It’s hard to believe we have been living in a pandemic for over a year. March 2020 marked the beginning of our collective awareness about COVID-19 and the gravity of the impact it would have around the world and here in New York. The past year has been a true test of both our individual and collective resilience — despite innumerable challenges and incalculable loss, there is much we have all learned and gained. I know now more than ever that we have strong foundations in our community from which we can grow and build as we move forward.
In the beginning of March one year ago, our County’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was activated, and we initiated the planning and coordination for a pandemic response. County employees began getting re-deployed to the EOC. Tompkins County was prepared to be adaptable and flexible; across our entire government organization, people stepped up and adapted to the changing environment. Alongside the County’s efforts, local businesses, higher education institutions, schools, and other organizations began their conversations and planning efforts. We had no idea of the magnitude of what lay ahead.
Following the announcement of the local emergency and closing of schools, our community members, especially those with school-age children, had a matter of days to situate their families and adjust to this new norm while trying to stay safe amidst understandable fear and confusion. My own family has three school age children. We have gone through all the ups and downs of remote learning, quarantine, schools closing and opening. It has tested our patience as parents in many ways but also brought us closer together.
We all paused to watch as COVID-19 swept across our nation and battered New York City. As we feared the worst, we worked hard to keep one another safe in our community. Every mask worn, test taken, and 6 feet of distance kept helped to stop the spread and keep our numbers relatively low and to save the lives of our neighbors.
I want to take a moment to reflect on some milestones we have gone through together:
• On Sunday, March 22, all non-essential businesses statewide closed when "New York State on PAUSE" went into effect. Our business community has weathered unpredictable storms by adapting, innovating, and showing remarkable resilience.
• One of the first mass sampling sites in the State was opened by Cayuga Health on March 24, 2020. Cayuga Health has been a leader and partner, having administered nearly 1 million COVID-19 tests (more than some entire states in the U.S.) to date.
• On April 15, 2020, New York State issued a mask mandate. Our community has done a remarkable job of following proven public health methods to stop the spread and keep one another safe.
• Following State guidance, we began reopening our community in intermittent phases throughout the summer and fall of 2020. There are still parts of our community left to reopen, and we look forward to all being able to gather together in the spaces we are used to as we continue to reopen.
• Tompkins County received our first doses of COVID-19 vaccine for health care workers and nursing home residents in December 2020.
• Cayuga Health opened a mass vaccination clinic at the Old Sears building on January 6, 2021. We will surpass 25,000 vaccine first doses administered in the coming days.
Thirty of our residents in Tompkins County have passed away from COVID-19. Each death in our community has been a tragedy and we grieve for each loss. It is on all of us to help prevent future tragedies by continuing to do what we know works, and get vaccinated when each of us are able.
Amidst challenge and loss we’ve had many successes and proven that public health preparedness and methods work. Each time we’ve seen a spike in cases, we’ve been able to flatten the curve and bring numbers down through case investigations, ample testing, clear communication, and taking care of one another. Our County has been fortunate to have a supportive Legislature willing to provide the human and financial resources to have a robust and consistent response. Incredible partnerships with Cayuga Health System, local colleges and schools, not-for-profits, and many others have propelled us forward and helped make our community a model for others.
During this year, we have each learned about ourselves, how we cope, how we interact with others in new and different ways, and how we are creative and resilient in the face of adversity and barriers. Building on all that we’ve learned, we have a unique opportunity for collective recovery and the tools to help us come out the other side of this pandemic a more compassionate and connected community. It will take all of us continuing to care and look out for one another the way we have for the past year.
While this is an important moment to reflect, the pandemic is not over yet. We must vaccinate at least 75% of our population, about 75,000 Tompkins County residents. If you have the technology and ability to navigate the registration process, please assist others who are currently eligible to sign up on our vaccine registry and sign up for a vaccination appointment when they are available. Thank you to the many volunteers doing this and other critical work to support their friends, family, and neighbors throughout the pandemic.
A sincere thank you is owed to our community for listening and taking guidance seriously, caring for and checking in on each other, and adapting to a very challenging situation. We've come a long way and faced challenges we never could have predicted, but we are on the right path to recovery and moving forward, together.