ITHACA, N.Y. — Institutions and business groups around Tompkins County are making preparations as COVID-19, the novel coronavirus continues to spread in the United States, and most recently New York state.

“As a county, we are definitely prepared to handle a situation that might arise,” Health and Human Services Committee Chair, Shawna Black told the Tompkins County legislature Tuesday.

County Administrator Jason Molino reported that county officials, including Public Health Director Frank Kruppa, have been in several meetings with leadership from the county’s three colleges. He will head to Albany on Thursday to meet with county health administrators from across the state.

The colleges have been in close contact with students studying abroad in areas most impacted by the virus including China, Italy, South Korea and Iran. According to a message released earlier this week, Cornell is repatriating all students studying in Italy and setting up quarantine environments where they will have to spend two weeks upon returning to the United States. Most of those students will be relocated to their homes, but a few will be quarantined off-campus in Ithaca. Ithaca College last put out an update on the virus last Thursday. Students at both colleges go on spring break over the next few weeks.

Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce sent a message to local businesses Tuesday with tips and resources to stay open and keep clean amid the coronavirus concerns. The chamber advised businesses to make plans in case supply chains are disrupted and encouraged allowing employees to work remotely if possible.

The chamber also suggested businesses address paid sick leave plans for employees who may feel compelled to come to work, potentially raising the risk of transmitting illnesses to other employees or the public. That message was also pushed in a statement from the Tompkins County Workers Center, a local labor advocacy group, Tuesday.

“We are facing a public and occupational health emergency,” Workers Center Coordinator Pete Meyers said in the release. “Workers who do the right thing and stay home when ill too often face financial hardship or even termination as a result. But now is not the time for business as usual.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday he’s proposing adding a mandate for employers to give paid sick leave into the state budget, which needs to be passed before the end of the month.

That announcement came as Cuomo signed a piece of emergency legislation Tuesday morning, appropriating $40 million in additional funds for facilities, supplies and staff to help combat the virus. The bill came together late Monday night after more than an hour of closed-door debate amongst Democrats. Contention arose over a provision of the bill giving the governor executive powers in case of disaster, in this case, a disease outbreak, though critics contend it could apply more broadly. An original version of the bill would’ve put an end to those powers by 2022, but the final version limits his ability to give directives until April 30, 2021.

Local legislators, Senator Tom O’Mara (R-Big Flats) and Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D-Ithaca) voted in favor of the legislation. Neither returned request for comment.

This week, the federal government is debating an aid package to fund efforts to combat the coronavirus as well. Congress largely rejected the President’s request for $2.5 billion in supplemental aide arguing that number wasn’t large enough. The package from Congress will likely allocate between $7 billion to $8 billion.

Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) and the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of House members, met with Vice President Mike Pence to get an update on the coronavirus Tuesday.

“The American people rightly expect us to rise above partisan politics, unite together, and immediately pass an emergency funding bill to combat this threat to our country and families,” Reed said in a release from the caucus Tuesday.

The supplemental funds from Congress will mostly be directed to the Departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security. HHS Secretary Alex Azar told Roll Call that most of this funding will go to laboratories to stock test kits and increase the speed that they’re tested.

Featured photo courtesy of Radio Alfa

Vaughn Golden

Vaughn Golden is a freelance radio and print reporter covering politics around the southern tier and central New York. He authors the weekly "Capitol Watch" watchdog report on Ithaca's representatives...