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Essex County isn’t rolling buses like Franklin County is

Essex and Franklin counties are taking different approaches to reopening public transportation amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Each county operates a bus system, and both counties canceled all bus routes in March. Franklin County began reopening its bus routes in June, with a few caveats, but Essex County’s routes — including the Placid Xpress shuttle — remain closed.

Franklin County’s service is limited to essential trips only, and seating capacity is restricted to 50% to allow passengers to practice social distancing. Those who want to ride the bus have to reserve seats at least 24 hours in advance of their trip. Riders can now reach dispatch between the hours of 6 a.m. and 5:45 p.m., Monday through Friday, the county Transportation Department announced Monday.

The county started its reopening process with its Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake routes last month, with dispatch available at the time between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. This phased reopening approach has been recommended by the state Department of Health.

Riders on Franklin County Public Transit are required to wear face masks at all times.

In Essex County, administrators are hesitant to begin welcoming riders back.

“We are looking at some limited service for seniors,” Essex County Manager Dan Palmer said Monday. “We’re concerned about public transit, mixing populations — the elderly with other populations. At this point, we’re not intending to open fully right away.

“We don’t want to put people at risk,” he said. “No one is convinced we’re out of the danger zone yet.”

When Essex County lawmakers do decide to move forward with reopening its bus routes, the county will very likely take a phased approach, according to Palmer.

The New York Times reported on Sunday that so far in this state, public health officials haven’t linked any new COVID-19 clusters to public transportation. Contact tracing experts say tracking an infection cluster related to public transportation is difficult, in part because the chances of a person remembering the exact train car or bus in which they rode isn’t likely. Also, reaching other riders who may have been exposed to the virus is almost impossible, the Times reported.

In Essex and Franklin counties, public health officials have largely attributed new COVID-19 cases to travel — primarily long-term residents traveling to other counties or states, or residents welcoming family and friends from other areas — and public gatherings.

Franklin County had seen seven new cases of COVID-19 in the last week as of Monday, five of them still active. The county saw 21 new cases between July 3 and Aug. 3. Nearly 140 people were either in isolation, a requirement for those who test positive, or quarantine, a precautionary measure for those who may have been exposed to the coronavirus, as of Monday.

In Essex County, there were zero active cases as of Friday, the latest date for which data was available by deadline. Zero new positives have been confirmed since July 27. It’s unclear how many people are in quarantine countywide. The county Health Department recently stopped publicly reporting the number of people in quarantine on a daily basis to “maintain (the department’s) response capacity in the most critical areas,” according to Essex County Health Department Public Information Officer Andrea Whitmarsh.

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