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Lewis County Legislators Approve COVID-19 State of Emergency Declaration, Joining Other Counties in North Country Region


Published: December 07, 2021 at 08:30 p.m.

By: Nick Altmire


Lowville, NY- The Lewis County Board of Legislators unanimously voted in favor of declaring a state of emergency during their monthly meeting this evening, in response to the high number of COVID-19 cases and the impact on hospitals in the region.


Chairman of the Board Larry Dolhof told fellow legislators that, of the seven counties making up the North Country COVID-19 Control Room, the other six were in favor of declaring a North Country-wide state of emergency due to the high number of cases across the region and the impact it is having at regional hospitals. Chairman Dolhof said he wanted to consult the entire board before agreeing to the plan.


The seven counties included in the North Country reporting region are: Lewis, Jefferson, St Lawrence, Franklin, Essex, Hamilton, and Clinton.


County Manager Ryan Piche told legislators that Franklin and Clinton counties have remained in a state of emergency throughout the pandemic, with St. Lawrence County passing a declaration during their meeting last night and Jefferson County expected to do the same at their meeting this evening. Essex and Hamilton counties were on board with making the declaration as well, Mr. Piche said.


“In reality, a state of emergency only does two things for us,” Mr. Piche said. “One, it makes us eligible for reimbursement of funds, which frankly we’ve gotten quite of bit in COVID funds, so there is not a lot right now that we necessarily need reimbursement for. The second thing is, it can give us special powers to curb behavior, stuff that traditionally this board hasn’t been super interested in, so really the most important factor is joining in solidarity with the rest of the region and to give people kind of a wake-up call that things are starting to escalate and get a little more serious.”


Lewis County previously declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 virus on March 16, 2020, with that declaration rescinded on April 13, 2021.


Legislators held a fifteen-minute discussion on the topic before voting and invited Health System CEO Jerry Cayer and Public Health Director Ashley Waite to provide input.


Mr. Cayer said he certainly endorsed a state of emergency from a health system prospective.


“For the better part of three weeks, Lewis County has had the highest positivity rate in New York State,” Mr. Cayer told the group. “We have also consistently had a very high rate of cases per 100,00 residents,” Mr. Cayer said, explaining that cases per 100,000 residents is a good way to compare less populated counties with counties of greater population.


“Our experience at the hospital level is, we are worse today than we were a year ago at this time,” Mr. Cayer said, referring to the number of COVID patients being served, in addition to the loss of staff due to the vaccine mandate implemented by the State for health care workers. “I think it would be an important signal and help communicate we are still in the middle of a pandemic, we’re under a new wave and it doesn’t appear at this time that it is letting up,” Mr. Cayer said, regarding the emergency declaration.


“Our numbers are certainly higher now than they were at this time last year,” Ms. Waite agreed. “We’re heading into the holiday season, where we saw our numbers take off, so history tells us that may happen again. I do think it is really prudent to declare a state of emergency.”


District 5 Legislator Richard Chartrand inquired if declaring the state of emergency would bind the county to policies and decisions made by the other counties in the North Country Control Room, to which Chairman Dolhof responded that each county would be able to independently make their own policies and decisions regarding a course of action. The county currently has no intention of mandating any specific requirements on residents, Mr. Dolholf stated.


“We will continue with recommendations to wear a mask, stay home when you are sick, maintain a six-foot distance from others when indoors, the same things we have been trying to reinforce this whole period,” Chairman Dolhof said.


District 2 Legislator Lisa Virkler, attending the meeting via phone, shared some of her family’s current COVID experience, saying that her entire family was exposed to a COVID positive individual. Her two children, too young to receive a vaccination, later tested positive and eventually Ms. Virkler and her husband both tested positive as well, although vaccinated.


Earlier during the meeting, Ms. Waite reported that during the month of November, 73 percent of new COVID cases detected in the county occurred in people unvaccinated against the virus and 77 percent of people requiring hospitalization were not vaccinated.


“At the very least, the least you can do for your community is, if you are sick, stay home,” Mr. Piche said when referring to the best message to the community at large.


For information on upcoming vaccination clinics in Lewis County you can visit www.lewiscounty.org/vaccine-registration.








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