By MIKE LYNCH
After the North Country confirmed its first two cases of novel coronavirus this week, the state Department of Environmental Conservation encouraged people to keep enjoying the Adirondack Forest Preserve and other parks– but to follow guidelines for preventing the disease’s spread.
Those include staying at least 6 feet away from others; avoiding busy trailheads; avoiding contact such as shaking hands; washing hands often; and avoiding surfaces that are frequently touched, such as doorknobs and playground equipment.
The department suggested recreationists look on its website to find “a location near you,” and others suggested staying relatively close to home.
“The general message that we have heard is it’s OK to go out and hike, just avoid the long travel and groups and be smart about it,” said Adirondack Mountain Club Communications Director Ben Brousseau.
The approaching summer hiking and vacation season may test these strategies, as the governor on Tuesday predicted the state’s outbreak won’t peak until May.
The ADK has closed its facilities until April 30, but has kept its trailheads open at the recommendation of the DEC. Brouseaau said the number of hikers is declining but there were some last weekend, including visitors from New York City and Westchester County, both centers of the state’s outbreak. He said that people coming from those areas was “concerning” and that “traveling six hours to hike defeats the purposes of defeating the pandemic.”
“Our biggest concern is people are going to keep traveling,” he said.
The Mountaineer outdoor shop in Keene Valley, in announcing that it is closing indefinitely, echoed that sentiment.
“We would ask that all patrons and long-time loyal customers heed calls to minimize unnecessary travel during this heightened period of risk & uncertainty. These are unprecedented times. Be patient, stay put, and stay safe. The mountains will be here,” the shop’s staff said in a news release.
The Regional Office of Sustainability already has announced it has stopped marketing the Adirondacks in an effort to not drawn tourists and possible cases of coronavirus to the Adirondacks.
And one popular social media group, Adirondack Backcountry Hikers, is urging people to simply stay home so as not to spread the virus.
But the DEC did say that spending time outdoors is healthy.
“During the current COVID-19 public health crisis, getting outdoors and connecting with nature is a way to help maintain our mental and physical health,” the department said in a statement released Tuesday. “Scientific studies show that time outside in nature, especially among trees, significantly reduces stress and anxiety, lowers blood pressure, improves mood, energy, and sleep, and boosts the immune system. “
First cases in the North Country
The first cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the North Country.
The Clinton County Health Department confirmed a case, Monday and Adirondack Health announced Tuesday that an Essex County resident tested positive.
An Adirondack Health press release said the resident showed up at Adirondack Medical Center’s Saranac Lake emergency room on Friday and was tested and discharged.
“We have been preparing for a positive COVID-19 test for months,” Adirondack Health president and CEO Sylvia Getman said in a statement. “I’m pleased to report that the personal protective equipment and contact protocols were followed, and we did not identify any exposure to the Adirondack Health staff who rendered care.”
The news comes as events continue to be canceled and businesses continued to close or adapt their services throughout the North Country.
No new restrictions announced Tuesday
After shutting down schools, bars, restaurants and gyms on Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that he would not be announcing any more new rules on Tuesday, but he that more could be coming.
“I said to the local officials and I want to say to the people of the state of New York, if you are upset by what we have done, be upset at me,” Cuomo said at an Albany press conference on the coronavirus.
After running models with staff and crunching the latest numbers, Cuomo said the expected peak for coronavirus cases in New York will be in about 45 days. The state has a hospital bed capacity of 53,000 beds, but Cuomo warned projections show the state will need as many of 55,000 to 110,000 hospital beds. Cuomo called the numbers “daunting.”
Hospital administrators from across the state are meeting on Tuesday to discuss their maximum capacities, should the state Department of Health’s regulations be set aside. State and hospital officials will also be reaching out to retired staff and waiving certain licensing requirements to ensure enough coverage.
New York has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the United States. There have been 12 deaths from the virus in New York, and the state’s hospitalization rate is at 19%.
Cuomo said he has been in contact with President Donald Trump and was confident the federal government would step in to help.
“I am telling you, this government cannot meet this crisis without the resources and capacity of the federal government,” Cuomo said. “I spoke to the president this morning again. He is ready, willing, and able to help. I’ve been speaking with members of his staff late last night, early this morning. We need their help, especially on the hospital capacity issue.”
Explorer reporter Gwendolyn Craig contributed to this report.