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.
counties included in the North Country reporting region are: Lewis,
Jefferson, St Lawrence, Franklin, Essex, Hamilton, and Clinton.
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.
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the COVID-19 virus on March 16, 2020, with that declaration rescinded on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.
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
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.”
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
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.
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
on upcoming vaccination clinics in Lewis County you can visit www.lewiscounty.org/vaccine-registration.