SARATOGA - Upstate New York is further along in terms of reopening the economy than parts of downstate, more testing of upstate residents is needed, and the federal government should play a role in acquiring testing supplies, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik said on a Friday conference call with reporters.
“I believe (reopening) needs to be a regional approach. You need to balance the needs of public health as well as the economic needs. From my perspective different parts of the state and different parts of the country are in different circumstances,” said Stefanik, who represents New York's 21st District in the House of Representatives. The New York district borders Vermont to the east and Canada to the north and covers rural northern regions as well as Warren and Washington Counties and parts of Saratoga County.
“There’s going to be a lot of data to look at between now and then. Different parts of New York are in different phases. We have not seen the percentage of positive cases (upstate) that we’ve seen downstate. That also is taking into consideration the lower number of tests,” said Stefanik, who earlier this week was named by The White House to serve on a bipartisan Task Force on Reopening the Economy, focused on restarting the economy after the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic is contained. “I think we are further along in terms of reopening the economy than parts of downstate.”
However, Stefanik stressed there needs to be a greater amount of COVID-19 testing upstate. “We should not be under-tested compared to downstate.”
Approximately 3,000 Saratoga County residents – about 1.3% of the county population – has been tested for the virus, with 7.7% of those testing positive. A smaller percentage of residents in Warren and Washington County have been tested, while the percentage of residents living in downstate hotspots such as Queens, Dutchess, and Westchester counties are twice or three times greater. Statewide, about 550,000 tests have been administered. New York counts just over 19 million residents. It is not known how many residents may have been administered a test multiple times.
Stefanik wouldn’t say specifically what percentage of upstate residents ought be tested, deferring instead to county public health experts. “I think our county public health departments will provide important guidance as to what they think that percentage should be. Again, that 1% is less than the 2.5% of all testing form the New York State perspective. We need to balance the economic need and the public health need to make sure we have the capabilities,” she said.
Regarding whether parts of upstate New York with lower rates may be closer to reopening than downstate, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday afternoon that “lower infection rate places, lower death rate places are in a better position than places with a higher death rate, higher infection rate. So yes, calibrating those differences is important.” There was no specific indication when a reopening plan of any kind may potentially begin. The key, Gov. Cuomo said, “to get the economy open wherever you can, as soon as you can, whenever you can.”
In a measure that would seem to echo Gov. Cuomo’s desire, Stefanik said the federal government should take over the acquiring of testing supplies. “I think one of the lessons learned with the PPE’s and the ventilators is you had states competing against one another. We know we need widespread testing across the country. And I do think the federal government should play a role so we’re not rehashing the challenges we had with the PPE’s, where you had not just states competing, but county-to-county competing for the acquisition of those products,” she said.
The needs of upstate are unique compared to the needs of downstate, Stefanik stressed. So too are the varying needs in different communities within the district.
“It’s a real balancing act. What I don’t want is the rules of New York City - somehow those mandates also apply to upstate New York because I think we’re in different circumstances,” she said. “But Saratoga County is also a totally different set of circumstances than St. Lawrence, or Essex County.”
Suggesting a regional approach, rather than a one-size fits all model, Stefanik explained she would recommend a county-by-county influence.
“Even if you look within the county, you have different needs, with Saratoga Springs itself versus Schuylerville, or some of the more rural parts of the county. But I think county governments in partnership with the cities are in the most local position to make those decisions - and they have that county public health expertise to drive it,” she said. “I’d like to see county leadership as part of the governor’s team in making decisions, because they’re obviously connected to the diversity within each county.”