Monday, March 30: Upstate Has Fallen

Yesterday afternoon, Yates County — the last remaining stronghold against the spread of COVID-19 in New York State — finally fell. All 62 counties have now recorded at least one case. Seneca County was reportedly the second-to-last county to report a case (though this is not showing up on state-issued maps, perhaps because the positive was not a county resident?) In more leisurely times, it will be interesting to study the reasons why the shores of Seneca Lake, in the deepest Finger Lakes, were the last to be touched. I’m sure it’s due to spotty testing or the “You can’t get there from here” nature of traveling in the region… but a part of me wants to believe it’s because the lakes are magic.

Yates County is one of many rural vacation destinations that are anxiously warning travelers away while trying not to seem xenophobic:

“We don’t want to say Yates County is not welcoming to outsiders because we are, and we’re dependent on that but right now it’s not the time to come to Yates County,” Flynn said. Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hospital in Penn Yan is Yates County’s only hospital…

Although [Yates and Seneca counties] discourage visitors from coming now, if they do so, Flynn says there’s very little county leaders can do in terms of enforcement.

I’m still annoyed at Cuomo’s dismissiveness of a reporter’s question a few days ago about rural communities’ concerns — and ironically these issues came back to bite him over the weekend. (Would it have been such a huge diversion from his very important other messages to take a few moments and say, “Hey, New Yorkers, please think of our rural New York communities and travel responsibly”?)

Despite early panic, most rural and small-town residents (and visitors) seem to be trying to do their part and react responsibly, but worries remain.

After Cuomo announced nonessential businesses had to be closed, Farmer saw restaurants rebound, at least a little, by offering take-out. But his take on the influx of people to Old Forge has changed day to day, and Thursday, he was worried about it. “Over the weekend, it was the first time our grocery store had been seriously depleted,” Farmer said. The worry grew as some restaurant owners approached him and said they were serving many people they didn’t know. “They were trying to stay in business, trying to stay open for take-out, trying to keep a percentage of their staff working, and they found out they were serving so many people that they had never seen before,” Farmer said. “They don’t know who they are, and they just can’t do it. They can’t, in good conscience, put their staff, their selves and families at that kind of exposure risk. And it’s a really tough call.”

It’s not just a New York problem. The elite and wealthy are “escaping” all over Europe, and these scenes are sure to unfold in the weeks to come in America’s other vacation spots. It also isn’t just a rural problem: college towns all over UNY are having to corral the very kids who help keep their sales tax revenues coming in. Oswego mayor William Barlow:

“We’ve already observed college students who were foolish enough to travel for spring break come back to our community and not practice social distancing by having house parties and other types of large gatherings. We also have students from downstate who have traveled here to seek refuge from the more dense areas experiencing more positive cases… The longer we do not properly social distance, the longer we will have to do it, and that is what people need to realize.”

Sounds like we need some of our own Italian mayor videos.