ALBANY — County Executive Dan McCoy will not mandate masks for people visiting public spaces or attending large gatherings, but it is “highly recommended” regardless of vaccination status.
Before Thanksgiving, he said if the numbers continue to spike COVID-19 mandates could be forthcoming. But, despite averaging 185 cases a day in Albany County, with a stretch of four days where new cases topping 200, he said enforcement is all but impossible and mandates upstate would do little good unless it is a regional approach encompassing many different counties.
He commended New York City for implementing restrictions like requiring a vaccine to enter public spaces, but it would not do any good for Albany County to try something like that unless the neighboring counties follow suit.
“New York City is contained. If I do certain restrictions are you going to shop here or go to a restaurant here or are you going to go somewhere with less restrictions. “We have protocols in place and I don’t see that changing. We don’t want to do mandates but we hope this will get people to look at COVID again and do the right thing. To wear a mask when out, to cough in my arm and to keep six feet apart.”
He made the announcement, or a non-announcement, during a joint press conference with Schenectady County Manager Rory Flurman on Tuesday, Dec. 7. Noticeably absent were representatives from the other six counties in the Capital District region — Rensselaer, Saratoga, Washington, Warren, Columbia and Greene.
“When we first started with COVID it was test, track and isolate. The minute the vaccine hit, it was a game changer. Our public health departments are so busy with those efforts, to circle back and mandate an individual to wear masks it is analogous to the travel restrictions when we were responsible for telling people to not travel to another state or travel to another county,” Fluman said. “It was nearly impossible to execute that. We relied on the public stage to encourage people to not do those things.”
In Albany County there is a mask mandate for all county owned buildings and a number of business require masks for anyone not vaccinated. There is no official enforcement policy in place, however, and more restrictions would all but be impossible to enforce, McCoy said.
Since Thanksgiving, there have been 1,869 new COVID-19 cases in Albany County with 85 new hospitalizations and 14 deaths attributed to COVID. Over the same time last year, there were 1,553 new cases, 146 new hospitalizations and 21 deaths.
“There were more infections in 2021 but fewer hospitalizations and deaths and you can attribute that to people getting vaccines and booster shots,” McCoy said. “But people ask why there are more infections and it’s because nobody is wearing a mask and nobody is staying six feet apart. “A vaccine will not guarantee you will not get sick but it will help prevent you from having to go into the hospital and it will prevent death.”
He said hospitalizations are the key and recently a number of hospitals in the Capital District and beyond have limited elected surgeries to reserve space for COVID patients. As of Tuesday, there were 52 Albany County residents hospitalized, an increase of eight since Monday, with 11 in the ICU, an increase of four since Monday.
Of the 52 currently hospitalized, 69 percent are not vaccinated, 2 percent are partially vaccinated and 20 percent are fully vaccinated. Of the 22 county residents who died of COVID in November, 59 percent were not vaccinated and 41 percent were fully vaccinated.
From Monday to Tuesday, a man in his 40 died of COVID bringing the county death toll to 454 since the pandemic took hold in March, 2020.