Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan announced a temporary tax break for businesses and gave details on COVID-19 testing procedure in the county during an information session streamed live on Facebook Thursday.
He was joined by Congressman Antonio Delgado, who discussed actions to combat the Coronavirus on the federal level and talked about hospital bed capacity in the region.
The number of confirmed cases in the county stands at nine.
The county was hoping to get two more sampling sites set up by Monday, Ryan said.
However, sampling sites are only one part of the equation: there are several levels to diagnose someone with COVID-19, and each is struggling to come up to speed.
The test kits first must be produced by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and distributed to the states, which distribute them amongst their counties.
The counties must then set up sites to collect samples from people who may have the coronavirus. The samples are then sent to labs, where they are tested.
There have been massive problems producing the tests, leading to insufficient numbers being distributed to counties. Ulster County received a shipment of 200 test kits Monday when they had asked for 2,000; before this, they were working off a shipment of less than 20.
“Testing is a big issue, and we’ve been trying to play catch-up on the federal level for some time,” Delgado said.
There were also problems with the capacity of labs to test the samples. Before March 2, all samples had to be tested at the CDC in Atlanta, but the Wadsworth Center in Albany, then the NYC Public Health Lab, were given permission by the FDA to do their own testing. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced March 11 the federal government had given approval for 28 private labs to test samples.
There were currently not enough test kits for everyone who wanted to be tested, Ryan said.
“I will say, we are not going to be able to test – right now – everybody that would ideally like a test,” he said. “We’re going to have to prioritize based on severity of symptoms and really triage, at least until we can get our testing capacity up.”
“My hope is once we get the (two new) sites up, rather than doing tens of tests of tests per day, we’ll be doing 100s of tests per day,” he continued.
If a county resident feels like they may have COVID-19, they should call their physician and list their symptoms and any exposure they might have had with the virus, Ryan said. Those without primary care physicians should call the Ulster County COVID-19 hotline at (845) 443-8888, which is staffed from 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. every day.
The physician or nurse will review the symptoms and exposure and set up the individual with testing if it is warranted in the case.
Delgado reminded those watching all tests come free of charge.
A major concern Delgado heard from his constituents was a lack of hospital beds in rural areas, he said.
Delgado penned a letter to President Donald Trump asking him to immediately authorize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expand the state’s medical capacity.
“Many rural, upstate communities lack access to basic health services under the best of circumstances,” according to the letter. “In the face of a global pandemic, New Yorkers across the state will suffer from a lack of hospital beds and ICU units, but shortages will be felt particularly acutely in rural communities like mine that already suffer from a lack of medical infrastructure.”
The request mirrors Gov. Cuomo’s, who asked President Trump to use the corps to retrofit existing buildings – such as college dormitories and former nursing homes – so they could be used as medical facilities.
When Cuomo’s request wasn’t answered, he said he would activate the New York National Guard to being building the facilities.
Ryan also announced the county was waiving the next 30 days of occupancy tax to help hotels and motels keep cash during the crisis.
After receiving a question on Facebook from a resident trying to sign up for unemployment who said the state site had crashed and no one was answering the phones, Delgado encouraged residents to contact his office for help.