PLATTSBURGH — Gov. Kathy Hochul visited Clinton Community College Wednesday, where she detailed the state’s ongoing efforts to address COVID-19 as well as the resources headed to the North Country.
“We’re basically preparing for a January surge,” Hochul said, noting the recent and upcoming holidays as well as associated travel and gatherings.
“We know it’s coming and we’re naive to think it won’t.”
Hochul’s stop coincided with a pop-up vaccination clinic hosted by the state Department of Health and SOMOS Vaccinations at the college.
She explained that Clinton County was one of six counties selected for a six-week partnership between DOH and local health departments to support vaccination efforts.
Those included other pop-ups held earlier this month, in which she said more than 1,000 doses were administered.
Hochul also visited two North Country hospitals, Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown and Canton-Potsdam Hospital, with the aim of thanking health care workers for all they have done during the pandemic.
“Everyone in this whole health care ecosystem, or the people working our vaccination sites, they are owed a tremendous debt of gratitude,” she added.
Hochul reiterated the priority to keep kids in school and how the state wants to fully institute a “Test to Stay” program through which at-home COVID tests are sent home with children when someone in their class tests positive.
If parents administer the test to their child the next morning and it comes back negative, that student will be able to return to school, then get tested again a few days later, she explained.
The state has ordered 37 million at-home tests, which are still arriving. She said more than 22,000 are headed for the North Country, 3,000 of which will go to Clinton County.
Hochul confirmed the state plans to replenish the region’s test kits as they are used, and that counties and health care officials have a direct line to the state to request more resources as they get low.
The state would like to see the “Test to Stay” program roll out on Monday, when students return to school after the winter holiday. Hochul said districts could end up testing students as they arrive back at school, or just focus on sending home the test kits, depending on what is logistically feasible.
“The bottom line is that our ‘Test to Stay’ program says, ‘We want children back in schools,’” she said.
TEST SITES, MASKS
Two of 13 new state testing sites will be housed in the North Country, including one in Lowville, which opened Wednesday, and another at the former Nickels Redemption Center in Malone, which is offering its first appointments today.
Asked whether the state has any plans to bring back a mass testing site in Plattsburgh, Hochul said she is in constant contact with her team about assessing needs, and that the state is having local conversations to deploy the help it can.
“But also, now we have the rapid test we can send home with people, so it doesn’t require what we did before where you needed someone to do that test for you,” she said, adding that the state would rather use its staff to administer vaccinations.
Hochul said the state has also provided 185,000 enhanced masks — N95s and KN95s — to the North Country, 35,000 have been delivered to Clinton County.
She also noted that $78 million in federal funds is now available to communities, nonprofits and municipalities to help protect vulnerable populations against COVID-19. The moneys will be administered as community development block grants by Housing and Community Renewal.
BY THE NUMBERS
Hochul reported that the state is experiencing an uptick in the number of positive COVID cases, including 67,000 on Tuesday out of 362,000 who were tested.
While the state reported 222 new cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day average, the North County reported 47.
But Hochul didn’t want the region to get too excited, noting the holiday week and possible lag time with testing results.
“So don’t rest on your laurels here. Continue to get vaccinated and do everything you can,” she said.
The governor added that 97 New Yorkers died of COVID Tuesday. As of the same day, 6,700 were hospitalized due to the coronavirus.
Though that is fewer than this time last year, she continued, it’s still an area of concern.
“But as I always talk about, what is our hospital capacity? How are we managing this? Can we handle the COVID patients in addition to the normal patients?”
Hochul said the state has seen an 8% increase in hospital bed capacity, pointing to the deployment of extra staff, extra ambulances and the National Guard, and the ability to suspend elective surgeries.
She noted that 27% of the North Country’s overall hospital beds were available, above the “danger zone” of 10% or under, and 15% of the region’s intensive care unit beds were available.
‘DO THE RIGHT THING’
Hochul urged New Yorkers to avoid gathering indoors for New Year’s Eve with people outside their immediate families.
She closed by repeating her calls for getting vaccinated and boosted, and wearing masks.
Hochul said her two priorities are protecting the health of New Yorkers and protecting the health of the economy, acknowledging the impact prior shutdowns had on small businesses and those who lost their jobs.
“We don’t have to go back there if people do the right thing and we up the number of people who are vaccinated,” the governor said.
Information on where to get vaccinated is listed on page A8.
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