County leaders look back on a year of COVID-19 challenges

County leaders look back on a year of COVID-19 challenges

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - When New York shut down last year, county leaders had to balance new state regulations, and slowing the spread of COVID-19.

For Jefferson County Board of Legislators Chairman Scott Gray, summing up the past year isn’t easy.

“Sum it up? A lot of trials and tribulations. There’s been a lot of hills to climb,” Gray said.

Gray has been at the county’s helm since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said a challenge was trying to sow the spread, and keep the area’s economy intact after the statewide shutdown.

To tackle a task like that, Gray said finding cases was key.

“Testing that was the foundation of everything we did through this,” Gray said.

Lewis County Manager Ryan Piche said balancing public and economic health in the community was an obstacle there, too.

I don’t think we were overly tough on businesses. But, I don’t think we were in any way jeopardizing public health either,” Piche said.

In Jefferson County, Clayton saw a spike in cases around the fourth of July weekend.

Lewis County had more than 100 cases from a single gathering at a church near Croghan.

The big uptick in the north country came from the holiday season.

“The minute people relaxed a little bit, our case count went up and it got very serious at that point also,” Gray said.

St. Lawrence started the pandemic with Joe Lightfoot as county legislator chair. He said things went downhill after the area’s first COVID-19 related death.

“Statistically it went through the roof.” Lightfoot said. “We were on some days dealing well over 100 folks who had contracted this disease.”

In January, the county switched to Bill Sheridan as chairman. He said he’s proud of the work both he and Lightfoot have done, but he said the credit isn’t all theirs.

“The credit’s due to the public health department and all the frontline workers,” Sheridan said.

County leaders like Gray said there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and the Jefferson Community College vaccine clinic is an example of that.

“It’s been a long year, but this is the end of the road. This is where the war is won,” Gray said.

With this past year in the rearview, all county leaders are saying it’s too early to take the foot off the gas, but they’re hopeful the vaccine rollout has everyone on the right path to getting past the pandemic.

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