BETHLEHEM — Town buildings will be closed to the public for the rest of the month, effective Tuesday, March 17 in an attempt to curb the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
As of today, Albany County Executive Dan McCoy said there are 25 cases in the county but none have been confirmed in Bethlehem. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday, March 16 that town governments must reduce their workforces by 50 percent through the end of the month and according to the town of Bethlehem’s website, all town meetings, hearings and programs are canceled too.
Town Supervisor David VanLuven said, “I completely agree with Cuomo’s decision and thought it was wise to really stop the spread of this terrible virus.” He, however, said the town “can’t just shut down” completely as critical services — including police protection, clean water delivery, sewage management and caring for seniors — are still needed to cater to residents.
He also said not all town employees can work from home as they either do not own laptops or their nature of work requires them to work in town buildings.
“We’ve scaled back most of our public works and highway operations although some essential highway personnel are still working,” he said. “People are still running the water and sewer treatment plants and we have a crew on call in case of a water main break — these are all vital operations in town.”
More examples VanLuven offered were that Senior Services and the Assessor’s Office are still operational.
Regarding the former, he said, “We have staff all this week to help get food out of the food pantry. People can’t come in like normal to pick up food but instead can call in to say what they want and schedule when staff or volunteers can bring the food to their doors, so hungry families can still get food.” However, senior transportation has been shut down except for one resident that relies on it to get to their dialysis appointments, he noted, and a vehicle is being disinfected and assigned a driver.
For more information, visit www.townofbethlehem.org/145/Senior-Services.
Spotlight News is working on a separate story this week on Senior Services’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic at the local level.
VanLuven brought up that town buildings and facilities are continually being disinfected and essential town employees must maintain space while working. He said the transition to send many town employees to work from home, close town buildings to the public and operate them with limited essential staff went “fairly smoothly because the department heads have been thoughtful, strategic and creative in finding solutions to keep things going with a reduced workforce. We’ve been preparing for this for over a week now.”
He added that town employees working from home are still being paid, are on standby, on-call and expected to come in if something happens though; he does not anticipate any town employee to lose their job amid the pandemic.
While Colonie declared a state of emergency on Monday, March 16, VanLuven said he has no plans to declare a state of emergency in Bethlehem in the near future. “This is all completely uncharted territory and it’s a difficult time but I’ve been so impressed with our department heads, staff, services and residents,” he concluded. “People are rising to the occasion like they always do. It’s inspiring and I’m so proud.”
For more information, visit the town’s designated COVID-19 information page at www.townofbethlehem.org/873/COVID-19, CDC’s website at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html, state Department of Health’s website at www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/coronavirus or county Department of Health’s website at www.albanycounty.com/departments/health/2019-novel-coronavirus.