WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Westchester County Executive George Latimer on Tuesday provided an update on the work his team and local municipalities are doing to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
Latimer echoed many of the statements Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made over the last few days, particularly on the growing debate of the balance between health and getting people back to work, stating the county’s first job is to save as many lives as possible, while looking at the long-term picture of getting businesses back on their feet.
“We don’t know if we’ve seen the worst yet of this contagion,” Latimer said. “It’s very important to realize we cannot solve the wealth problem if we go back too soon.”
“We are a compassionate society. We don’t believe in disposable people,” the executive added.
Latimer said there are currently 3,891 positive cases in the county, which is the second most in the state behind New York City. However, Latimer cautioned that the higher numbers are likely due to aggressive testing.
“This county has had more per capita testing for COVID-19, to my understanding, than any county in the United States of America,” Latimer said.
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New Rochelle, the epicenter of the outbreak in Westchester, continues to have the most, with 225. Latimer said the index case, the man in his 50s who was the first person to test positive in the county, is making strides in his recovery and is no longer on a ventilator.
Yonkers has 191 cases, followed by Greenburgh (115), Mount Vernon (81), White Plains (65), Port Chester (45), and Scarsdale (38).
Eastchester (35), Ossining (35), Mount Pleasant (30), and Yorktown (30) round out the top 10 communities with the most positive cases.
The village of Buchanan, located in the northwestern part of the county, is the only municipality without a confirmed case, Latimer said.
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The executive said his hope is to have testing sites in all corners of the county soon, joining existing ones at Glen Island in New Rochelle and at Westchester Medical Center. Latimer identified St. John’s in Yonkers as a hospital that could come on-line soon, and added he has has identified the parking lots at Playland Park in Rye and FDR Park in Yorktown, among others, as places where testing sites or mobile hospitals could be stationed.
“These are decisions that are in the hands of the state,” Latimer said.
The county is also conducting in-home testing.
“These nurses are day after day after day applying tests in homes. They are fatigued at the end of the day,” Latimer said. “They put themselves in contact with this disease. They protect themselves as best as they can and one little mistake and they may catch this disease. They are really doing us a public service we cannot calculate.”
Latimer said the expectation is there will be a surge in seriously ill people in 14-21 days, adding under normal conditions Westchester has 3,017 hospital beds, including 160 Intensive Care Unit beds. He said if the surge does happen as predicted, the county won’t have enough beds, which is why he will continue to look for help from the state and federal government. Latimer also said the county will not turn away potential patients in neighboring regions.
“We don’t set up barriers at our borders. If we see our brothers and sisters in Rockland County are ill and they don’t have sufficient beds and we have sufficient beds, then those people are going to be here. If we have people in the Bronx that can’t get sufficient beds, they are going to be here,” Latimer said. “We are going to do what we can to save lives wherever we find them. I think it’s important to understand that’s what the surge is about … When we talk about the battle between health and wealth, they’re both are very important, but this economy will not rebound if we have massive loss of life.”
As for the damage the outbreak is doing to the local economy, Latimer said he has been speaking with the state and businesses and that a plan is being formulated. He asked Westchester residents in the interim to order take-out as a way to support eateries that are struggling.
“The bottom line is there are many businesses that are just hanging on by a thread. If you can take-out on Tuesday, and Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, if it’s appropriate to your lifestyle, I urge to do so. Help these businesses,” Latimer said.
One complaint that has surfaced in recent days has centered around Westchester’s decision to keep its public golf courses open, even though private clubs are closed. Latimer said for now the courses will remain open. He said the reason is the nature of golf is more conducive to social distancing, and if by keeping the courses open he can help alleviate some of the stress residents are feeling, he will continue to do so.
“The functional reality of golf is it is not a contact sport … an individual reacts on his own and her own and the people they are competing against act within their own sphere,” Latimer said, adding he wants golfers to practice social distancing as much as possible at the tee box.