Reopening, welcoming, staying healthy
The 10 weeks of staying home has rubbed our nerves raw, made us anxious to get back to work and to welcoming people to our area. Some of us worry about getting our businesses open and being welcoming. Some worry that folks coming up will carry the disease with them. We recognize that we have been living in a bubble up here relative to the COVID-19 disease.
As of May 31, the New York State Department of Health COVID-19 Tracker website (footnote 1) shows percent positive test results:
¯ New York state is at 17.59%.
¯ New York state excluding New York City is at 14.80%.
¯ The North Country region is at 1.57%.
The North Country is at roughly one-tenth the infection rate of the rest of the state, likely due to our relative isolation, the shutdown, social distancing and the usage of face masks. Knowing that, how can we both reopen and be welcoming and stay safe? That is possible by continuing the social distancing and the usage of face masks, combined with a continued high rate of testing, even of folks not sure they have been exposed. And we will monitor the seven-day rolling average percent positive tests.
You likely already know how testing helps us. Franklin County has the lowest positive test rate in the state. Five of the seven New York state counties with the lowest levels of positive tests are in our region. And the other two counties are 16th and 17th lowest out of the 62 counties. There are only four counties in the state, outside of our region, with a lower percent positive than our entire region combined. As visitors come and we test folks around us, we can tell quickly if the positive test rate is changing.
We have not seen this disease as the rest of the state, country and world have. We have been lucky!
People have asked how we compare to some of the remote states such as Wyoming and Montana.
Our North Country region has tested 6.6% of the population, 29,243 tests, with 1.6% positive (459 cases).
Wyoming (2) has tested 4.0% of their population, 23,191 tests, with 3.0% positive (693 cases).
Montana (3) has tested 3.8% of their population, 40,657 tests, with 1.3% positive (519 cases).
Isolation and having a low population density in the North Country are big factors.
Watching the seven-day rolling average of percent positive is the quick way to tell if the infection rate is changing.
The good news: The percent positives has been going down. Here are two possible reasons:
1. Until recently, we were only testing symptomatic people, who are more likely to be positive.
2. The spread has been reduced due to effective social distancing, usage of face masks, and shutdown.
The bad news: Our “isolation bubble” is about to burst as the state reopens and many more people from outside the area arrive.
To maintain our healthy outlook as we welcome our visitors, we must continue to follow the social distancing guidelines and the usage of face masks. As we monitor the seven-day percent positive rolling average, we can respond to changes in different counties quickly, hopefully before folks start landing in hospitals.
Welcoming visitors and staying safe can be balanced. We can ask, “Please be kind to your neighbor; wear a mask.” People are coming here for peace and tranquility. I believe asking kindly brings out the best in people and a willingness to help keep us all safe.
We need to be kind and do this; lives and livelihoods depend on it.
Rich Shapiro is deputy mayor of the village of Saranac Lake.