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The Washington County Board of Supervisors

By PJ Ferguson

There is some disagreement on how to proceed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic at the county level.

During the Washington County Board of Supervisors teleconference meeting on Friday, several supervisors and officials offered their views on how the county has been addressing the situation in regard to making decisions, holding meetings and putting certain departments back to work.

Hartford supervisor Dana Haff called for the return of committee meetings via teleconference.

“This is not the horse and buggy days,” Haff said, asking the board why committee meetings were not being conducted online as regular meetings were.

Haff expressed concern that the county’s incident management team, headed by chairman of the board Samuel Hall of Fort Ann, is “making decisions outside the democratic forum that they are elected to perform.”

“We need to get back to our democratic representative form of government,” urged Haff, adding that he understands emergency orders that cancel meetings but not for a period of “30, 45 or 60 days.”

“People being sick and dying on a daily basis is a catastrophe,” Hall responded. “I think some of us haven’t accepted that fact yet and It’s upsetting to me that we have a large percentage of the populous that doesn’t take it serious and we have select members of the board that (are) not taking it serious…it makes it hard to govern in that respect.”

Haff clarified that he believes the pandemic is a “serious event” and just wanted to ensure that the supervisors were allowed their “normal input.”

Hall agreed that they would be looking into a path for holding committee meetings.

Meanwhile, county administrator Chris Debolt has begun working on a “phase one” of restoring a “new normalcy” for getting certain departments back to work.

The Department of Motor Vehicles, Department of Public Works, code enforcement, buildings and grounds, and information technology are among those being considered for a soft reopening.

Seen as a vital “high value revenue generator” and with “high demand from the public,” DMV looks to open by appointment only, though a timeline on its reopening is uncertain.

The biggest point of contention came over getting highway employees back to work.

“We need to get them back out today,” said Haff, “leave it up to the formen on how to best do that.”

Debolt was hesitant on the request though, citing safety concerns over infecting the department.

“We want to try and avoid a scenario where one person in a barn becomes positive for COVID and we take out an entire barn staff in a quarantine situation,” said Debolt, expressing concern that if such a situation were to occur, there would be no workers available in an emergency situation such as a snowstorm or flood.

Haff pushed back, saying that the workers are “essential to public safety.”

Debolt noted that all employees returning to work will be required to have their temperature taken at the beginning of their shift, to help prevent the spread, adding that the measure could create a number of “obstacles” for larger departments.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office has already adopted this policy, according to Sheriff Jeff Murphy.

“It is doable,” said Murphy before thanking the incident management team for the work they have done, “it doesn’t go unnoticed.”

With Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently extending his NY PAUSE executive order through May 15, the county has also extended its state of emergency order to conclude on the same date.

Over the past week, the county has ramped up its testing efforts, resulting in a total of 50 positive cases in the county thus far, four of which are hospitalized and two dead.

Five hundred sixty two residents have been tested to this point and Department of Public Health and Patient Services director Patricia Hunt is warning that the number of positive cases will only continue to rise.

A special meeting will be held at 10 a.m. on Friday, May 1, a move proposed by Hebron supervisor Brian Campbell, to allow supervisors to reassess the situation prior to May 15.

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