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County: Tourism has spread virus to region

COVID cases cause local schools to go remote

Traffic on Main Street, Lake Placid, on July 28 (News photo — Andy Flynn)

LAKE PLACID — Tourists traveling to Lake Placid have contributed to the number of COVID-19 cases here, Essex County’s public health director confirmed Tuesday, Dec. 8.

Meanwhile, the Lake Placid Central School District switched back to remote learning temporarily due to COVID cases, and the coronavirus has infected at least one worker at the village of Lake Placid.

The town of North Elba — which includes the village of Lake Placid, the hamlet of Ray Brook and part of the village of Saranac Lake — has been a tourism hub for generations. Its proximity to the High Peaks Wilderness, its world-renowned sports reputation, the scenery and its Olympic legacy continue to draw visitors, even amid a global pandemic. The local economy relies on tourism. The town’s hotels are major employers, as are the restaurants and bars in Lake Placid that many tourists enjoy while in town.

North Elba has also seen the highest number of cases in Essex County.

With the rise in local COVID-19 cases, North Elba Supervisor announced Tuesday that the North Elba Town Hall would once again close its doors to the public, like it did in the spring, effective Wednesday, Dec. 9 until further notice. A drop box is available at the front door from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Town employees are available by phone and email.

Essex County Public Health Director Linda Beers, during a meeting with the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, said that although there are cases of residents spreading the virus to other residents, tourism has contributed to the number of cases seen here.

Since March, 72 North Elba residents have tested positive for COVID-19, not including three residents who were suspected of having COVID-19 but did not get tested. That’s more than any other town in Essex County. The town with the second-most cases, Ticonderoga, has had 35 test-confirmed cases since March.

North Elba now has the most active cases of COVID-19, too. As of Tuesday, there were 21 active cases in North Elba, according to the county Health Department. That’s more than double the number of cases in Ticonderoga, which had seven on Tuesday.

“We cannot attribute these cases to just people within Lake Placid,” Beers said. “We absolutely know there’s community spread, but we do believe that it came from lots of people that have been tourists there. I know this to be true because we’ve had reports from other counties, saying, ‘I just want to let you know, we have this COVID positive person, and they said they were in Lake Placid last week.’ So we know that people have traveled here, developed COVID-19 in their own counties … that certainly contributes to the increase in Lake Placid.”

Middle-High School

The Lake Placid Middle-High School moved to remote learning Monday, Dec. 7 after a sixth-grader tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday, Dec. 5, according to Lake Placid Central School District Superintendent Roger Catania.

Catania said sixth-grade classes will be remote for two weeks. The rest of grades 7 through 12 also shifted to remote instruction Monday, and on Tuesday, Catania announced that remote learning for those grades would be extended through the end of the week.

“First, contact tracing continues to identify additional students for quarantine, with at least a few more individuals still being investigated,” Catania wrote Tuesday on the district’s Facebook page. “Second, given the disruption of staffing — due in large part to teachers being quarantined — we are not able to fill needed spots with substitutes.”

On Monday, Lake Placid Elementary School continued to operate as normal, with all students attending in person, but they were dismissed at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday because school officials learned in the morning that a student had tested positive for COVID-19. Remote instruction was to continue through Friday, Dec. 11.

Village staff

One Lake Placid village staff member tested positive for COVID-19 recently. Mayor Craig Randall confirmed the positive case on Monday, Dec. 7, saying two other staff members have been sent home to quarantine after possibly being exposed to someone who tested positive. The village has asked those two employees to get tested.

Asked if its staffers’ isolation and quarantine orders would affect village operations, Randall said, “the answer at this point in time is no,” but he’s aware that the situation could change quickly.

(Editor Andy Flynn contributed to this report.)