Image courtesy the Georgia Dept. of Public Health.

PLATTSBURGH (TNS) — Though the delta variant is leading to an increase in COVID cases statewide, counties do not want to see a return to state centralization of the coronavirus response, New York State Association of Counties Executive Director Stephen Acquario says.

“Right now, the counties have this under control,” he told the Press-Republican during a recent editorial board interview.

“We want to see it remain under local control right now. We do not want to see private closures, business closures.”

LESSONS LEARNED

Acquario co-wrote “Our Darkest Hours: New York County Leadership & the COVID Pandemic,” a book commissioned by the New York State County Executives Association in October 2020 as a mid-action report.

He said the book is meant to serve as a blueprint for future county leaders to understand what it was like to govern during a pandemic.

In addition to the perspectives of multiple county executives, it details conflicting federal, state and local COVID policies.

Acquario said counties learned they were not prepared, with insufficient personal protective equipment and no testing infrastructure in place, challenges that brought counties together to help each other.

He said the state’s centralization of the COVID response may have worked for a couple months, but is certainly not something counties want to return to for now.

“No county is asking for state centralization of the delta variant. We got this now,” he said, noting that the focus is now on the unvaccinated and at-risk.

PUBLIC HEALTH FUNDING

Acquario said, during the pandemic, NYSAC learned that the state had for years been diverging and reducing Article 6 public health funding for local health departments.

“We found out that we were simply overwhelmed.”

He believes the new Gov. Kathy Hochul administration has to focus on pumping up public health infrastructure by working to recruit the next generation of public health nurses through special training or perhaps incentives.

NYSAC GUIDANCE

At the Clinton County Legislature’s regular meeting last week, Acquario praised the county’s COVID response, pointing in particular to its vaccination rate.

As of Tuesday, 73% of residents age 16 or older had received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Acquario also referenced NYSAC’s delta response guidance, which takes into account infection rates, the number of hospital beds available, the number of intensive care unit beds available and vaccination rates.

He said that guidance indicates a moderate risk level for Clinton County, which according to the document yields suggested mitigation measures of face masks for the unvaccinated and promotion of behaviors that help prevent spread.

“The goal here is not to overwhelm the health care system so that people can get in and get the care that they need.”

‘CAN’T GO BACK’

Acquario cautioned against complacency.

“You can’t take your foot off the gas pedal right now. We can’t go back to where we were. We can’t shut this state down again. We shouldn’t shut this state down again.”

He urged the county to continue offering vaccine points of distribution in addition to its education efforts.

“Keep doing what we’ve been doing until we fully get through this period of time.”

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