Columbia County Prepares for Coronavirus

HUDSON — “The Columbia County Board of Supervisors and county personnel are taking all precautions in the fight against the coronavirus, or COVID-19. This includes protecting our residents to the extent possible and making plans for the county to continue carrying out its business in the event a major outbreak occurs here,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murell said today.

The county is monitoring the situation and following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), NYS departments of Health and Education, and the Columbia County Department of Health.

At the county Department of Health, Public Health Director Jack Mabb called COVID-19 an “incredibly fluid situation. The CDC is screening people as they come into the country if they have a fever, or if they have a travel history” involving one of the countries with people who have been infected.

If a county resident tests positive in that situation, or if they have traveled to a country with people who have tested positive, county DoH is notified. Its job is to then make sure that the resident is able to effectively self-quarantine.

To date, no county residents have testified positive for the virus. One person is self-quarantining after traveling through Italy, Mabb said. “We make sure they have thermometers. Fever is the big criteria.”

In the early stages of the coronavirus situation, Mabb said, the Centers for Disease Control “was all about containment. Now, it’s about mitigation. We will continue to try to contain it, but we probably won’t be able to So what can we do to slow it down in a community.”

Mabb said the county is also working closely with leadership of the six county school districts on COVID-19 response.

“The department has received a number of calls from organizations regarding live events that will attract a lot of people, asking whether they should cancel or not. Our job is not to say you must cancel, but in most cases we do in fact recommend that they postpone their event,” Mabb said.

To keep-up-to date on announcements pertaining to COVID-19, the county Department of Health website can be found at

Director of Emergency Management David Harrison said that county leaders “have been involved in insuring that all county departments and services can continue” in the event of a widespread outbreak here.
Harrison pointed out that a continuation of operations plan is part of good emergency management practices. “What we’re doing is part of that. While we train for a large scale power outage, that training provides county department heads and leadership with a plan on how to handle other things such things as a building being destroyed, or a large number of employees out of work. Fire services and EMS has to go on. We are always meeting, always planning,” he said.

“I would like to stress to everyone to not panic,” Harrison added.

From the standpoint of county emergency services, Emergency Medical Services Coordinator PJ Keeler noted that he and the county EMS agencies “have been in constant contact with the state Bureau of EMS, which puts out policy statements and practitioner guidance as to personal protective measures we need to take when we go out on a call.”

“Most important,” he continued, “is the 911 center. It has instituted a screening process that will hopefully identify patients prior to our arrival. An example: If someone were to call in and say they have difficulty breathing, part of that screening process would include such questions as have they traveled?, do they have a fever?, and so on.”

The screening process gives emergency responders the opportunity to take protective measures. The responders, in turn, would notify the hospital of the patient’s condition prior to their arrival so the hospital can be prepared as well, Keeler said.

Keeler added that the EMS plan is the same as has been in place and practiced in previous situations, such as during the SARS outbreak.

At the county Office for the Aging, Administrator Kevin McDonald said that as a contingency the plan is to begin preparing extra frozen meals to have in stock.

“That’s in case, for whatever reason, we are unable to deliver a hot meal – we would be able to drop off five frozen meals for the week. We also want to be able to make available self-staple meals, or meals that that can be prepared without cooking. We give those out during the winter season anyway so that people have something to eat if we can’t get a hot meal to them,” he said.

Repeating the words of Emergency Management’s Harrison, McDonald added, “The last thing we want to do is panic people.”

As a best practice for overall health in cold and influenza season, the CDC recommends that individuals receive the influenza vaccination and engage in everyday, preventative measures to prevent the spread of germs and avoid illness, such as:

  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
  • Avoid touching eyes, mouth and nose with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with individuals who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with the crease of your elbow.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Take any anti-viral medication prescribed to you as instructed by your physician.

If you or a family member start showing symptoms of a respiratory disease and suspect it may be COVID-19, contact your healthcare provider. Before going to your healthcare provider’s office, or the hospital emergency room, inform them that you may be a suspect case for COVID-19, and follow their advice.