By Gwendolyn Craig
The Essex County Board of Supervisors had a message for second home owners and visitors to the Adirondacks on Tuesday: Stay away.
Shaun Gillilland, chairman of the board, said the county is seeing a number of visitors using short-term rentals like Airbnb and Vrbo. Second home owners are also flocking upstate as they seek refuge from the increasing numbers of positive coronavirus cases.
With four already confirmed cases of coronavirus in Essex County, home of Lake Placid’s tourism attractions, Gillilland warned would-be travelers of the worst.
“Essex County is an extremely rural county with only 38,000 residents,” Gillilland wrote in a news release. “We have few hospitals and those that we do have are not capable of handling an increased number of patients.”
Gillilland added that the county has no tests to see if someone has coronavirus. He worried about the strain additional people could have on local grocery stores.
“As a vaccine does not exist, we have no capacity to test, our hospitals are small and incapable of handling additional influx and our stores and infrastructure are incapable of providing supplies to a larger population, we are asking that you respect the integrity of our hospitals and infrastructure and not travel to Essex County from any area at this time,” the chairman added. “This is in keeping with federal and state mandates that people stay at home and stay put. It is far better for you to stay home and limit your movements.”
Gillilland also asked property owners to stop advertising any short-term rentals they may have.
On Airbnb’s website, the rental platform said it is offering guests full refunds and hosts “no charge cancellations for reservations booked on or before March 14th with a check in date of April 14th or earlier.”
The online platform Vrbo is also advertising help with cancellations due to the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order that went into effect Sunday night, requiring all non-essential businesses to close, or work from home.
Hotels, however, are on the state’s list of essential businesses.
Art Lussi, president of the Lake Placid Vacation Corporation and a member of the Adirondack Park Agency board, said his Crowne Plaza in Lake Placid is closed. It did host a blood drive for the Red Cross on Tuesday.
“We will evaluate week by week as to opening, and all of our hotel guests have departed as of now,” Lussi said in an email. “We have some of our homes and chalets for rent open for doctors and emergency personnel.”
Richard Cambeis II, general manager of Hampton Inn and Suites in Lake Placid, said the hotel is open, but to support essential business in the area. The hotel is running at about 90% lower capacity than usual, and the guests there are mostly people coming to assist with hospitals and nursing homes and state projects like the construction happening at the Olympic Regional Development Authority.
Cambeis said one of his goals was to keep the hotel running to support those essential employees, and keep some of his own staff working.
While the hotel is open to all guests, Cambeis said most people have canceled their trips.
“We certainly are not encouraging leisure travel at this time, due to the governor’s order,” Cambeis added. “We’re obviously monitoring it and as soon as things turn around, and we all get through this, we’ll certainly be here and welcome our guests back with open arms.”
Hotel Saranac in Saranac Lake, posted on its Facebook page that it remained open “for emergency personnel and essential guests only (including military personnel, healthcare workers, parents collecting items from closed colleges, government, travelers, etc.).”
The Sagamore Resort in Bolton Landing on Lake George was closed through May 7, an employee who answered the phone there said on Tuesday.
Essex County’s press release asking visitors to stay away for now came just hours after Gov. Cuomo held a press conference with “not encouraging” news from the Javits Center in New York City.
Sounding much more agitated than in the days before, Cuomo said the rate of positive coronavirus infections in the state is doubling every three days. What was originally described as looking at a “freight train,” is “now looking at a bullet train because the numbers are going up that quickly,” he said.
The tipping point of cases is expected to come in two to three weeks, and Cuomo and state officials have mandated that all hospitals increase their bed capacity by 50%. New York has the largest number of cases in the United States with 25,665 as of Tuesday morning, with 4,790 new cases since Monday. Of those, 3,254 have been hospitalized, and 23% of hospitalizations require intensive care unit beds.
And there’s the problem.
Based on the projected hospitalization rate, the state is short thousands of ventilators, a machine hooked up to intensive care unit hospital beds that helps people breathe. Coronavirus is a respiratory illness. Cuomo said states and countries all over the world are shopping for ventilators.
Cuomo called on President Donald Trump’s administration to release 20,000 ventilators it has in its reserves to help New York, considering it’s the first to see this number of cases.
“New York is the canary in the coal mine,” Cuomo said. “After the curve breaks in New York, let’s all rush to whoever is second, and third.”
Then, appearing to address the whole country, Cuomo said, “We are your future, and what we do here will chart the course for what we do in your city and in your community. I’m not asking you to help New York just to help New York. I’m asking you to help New York to help yourselves.”