By Brian Zhang
In his weekly briefing Monday evening, County Executive George Latimer announced the Westchester County Department of Environmental Facilities is partnering with the City University of New York (CUNY) to study the wastewater at county treatment plants to better understand the impact of COVID-19. Latimer said the analysis could help in identifying hotspots before seeing a spike in Coronavirus cases.
“It is a wastewater treatment study to determine the incidence of COVID-19 in our wastewater,” Latimer explained. “What it is going through the sewage that’s generated by all of us. And there are ways to test that output from a community to determine what the incidence of COVID infection is and to identify and then address some of those areas.”
Latimer mentioned that this technology has been helpful in Europe and has now come to the United States.
“It’s another valuable tool in our toolkit, Latimer said, “Everything we’re doing anticipates that we’ll get a vaccine at some point, but until we have it, we don’t have direct tools that we can use to fight this disease. So, we use every other thing we can think of to be helpful.”
In other news, the County Executive expressed that there may be some hurdles in the near future with elections amid the pandemic.
“Come this November with the presidential race, which is always the greatest turnout race in any four-year cycle, we face some very significant concerns about making sure that we have a smoothly run election,” he stated.
The county has already faced some difficulties in the June primary elections as school board elections and others were forced to be moved because of the pandemic.
“So, knowing that we had a difficult time in June, for a number of different reasons, some of which were outside of our control and some of which we can refine by the way we operate ourselves, we made an offer to the Board of Elections of different actions the county administration would take that we thought would be helpful,” Latimer said.
The offer from the County Executive is a “four-point offer.” The first one he introduced would be helping with poll locations in the upcoming election.
“We offered to help the Board of Elections recruit additional polling place inspectors by working through that portion of the county workforce that will be not working on Election Day and therefore eligible to be poll inspectors,” saif Latimer.
He explained that there aren’t going to be as many poll inspectors because of the advanced age and fear of COVID-19. Latimer is also offering replacement polling sites, as some of the usual ones will be not accessible during the pandemic, such as those inside nursing homes and senior apartment buildings. He has offered to gather a bipartisan team to work with the County Board of Elections to help identify and secure alternate polling locations for November. Latimer also offered to help develop a marketing plan to promote early voting.
“We’ve had early voting in elections now in 2019, in the November elections, and then in the primaries of 2020 in June. Early voting has been embraced in Westchester County. We were the third most populated number of votes for early voting, and we’re probably about the eighth largest county. So, we outperformed a number of other countries that are much larger than we are in the state, and, as a percentage of turnout, highest in the state,” Latimer stated, “However, we can do better.”
He said the County is also prepared to assist with having temporary staffing to make sure that requests for absentee ballots, and then the ballots themselves, get mailed out in a sufficient time frame so that everybody has it well enough before the election.
“We’re going to try to be helpful, so when the November 3 election comes by, there will be the best possible result,” said Latimer
In the fifth month of quarantine, they continue to oscillate but the trend is the steady decline. According to Latimer on Monday, there are now 472 active cases of Coronavirus and there have been four straight nights without a fatality, a first to happen during the pandemic. There have been 374,827 tests in Westchester, which approaches almost 40% of the county’s population. Under 10% of all people tested have been tested positive, a major decline from its peak at about 30%.
“That’s a good sign,” Latimer noted, “That’s a sign the infection has not roared back and become what it was in March and early April.”
As reiterated time and again in previous briefings, Westchester County Executive George Latimer stressed that individuals must continue to be cautious and thorough. These times involve “individual sacrifice, individual modification…we’re in the heart of the summertime, wearing masks are not pleasant, but necessary. Social distancing: not the way we function as a society normally, but necessary. We have to beat this pandemic, we have to reopen our economy, but we don’t do it by gusting our way through it. We open our economy by prudent actions, public health actions, and we do them diligently and then we prepare for what we hope to be a better tomorrow.”
Brian Zhang, a Byram Hills High School student, is an aspiring journalist, and summer intern for the Inside Press.