Steuben Co Manager’s Open Letter To County Residents

December 2, 2020

From Steuben County Manager Jack Wheeler:

I write to you today in the midst of very difficult times for our county, state, and nation. The acceleration of COVID-19 has reached levels of extreme concern, and certainly the highest we have seen since March. Tragically, we have also surpassed 100 COVID-related deaths, a mark we never thought we would see in Steuben County, and are heartbroken to witness.

As of this writing, we are approaching 2,000 COVID-19 cases in our county and are averaging over 30 new cases per day. Our seven-day rolling average of positive tests is 7.2%. All of these figures are far higher than public health experts target for controlled community management of the virus. We are clearly in a new phase of this pandemic and additional work is needed to reverse this trend.

Steuben County was fortunate to be removed from the ‘yellow zone’ classification under the Governor’s micro-cluster strategy a few weeks ago, but we find ourselves again on the brink of reentering these zones. Immediate action is needed on all of our parts to minimize the spread, specifically wearing face coverings in public, avoiding non-essential social gatherings and groups, practicing proper hand hygiene, and staying home when sick and seeking a COVID-19 test. These are the basic public health guidelines recommended by all levels of government, and they are more important now than ever. Locally, we have seen hundreds of cases resulting from small social gatherings, and it is critical that residents keep their social circles and activities as minimal as possible.

In my view, these actions primarily support the health and safety of our community and residents. Our hospitals, urgent cares, primary cares, and nursing homes are extremely busy confronting this virus, and we owe it to these selfless professionals to support them in any way we can and to ease their burden. If we can decrease viral spread, we can give these individuals and institutions the breathing room they desperately need.

But these actions also directly support our business community and local economy. Our small businesses have suffered through a shutdown, coupled with requirements for enhanced safety measures for reopening. Were we to enter an ‘orange zone’, personal care services, such as salons, barber shops, and fitness centers, would be required by New York State to temporarily close. In a ‘red zone’, all non-essential businesses would be forced to close. We desperately need to decrease our case count and positivity rate to protect these businesses and ensure they remain open and profitable.

This message, along with the comprehensive daily reports from Steuben County Public Health can paint a bleak picture. However, there is significant hope on the horizon. The data we see regarding vaccines are extremely positive and the county is working diligently to prepare for distribution once we receive allocations. In addition, we are so thankful and appreciative of our essential workers, from medical professionals, truck drivers, manufacturers, store clerks, and too many others to name. Finally, I know we have a compassionate community that always comes together in times of difficulty, which we find ourselves in now. If we all work collectively to double-down on the basic, common sense public health measures, we can and will minimize the spread of COVID-19 and find ourselves stronger for it.

Jack K. Wheeler, MPA
County Manager