As the coronavirus wreaks havoc across 40 states, New Yorkers, who already bore the brunt of the viral storm earlier this year, are bracing for a potential second wave from the South and West. Governor Andrew Cuomo has been warning about this for two weeks as the numbers in the Empire State are held at bay.
New York has seen approximately nine deaths per day from the coronavirus during July. The state is on track to have fewer than 300 deaths this month compared to 846 deaths in June, 4,545 deaths in May and 19,876 in April. All tolled that’s more than 25,500 deaths over a four-month period.
“I want all New Yorkers to be on high alert,” Cuomo says every chance he’s in front of an audience. “The virus is spreading all across the country. It’s getting worse. It will have an effect on New York. We cannot stop the virus at our borders. We’re trying everything we can. We have quarantines. We have done a very good job at all the airports. The virus will get across the border.”
That point worries Sullivan County officials with a high transient summer population. During the summer months the heart of the Jewish community moves from Brooklyn to Sullivan County’s Catskills Mountains.
“People coming here from other parts of the country are a bigger worry for us at this point,” Sullivan County Manager Josh Potosek told The Jewish Press. “I see a lot of license plates from all over just coming here to go to the country from Tennessee down south. You see a lot of people traveling. Our region has attracted people from all over the Eastern seaboard into the Ohio Valley. You see a lot of people coming here.”
Driving across the country to Sullivan County won’t get you pulled over by law enforcement.
“There are free borders,” Potosek said. “The governor made that pretty clear. We’re not restricting travel. What you’ve seen is that people have to give contact information at the airports. If you’re driving a car we don’t have police checks at borders. Anyone can come.”
Potosek says his county mirrors what is happening statewide. Sullivan County has a year-round population of approximately 76,000 residents.
County health officials report they have monitored 5,000 county residents since March and have had approximately 1,450 residents infected with the virus with only 48 deaths due to the virus. There are currently 10 active cases being monitored in the county. One case was recently found at a camp but health officials, citing privacy concerns, would not disclose the type of camp the coronavirus case came from.
“Our numbers haven’t moved that much at all and have been kind of stable or going down, so I’m not as worried,” Potosek said.
Potosek, 43, says he is confident the numbers will remain low moving forward.
“We are in a better spot now to be able to respond to hotspots because contact tracing is up,” he said. “They’re able to find if someone was at a party or whatever it is and infects a group of people – they’re able to contact trace, isolate and quarantine people so it doesn’t spread like early on. We’re able to put down hotspots pretty quickly even if it does occur. We couldn’t do that in the past.”
Echoing Cuomo’s words, Sullivan County Public Health Director Nancy McGraw warns residents not to get complacent.
“There’s a false sense of security among some folks who think if they have had friends or family members already test positive or even maybe get sick with Covid that somehow if they’ve been exposed that they’re now immune,” McGraw told The Jewish Press. “We don’t know enough about long-term immunity or even short-term immunity. This is a novel virus that researchers are still studying very carefully and it’s still possible that people are getting re-infected. We have evidence of that. There’s a false sense of security that if someone has had it already that they’re not going to get it again. That’s simply not what we’re seeing.”
Potosek said law enforcement in his county amounts to little more than a slap on the wrist.
“It wasn’t that we didn’t want to enforce (the law) but what was the enforcement mechanism?” Potosek asked. “It was hard to point to a law or a regulation that you could cite to hold people accountable, so our position locally has been educational over punitive enforcement. That seems to have worked in over 99% of the cases. Whether it’s a religious (organization) or not, they either didn’t know or they weren’t aware of the ever-changing regulations that come out. (After updating) the organization they come into compliance.”
One of the casualties of the coronavirus pandemic is Camp Gan Israel (CGI). Established in 1956 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the camp did not open for the first time in 64 years. Since 1969 the camp has been located in Parksville, a hamlet in the town of Liberty, Sullivan County. Approximately 450 male campers attend CGI each year. CGI’s sister camp, Camp Emunah, moved from its overnight camp facility in Greenfield Park, Ulster County, to Lake Trout Retreat in Stroudsburg, Penn. in the Pocono Mountains.
“We weren’t able to open the camp (CGI) this year because of the restrictions so the campers went elsewhere and we hope they have a good summer,” Rabbi Avraham Shemtov, chairman of the Agudas Chasidei Chabad, told The Jewish Press. “When you are considering something which has to do with health you can’t allow it to be affected by the financial outcome, the financial conditions. Dina d’malchused dina, the law of the land is the law. If there is any concern whatsoever that forbids that subject of remote danger we have to be very careful.”
Shemtov takes a sad but philosophic view of not being able to open the camp this summer.
“The whole camp to me is a very essential part and privileged moment,” Shemtov, 83, said. “Camp is a special moment, a special part in a kids’ life and precisely because of that you do what you are able to do fully. You stay away when you have to stay away. It pains psychologically, financially and emotionally not to send them to camp. But at the same time just when you are in the camp you feel that you’re doing something special that you’re being guided by the Rebbe. We’re abstaining now because of the law and because of the health aspect. How do you sleep? That is the way we feel the Rebbe’s guidance. The Rebbe’s guidance is Torah, the p’sak and what he did, what he does puts life into them.”
Camp leaders did try to open as a day camp this year instead of an overnight camp, according to an appeal on the camp website, which reads:
“We are working feverishly on all the details of how to make a smooth transition from overnight camp to day camp. It really depends on how many families are interested in order to make it work. The day would start at 10:00 a.m. and end at 9:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and half day on Friday giving the boys a true full day of camp. We would serve the boys three meals a day plus snack. Camp would start on July 6 and run through August 26. It would be for boys in 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th grade. The boys would have a full program of learning classes, a variety of sports and leagues, including swimming, boating, biking, arts and crafts, cook outs even experience a Gan Yisroel color war and lots of in-house entertainment. We are looking into offering bus transportation from three or four central locations in the Catskills area.” The passage was signed by the camp director, Rabbi Yossie Futerfas.
Futerfas refused to comment for this story and referred all inquiries to Shemtov.