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Legislature Discusses COVID-19 Crisis; Recognizes Work of County Staff

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Legislature Discusses COVID-19 Crisis; Recognizes Work of County Staff

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Tompkins County Legislature Chair Leslyn McBean-Clairborne (D-Ithaca) opened Tuesday night’s meeting by recognizing it was taking place under very different circumstances. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order to suspend the Open Meeting laws, there was no in-person attendance allowed to the public. The proceedings were shown live over Government Access TV and live streamed on the Tompkins County website. Members of the public were invited to submit questions and comments beforehand.

Legislators practiced social distancing of their own, with two legislators (Martha Robertson and Amanda Champion) calling in from home and the others present separating themselves by four to six feet.

Both County Administrator Jason Molino and Public Health Director Frank Kruppa provided updates to the Legislature on the COVID-19 crisis and the County’s response to it. Molino called the pandemic “unprecedented,” and unlike other emergencies, “we can’t necessarily see what the future holds, or when it will end. We’re in the very early stages of our response, and it will most certainly ramp up as we move forward.”

Kruppa explained to legislators the process used to test for a suspected case of COVID-19 and responded to complaints from some in the public that not enough information is being shared about positive cases. “It’s a matter of protecting one’s privacy,” said Kruppa. As of Tuesday night, there had been three positive cases of coronavirus in Tompkins County.

During the more than one hour of discussion on COVID-19, legislators praised Molino and Kruppa for the leadership shown during the health crisis, and recognized the hard work of county staff, some of whom have been reassigned to the Emergency Operations Center.

Legislator Shawna Black asked whether the County was considering a curfew or countywide quarantine. Administrator Molino said that “we’re not at that point yet,” and stated that for a such an action to be most effective, it should come from the State.

Molino told legislators the County has been tracking its costs related to the COVID-19 response, adding the impact to the budget “remains to be seen.”

In line with the Governor’s order to reduce municipal workforces by 50% for the next two weeks, Molino said the County has been able to reach 60% in reductions. While details are still being worked out and will be released Wednesday, Molino said many departments will have reduced hours to the public, or by appointment only. All employees affected by the workforce reductions will be paid during that time period.

Chair McBean-Clairborne closed the discussion with a plea to the public in the wake of reports that some in the Asian-American community have been harassed or threatened. “Please be sensitive,” she said. “Stop that behavior, and if you see it…interrupt it and provide support to those being harassed.” The coronavirus outbreak began in Wuhan City in the Hubei province of China.