Although Broome County initially remained free of confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) cases as the outbreak began across New York state, local officials are now bracing for the virus’ impact as the county saw its first two cases and one death this week.
On March 19, Broome County Executive Jason Garnar announced that a second case of the COVID-19 has been confirmed within Broome County, just two days after announcing the first. The situation in Broome County escalated shortly after when Garnar announced on March 21 that Broome County sustained its first COVID-19-related death.
The patient’s diagnosis was unknown to the county until after their death at Lourdes Hospital. Officials could not release the patient’s time of death, name of the patient or any other personal information pertaining to the case because of medical privacy practices. However, Garnar said the Broome County Health Department will be getting in touch with anyone who may have come into contact with the individual by investigating who they may have been around while they were in public areas.
Similar protocols will be taken for all confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county, according to Rebecca Kaufman, director of the Broome County Health Department.
“We find out who these people are from friends, families, visitor logs or public statements asking people to come forward if they have been at a location at a certain date or time,” Kaufman said. “At this point, we have not had to make any of those public statements in our investigation, but we will if we need to.”
On March 23, Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger announced that a member of the campus community was diagnosed with COVID-19, bringing the county’s total number of current cases to three.
Prior to the news of a confirmed Broome County COVID-19 case, county officials took numerous precautions to help quell the spread of this disease. On March 14, Garnar declared a local state of emergency. The state of emergency allows officials to quickly access resources to help manage a crisis. It also helps officials seek state or federal funding for disaster response and reimbursement for expenses such as overtime work costs and purchases of necessary supplies and equipment.
“It was probably the most difficult decision I have ever had to make as county executive, but we do believe it is not a matter of if but when,” Garnar said in a press conference on March 14. “We didn’t want to see widespread cases occur and then close the school districts. We really wanted to get out in front of this.”
On March 19, Broome County also implemented several changes to its transit system in response to the disease. Buses will continue to run with some changes, including free bus fares and limited seating per bus to fit in line with social distancing guidelines. Binghamton University announced on March 20 that it would halt Off-Campus College Transport (OCCT) services on March 21.
Many of the counties surrounding Broome County have also reported few confirmed cases of COVID-19. Tioga County has reported a single confirmed case, whereas Chenango County matches Broome with three. Cortland County recently confirmed two cases of the virus with one of the patients being a child under the age of five. All three counties have also announced state of emergencies and effectively closed all district K-12 schools in response to the pandemic.
Updates regarding COVID-19 from Binghamton University will be shared with students, faculty and staff through B-Line and Dateline announcements. Broome County will continue making COVID-19 announcements through its website, gobroomecounty.com.
Editor’s note: This article was updated on March 23 at 12 p.m. to reflect new information regarding a coronavirus case within the BU community.