitals and infrastructure and not travel to Essex County from any area at this time. This is in keeping with federal and state mandates that people stay at home and stay put. It is far better for you to stay home and limit your movements.”
The Essex County Board of Supervisors has also requested that all second-home owners and short-term rental owners and listers remove any short-term rental listings from services such as Airbnb and Vrbo and not rent their properties until the crisis has ended.
Some agencies that handle listings for property owners, such as Merrill Thomas of Lake Placid, have posted on social media that they are not accepting Airbnb or other short-term rentals through April.
Gillilland also reminded people that non-essential gatherings of individuals of any size for any reason, parties, celebrations or other social events, are canceled or postponed through April 22 under New York State Executive Order 202.10.
“In relation to Airbnb, (or) Vrbo dwellings that are rented by multiple families, Essex County views that as a violation of this executive order, the release said.
“That’s my interpretation,” Manning said. “We will be (watching).”
He said the Lake Placid-based Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism monitors short-term rental listings for the county.
There have been only four confirmed cases so far in Essex County, but that’s more a lack of testing, officials said.
“The lower number of confirmed cases in Essex County is very likely the result of reduced access to tests, which is occurring throughout the region,” said Essex County Director of Public Health Linda Beers in the release.
“We know that we are now facing community spread, so the potential for exposure is a reality for everyone, regardless of travel or other risk factors. The best way to protect yourself, your family, and your neighbors is to stay home as much as possible, minimize your interactions with others by practicing social distancing, and maintain hand hygiene.”
The guidelines related to COVID-19 testing criteria are becoming more stringent. Residents who are experiencing symptoms should call their doctor, and if the criteria is met, testing will be ordered.
Because testing may be delayed, it’s important that everyone follow the recommendations from the New York State Department of Health and the Essex County Health Department to work together to stay home, flatten the curve, and ensure our healthcare system isn’t stretched beyond capacity, Beers said.
“The practice of isolating individuals who are showing symptoms or who are confirmed to have COVID-19 is an important tool in slowing the spread of this virus and reducing the pressure on our healthcare system,” Beers said.
“Doctors are advising suspect cases to self-isolate, because for most people, illness with COVID-19 can be managed at home.
“Home isolation preserves healthcare resources and limits spread. Individuals at higher risk for severe illness, like older adults and those with chronic conditions, should be more vigilant in monitoring their symptoms, calling their healthcare provider or 9-1-1 if worsening illness occurs.”
She said residents who are showing symptoms of COVID-19 should follow the directions of their doctor, including staying home and self-isolating; using a separate bathroom from household members; staying at least six feet away from other household members; resting; staying hydrated and refraining from having any visitors into the home.