BETHLEHEM — Town Supervisor David VanLuven declared a state of emergency on Thursday, March 19, and town buildings are closed to the public for the rest of the month, amid growing concerns of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The state of emergency remains enacted until a future order rescinds it. VanLuven wrote, “I hereby direct all departments and agencies of the Town of Bethlehem to take whatever steps necessary to protect life and property, public infrastructure, and provide such emergency assistance as is deemed necessary.” To view the full declaration, see at the end of this article.
According to the town website, all town meetings, hearings and programs are canceled too.
As of Sunday, March 22, Albany County Executive Dan McCoy said there are 115 cases in the county. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last week that town governments must reduce their workforces by 50 percent through the end of the month and 100 percent of non-essential workers in New York state businesses must stay home.
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 [last] 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.
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.
“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,” VanLuven 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.