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3 more die of COVID: 2 in Franklin County, 1 in Essex

Both Franklin and Essex counties reported deaths of COVID-19-positive residents on Tuesday, Feb. 2.

Franklin County reported two deaths. The county said neither of them was a nursing home resident but did not say where in the county they lived or died.

Essex County reported one death at the Champlain Valley Senior Community in Willsboro, which is currently experiencing a coronavirus outbreak.

As has been the case since the pandemic began, neither county identified the people who died.

Altogether, 22 Essex County residents have died after contracting COVID-19 since last March, the majority of those residents of nursing homes or assisted-living facilities. In Franklin County, 10 people have died.

Essex County continues to see an increasing number of new cases of COVID-19 each day, and many of those new cases are in the town of North Elba, which includes the village of Lake Placid, part of the village of Saranac Lake and the hamlet of Ray Brook.

Of the 14 new cases announced by the Essex County Health Department on Tuesday, five were located in North Elba. That’s compared to two in both Chesterfield and Ticonderoga, and one each in Elizabethtown, Jay, Keene, Willsboro and Westport.

North Elba also had the highest number of new cases in the county on Monday, at seven.

It’s unclear how many residents, if any, have a new, more contagious strain of the coronavirus that originated in the United Kingdom and was discovered in Essex County last week. Testing for the UK variant takes much more time than other COVID-19 testing, and the state’s top lab, the Wadsworth Center in Albany, has been testing samples from across the state at random. No hospital in Clinton, Essex or Franklin counties has the capability to specifically test for the variant in-house, though someone who has it would still test positive for COVID-19 with a normal test.

“The CDC has said that by March, it expects the UK variant will be the predominant strain circulating in the US,” Essex County Senior Public Health Educator Andrea Whitmarsh said Monday. “We cannot predict how many additional cases we will see in Essex County (because most samples are not sequenced at this time), or if this development will lead to a marked increase in cases here. With vaccine distribution ramping up and happening concurrently, it’s hard to know exactly how much of an impact immunization will have on transmission rates in the short term.”

Whitmarsh said the discovery of the new variant does not change the health department’s advice to residents at all.

“Really, our core messaging remains the same — wear a mask, remain physically distant from those not living in your household, wash hands frequently, and avoid gatherings,” she said. “We realize there has recently been a lot of debate over double-masking and if this approach is necessary. Double masking is not necessary if the one mask being worn has two or more layers of fabric, completely covers the nose and mouth, and fits snugly against the sides of the face without gaps. If these things cannot be achieved with a single mask, then we would recommend double masking.

“This is yet another reminder that we are not out of the woods yet when it comes to COVID-19,” she added, when asked what the discovery of the variant meant for this county. “The residents of Essex County have demonstrated that they are able to embrace the precautions necessary to keep our cases low and keep their communities safe. We stress that these are the same precautions we want everyone to continue adhering to, at least until we get enough people vaccinated to reach herd immunity levels. We know it’s been a long, challenging year.

“The thought of several more months of masks and limits on seeing our loved ones is disheartening; however, the alternative — unmanageable case levels and avoidable deaths — is not acceptable,” she said. “We will get through this together.”