Pragmatism, which the Cambridge Dictionary defines as “the quality of dealing with a problem in a sensible way that suits the conditions that really exist rather than following fixed theories or rules” is what has been a driving force behind Westchester County’s efforts at guiding the recovery from Covid-19, according to County Executive George Latimer.
“We’ve tried going back to last year and through this year to be very pragmatic in all of the different things that we’ve identified,” Latimer said in response to a question from the Business Journal during a May 27 news conference at the Kensico Dam Plaza in Valhalla. “We look at the function and we determine do we have the capacity to manage it — are we problem-solvers enough that allows us to open a particular facility or close a facility?”
Latimer noted that at Kensico Dam the county normally would have ethnic festivals beginning in May and going into the fall.
“We made the decision as difficult as it is that we could not manage a function like the ethnic festivals effectively,” Latimer said. “Last year, and there was a state regulation as well, we didn’t open Playland. This year that limitation has been lifted so we can open Playland, but I think all throughout it’s been a matter of pragmatism. The golf courses, the bicycle Sunday program, the day camps over the summer, which we’ll get to in the next month, were all opened because we thought we could manage it and avoid a spread.”
Latimer said that the county is bringing back more workers into its buildings as the level of infections from the virus continues to recede and the number of people vaccinated grows, making the policy safer and more practical. At the same time, he noted that the county does not have the authority to tell private businesses what they can and cannot do in the way of resuming normal activities.
“We try to use our authority in an intelligent way as a guideline or a sample. We know that the major corporations of this county — IBM, PepsiCo, Mastercard — don’t need to be told by us what to do,” he said. “They want to keep their people safe and they want to be able to continue to function as a business and they have as many people working remotely as they feel that they can do and still function.”
Latimer pointed out that the county has stepped up to help smaller businesses through grant programs, providing personal protective equipment and providing guidance. He said that the county has not wanted to engage in creating mandates but rather has tried to work cooperatively to help businesses with their needs.
How to enjoy the weekend
Latimer was joined at the news conference by Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins, County Health Commissioner Dr. Sherlita Amler, Assistant Commissioner John DeLucia, Captain James Greer of the Public Safety Department, Parks Commissioner Kathy O’Connor and others. They provided more examples of pragmatism with practical tips and medical advice to help residents plan for a more active Memorial Day weekend and rest of the summer than was possible last year.
Amler warned that as people take to the outdoors over the summer they need to remember not only Covid protocols but basics of protecting themselves from excessive exposure to the sun. She urged using a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 to help protect against sunburn as well as skin cancer. She said when using insect repellent, people should apply sunscreen first to ensure protection against the sun’s ultraviolet rays as well as mosquitoes, ticks and other disease-spreading creatures.
DeLucia said that when cooking outdoors, people need to practice food safety basics including using a cooking thermometer to ensure that food has reached safe internal temperatures such as 165 degrees Fahrenheit for chicken and 160 degrees for beef.
He warned that food normally requiring refrigeration that has been kept outside for more than two hours — or one hour if the air temperature is 90 degrees or higher — should be tossed.
Greer said that county police and park rangers will be working to help make sure Westchester’s parks and roads are safe as people leave their homes this summer in search of enjoyment and more normal experiences in the recovery from Covid. He also said that the county’s Marine Unit will be at work on the Hudson River and Long Island Sound to help ensure water safety.
O’Connor gave a rundown on the opening and operational schedules for the county’s parks, pools and beaches. She also announced an expanded schedule of movies in the parks and live music concerts at Kensico Dam Plaza and Croton Point Park. She advised that full details are available on the county’s website.
Latimer said that the county’s Covid statistics continue to show improvement, with 614 active cases reported as of May 26. He said that one week ago there were 814 cases and two weeks ago there were 1,231 cases. The number of people hospitalized in Westchester with Covid had dropped to 56, down from 76 two weeks ago, while in the last week seven people in Westchester died from the virus.
More than 573,000 Westchester residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine, he noted, and 488,928 residents are fully vaccinated; that represents approximately half of the county’s population, including 72% of those 18 and over.
Latimer issued a reminder that even for those who have been vaccinated, masks still are required on public transportation, in hospitals, nursing homes, correctional facilities, schools and in certain other facilities.
“Private businesses, private venues, may still require masks. That is their option,” Latimer said. “You might go to a restaurant and see a sign, ‘Don’t enter without a mask.’ They can set that rule for their facility and you have to honor that.
“So the advice is for prudent people, we’ve been prudent all this time … if you need to put the mask on you put it on,” he continued. “If you don’t have to wear it, take it off. We are so close to the end of this thing we want to be sure we continue to show diligence so we can be fully free of this stuff. If we go a little bit longer we’ll be across the finish line.”
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