By Gwendolyn Craig
One of a number of forest rangers from the Adirondack Park, deployed downstate to assist with the coronavirus response, has tested positive for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus. The news came Tuesday, the same day Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he will be asking upstate hospitals to send staff downstate.
Scott van Laer, a ranger with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and union spokesman, said Tuesday that the ranger is quarantined and doing well.
About a quarter of the ranger force in the Adirondacks have been deployed downstate, van Laer said, including two rangers from the High Peaks region. Van Laer declined to give more information about the ranger who tested positive, in order to protect his identity.
“I can say that this, we expect more of this,” van Laer said. “It’s not just with the forest rangers. It’s ECO’s (environmental conservation officers) have positives. It’s not unique to the forest rangers. This is happening to all the first responders down there.”
Rangers were deployed to assist with the state’s Incident Management Team, helping track resources and using command system skills they acquire for wildfire responses. Van Laer said the rangers do not administer tests for the coronavirus.
“Everybody who’s been there has felt good about the state’s response,” van Laer added.
Up in the North Country with fewer staff, van Laer said the state has given rangers new “guidance and protocols for how to execute a search or provide medical care to someone in the back country, based on the current situation.”
Public traffic in the High Peaks appears normal, he added. Van Laer said he’s seeing a few more New Yorkers than usual, but the shut down of the Canadian border to nonessential travel has lightened the visitor load.
“I think that’s really kind of saving us from an onslaught,” van Laer said.
In the southern Adirondacks, particularly in Warren and Hamilton counties, van Laer said his colleagues are seeing crowds at this time of year like never before.
The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation released social distancing measures on Monday, for visiting parks and state lands. They include:
- Stay local and keep visits short;
- Visit in small groups limited to immediate household members;
- Maintain distance from others while in places where people tend to congregate, such as parking lots, trailheads, and scenic overlooks;
- Avoid games and activities that require close contact, such as basketball, football, or soccer;
- Avoid playground equipment like slides and swings and other frequently touched surfaces;
- Do not share equipment, such as bicycles, helmets, balls, or Frisbees;
- If you arrive at a park and crowds are forming, choose a different park, a different trail, or return another time/day to visit; and
- If parking lots are full, please do not park along roadsides or other undesignated areas. To protect your safety and that of others, please choose a different area to visit, or return another time or day when parking is available.
As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise, Cuomo said during his daily press conference in Albany that the state would be asking upstate hospitals to send some of their medical staff to New York City hospitals. The effort will be conducted by the state Department of Health.
New York City is the epicenter of the state and country’s coronavirus cases. Should hospitals become overloaded with patients, the state plans to send patients to the North Country. Should the North Country become overloaded, patients will be transferred to western New York, then central New York, then back to downstate.
In a powerpoint presentation, Cuomo presented the state’s latest coronavirus numbers. As of Tuesday, 1,550 people have died from the coronavirus. Nearly 11,000 people have been hospitalized and about 2,700 of those are in intensive care. New York has a total of 75,795 positive coronavirus cases of about 205,000 people tested. Nearly 5,000 people who were hospitalized have been discharged.