Mayor urges public to use state's COVID testing sites

Shweta Karikehalli | The Daily StarThe Oneonta Common Council's online meeting is shown Tuesday.

Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig urged the community to schedule rapid COVID-19 tests that will become available Wednesday, Sept. 2, before testing ends on Saturday, Sept. 5. 

Speaking at a virtual Common Council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 1, Herzig said 245 SUNY Oneonta students have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Tuesday afternoon, with that number expected to go up as testing continues, Herzig said. 

There is currently no indication that the spread has moved from the college community to the general population, he said. Only one person who isn’t a student tested positive in the past week. 

It’s important to have the data to back up this assumption, he said. 

“All indications are good that we caught this in time,” he said. “This testing will allow us to try and confirm that. We will test thousands of people in the general population, the more people we test, the better. If the percentage is low, that confirms our belief that we caught it on time and it didn't transmit from the student population to the general population. If the percentage is high, we know we have a bigger problem.”

As of now, there will only be four days of testing because resources are already stretched thin from another outbreak in western New York. However, Herzig said he’s advocated for more days and was told that all attempts will be made to extend the testing period if the demand isn’t met by Saturday. 

Earlier Monday, following a surge of COVID cases among SUNY Oneonta students, the state announced rapid response testing sites, starting Wednesday, Sept. 2, at three locations in Oneonta:

• Oneonta Armory, 4 Academy St.

• Foothills Performing Arts and Civic Center, 24 Market St. 

• St. James' Episcopal Church, 305 Main St. 

Testing is by appointment only; call 833-NYSTRNG (833-697-8764) to schedule. Results come out within 15 minutes and the testing is open to residents, people who work in Oneonta, students or other community members. 

SUNY Oneonta students living on campus have been restricted to their dorm rooms for at least the next two weeks with meals being delivered to them, Herzig said. Sunday, Aug. 30, SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras suspended in-person instruction for at least two weeks after 105 positive cases were reported since classes began Monday, Aug. 24.

Oneonta Police Chief Doug Brenner said the Otsego County Health Department has asked OPD to check the houses of everyone in quarantine — students and city residents — to make sure they’re not leaving and that people aren’t going in and out. 

“They’re not asking us to knock on doors, which is a good thing because I really don’t think that’s up to us,” Brenner said. “If we notice violations, we inform them, and they take action from there.”

This patrolling will begin once the health department compiles a list to send to OPD, Brenner said. 

Fourth Ward Council Member Kaytee Lipari Shue said she’s been fielding a lot of questions from her ward that she’s not yet equipped to answer. 

She asked the council to consider a number of recommendations including mask ordinance, a curfew, capping indoor gatherings more than state recommendations, a request to the New York State Liquor Authority to limit the sale of large quantities of alcohol, and the role of landlords, “who, during a public health crisis, were unable and/or unwilling to allow students to break their lease agreements, whether or not SUNY Oneonta held classes this fall.”

“I think that as a body we need to be doing something and not just talking about it,” she said. “I appreciate you all entertaining the things I just put forward and I would be thrilled to hear any suggestions you have to help us mitigate what is really a crisis in my neighborhood of fear and confusion.”

Third Ward Council Member David Rissberger will research the mask ordinance and bring it to the legislative committee meeting next week. He will also contact the State Liquor Authority to find out the feasibility of limiting alcohol sale as Lipari Shue described. 

In other business, the Common Council:

• The council passed a resolution recognizing the Cooperstown, Oneonta, Otsego County Film Partnership, Inc. as the official film commission office for the city of Oneonta.

• Authorized the Director of Finance to accept a $16,080 gift from the Future for Oneonta Foundation and the Otsego Chamber of Commerce for purchase of two large welcome signs.

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