5 Essex County supervisors get COVID-19

Four Essex County supervisors tested positive for COVID-19 after attending the New York State Association of Counties annual conference in Colonie last week. A fifth, who didn’t attend the conference, is also positive.

Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Shaun Gillilland and Moriah town Supervisor Tom Scozzafava were among four supervisors in the county who received a positive COVID-19 test after the conference, according to Gillilland. They declined on March 22 to name the other two county officials who tested positive, citing HIPAA laws. HIPAA privacy rules usually apply to “covered entities,” generally health and mental health providers, according to the state Office of Mental Health.

Gillilland said the conference, which lasted from March 14 to 16, was a large event with a lot of people. Masking wasn’t required, he said, and “nobody was wearing a mask.”

“In my personal opinion, that was a mistake for me,” he said. “I avoided this thing (COVID-19) for two years, and I let my guard down … it’s still out there. It hasn’t gone away.”

Gillilland said he’s out of his five-day isolation period now, and that the other three supervisors with COVID-19 are also getting through their isolation period. The virus didn’t spread to any other supervisors at the conference that he’s aware of.

The News reached out to supervisors of the towns it covers in Essex County. North Elba town Supervisor Derek Doty, Town of Jay Supervisor Matt Stanley and Wilmington town Supervisor Roy Holzer said Tuesday they didn’t attend the conference, and they hadn’t come down with COVID-19. Keene town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson Jr. said he didn’t attend the conference, either, because he was taking precautions against COVID-19. He said he was happy to be COVID-free.

“I’m still a little reluctant to be in such a crowded setting,” he said. “…I took away that my cautious approach was merited.”

St. Armand town Supervisor Davina Winemiller said she was positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday, though she didn’t attend the conference in Albany last week.

Scozzafava said he didn’t attend the conference in its entirety — he only went for a dinner last Monday. He heard Gov. Kathy Hochul would be there, and he wanted the opportunity to talk to her about the recent closure of the Moriah Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility.

“My first dinner in 20 years and it hits the wire service,” he said.

While the supervisors contracted COVID-19 after the conference, Scozzafava said he wasn’t sure where he picked up the virus. He said he spends a lot of time around people as supervisor, and like Gillilland, he’s managed to avoid catching the virus over the last two years. He said he didn’t get to talk to the governor about Moriah Shock that night in Albany, either.

“Which is probably just as well for her,” he said, “since I might have had COVID at the time.”

The board of supervisors already had its monthly meeting on March 7, though committee meetings were scheduled for this Monday. Gillilland said those meetings weren’t canceled due to the outbreak. Gillilland attended the meetings, though he said he wore a mask because he was still within 10 days of his positive COVID-19 test. Scozzafava said he plans to stay in isolation until Friday and expects to return to meetings next week.

County cases

As masking requirements lift across the country, a new omicron variant — BA. 2 — is spreading statewide. State Health Commissioner Mary Bassett reported at a COVID-19 briefing on Monday that BA. 2 makes up about 42% of all COVID-19 cases in the state. Bassett said that while the new variant is more contagious than previous iterations of the virus, it doesn’t appear to cause more severe illness or evade vaccinations better than other variants.

COVID-19 case numbers reported by the Essex County Health Department on Monday reported 141 new cases found in the county over the last week. That’s an uptick from 71 new cases the week before. The health department also reported one new COVID-19-related death in the county on Monday.

Bassett said it’s “no surprise” that cases are climbing as pandemic-related restrictions are falling. However, Bassett said health officials don’t expect to see a “steep surge” in cases in New York from the new variant, which she said has shown less growth and dominance here than in the U.K. and European countries.

Gillilland said he’s spoken with the Essex County Health Department about the new variant and how it might affect countywide safety regulations related to COVID-19. Right now, he said, the county is keeping a close watch on the variant.

“I think in another week or so we’ll find out if this is taking off on us,” he said.

Gillilland advised people in Essex County to stay vigilant about the pandemic.

“Everybody should be very aware that this thing is still there, and when it hits you, it’s something that you never want to have happen again,” he said.

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