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‘ONE SENECA’: Unified approach to pandemic response proves effective as 2020 draws to an end

This week we got an update from officials in Seneca County about their efforts to keep the community informed and ready for whatever change comes their way. While a lot of attention has been paid to Governor Andrew Cuomo and evolving expectations out of Albany – local officials have been working overtime to stay ahead.

In Seneca County it all comes down to a collaborative effort between players from impacted industries.


What is ‘One Seneca’?

“One Seneca is an initiative that was developed a few years ago,” Shipley explained. “It’s a collaborative leadership effort to help make our community a better place to live, work, and visit.”

Shipley says the pandemic has turbocharged that effort, bringing in more perspectives into the One Seneca group.

The pandemic has had a profound impact on all parts of life, as Public Health Director Vickie Swinehart understands.

“It’s just changed the way we do business all around,” Swinehart explained. “It’s something that we will never see again in our lifetime, and haven’t seen before. It’s changed the way we do things and as a department we’ve learned so much and changed a lot from the spring.”

“This is human,” Swinehart continued. “All the way around. It affects every person, business, family, and lifestyle. So it’s not something that we can just pigeon hole into a public health crisis.”

She says it’s the entire community’s responsibility to work together.

What’s new with contact tracing and testing?

Swinehart says that it’s been a struggle all along. However, Seneca County has made some significant progress in recent weeks.

“It’s been discouraging to have to send our residents to Monroe or Onondaga counties to get testing. So I’m very pleased that we can start offering that on a widespread basis here,” she said. Free testing will be available through a multi-agency partnership in Ovid on Thursdays and Mondays in Waterloo. “The beauty of this partnership is that you can get a test in Ontario or Yates, who both run different schedules, if you can’t make the Seneca County testing times.” She says that appointments will be necessary across the board for these free tests, but that results will be provided within 24 hours. “This hopefully will relive the burden on urgent care centers and emergency rooms for people who are going to get tested.”

Seneca County partners with Finger Lakes Community Health to expand free COVID-19 testing weekly

What about Christmas and New Years?

Swinehart says the message is the same. “Be smart and be thoughtful,” she explained. “We have seen some kind of surge in our numbers from Thanksgiving, so be very, very thoughtful about who you have contact with at Christmas. It’s got to be a different Christmas celebration.” She says residents need to be mindful of that fact that Livingroom spread is amplified by those who do not show symptoms while carrying COVID-19.


How has the business industry handled change?

While the economic repercussions of the pandemic and spring shutdowns will have a profound impact moving forward – there are a few positives. Bruce Murray, who is chair of the Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors said that the wine industry, as an example, picked up some positive habits that will improve experience moving forward.

“We saw a completely different kind of tasting experience,” he said. Murray owns Boundary Breaks Vineyard. “The changes in the tasting experience led to a really quite pleasant experience for a lot of people. I think the, the quality of the experience of a guest had improved substantially.” To that end, a lot of guests, Murray says, wound up being willing to pay more for greater experience overall. “I think there there’s some long term benefit from having to experiment and and push our level of service and in this direction,” Murray added.

The big question for the tourism industry specifically revolves around events that typically involve a lot of people. Will they continue? Will they change? Those questions remain unanswered. Murray says time will tell.

What about schools? Is the second semester going to be a success?

South Seneca Superintendent Steve Zielinski says there’s a lot of uncertainty connected to the second half of the school year. Staffing remains one of the biggest challenges. “We’re almost in a week-by-week situation,” he explained. “We’re trying to monitor what’s going on around us to make the best decisions with continuing to move forward with the hybrid model.”

Zielinski says the biggest vulnerability that the district has is staffing. As has been the case with a lot of districts – if there aren’t teachers or staff available for buildings – then staying open becomes a challenge. There just comes a point, especially for small districts, sometimes where it isn’t possible to stay open. If you lose six bus drivers, or 10 teachers – you’re done,” he added. “There just aren’t that many substitutes available to keep us going.”



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