With stronger variants of COVID-19 causing a surge in cases, Ulster County is cracking down on indoor mask mandates and re-opening local vaccination spots to encourage residents to get their vaccines.
The county is also working with two local colleges to help get more students vaccinated in the coming weeks.
Ulster County reported 576 active cases of COVID on August 31, raising public concerns about unvaccinated residents and causing an increase in safety protocols.
COVID cases are on the rise due to the easily transmitted delta variant, leading Ulster County’s Commissioner of Health, Dr. Carol Smith, to strongly encourage all residents — regardless of vaccination status — to wear their masks indoors while making it mandatory for county employees and members of the public to wear masks inside county facilities. County Executive Pat Ryan recently signed an Executive Order mandating all Ulster County employees to wear masks indoors effective immediately.
In a recent COVID update from Ryan, he urged every eligible person to get their vaccine if they haven’t done so already, especially with how highly contagious the delta variant is, surpassing all other COVID-19 variants.
“The Delta variant is now the dominant strain here in Ulster County, in New York state, and pretty much across the country,” Ryan said. “Almost 100 percent of the new cases that are being sampled and tested are delta variants, and there’s even growing concerns about additional variants that could emerge from other parts of the world,” he adds.
While local colleges have already begun requiring masks be worn inside campus buildings, some students are questioning if classes will remain in-person or return to a remote setting due to the rise in cases.
“Masks should be required if we are going to stay in person for our classes this semester. I need to use certain school equipment for my major in digital media production; I need to be there physically doing the work,” said Alexander Kandora, a fourth-year student at SUNY New Paltz. “The masks are annoying, but hopefully [they] will reduce the risk of people getting COVID and having to study remotely.”
The general consensus among students is that they do not want to complete their courses from home if too many students and faculty get sick this fall.
“Now that cases are rising due to the delta variant I’m scared we will have to go back to that very isolated time of remote classes,” says Luke Hardwicke, fourth-year student at SUNY New Paltz.
Ulster County has partnered with SUNY New Paltz and SUNY Ulster to urge unvaccinated individuals to receive the vaccine. Vaccination pods will be available on both campuses. Since the Pfizer vaccine has recently received FDA approval, SUNY New Paltz and SUNY Ulster will begin removing unvaccinated students from in-person classes by the beginning of October.
“I think it’s fantastic that they’re offering the vaccine on campus,” says Catie McCreedy, fourth-year student at SUNY New Paltz. “What I think people do not realize is that the virus is mutating and becoming more aggressive because of the individuals who are not getting the vaccine,” she added.
According to a staff member at the SUNY New Paltz Health Center, there was a vaccination pod on campus on Monday, August 30. They will be returning to campus on Sept. 27 to administer the second round of shots for those who need it. Since the vaccination pods are sent through the Department of Health, the vaccines were open to everyone. All SUNY New Paltz students will also have the option to get their vaccine at the Health Center on campus. The college is also mandating routine testing for all vaccinated students every five weeks starting on Sept. 7 to be cleared for classes.
In anticipation of residents needing booster shots eight months after their last dose, Ryan also announced that Ulster County will be reactivating the former Best Buy POD site at the Hudson Valley Mall to give residents another accessible option to receive their shots starting next month. This location has a capacity of 2,500 doses a day with parking for over 300 cars allowing for a larger turnout. There is another new vaccination site located at the Kingston Plaza. between Savonna’s Pizza and Scanlon Cleaners, at 304 Plaza Road #25, Kingston, NY, and the site is open every Friday from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.
In order to get the county’s number of active cases down, it’s necessary to provide residents with options of places to receive their vaccine in addition to mask mandates. Ryan emphasized how important it is that everyone plays their role in keeping the community safe.
“Because too many folks have not been vaccinated yet, we’re all paying the price for that. We’re having to escalate our safety protocols, and I know that’s frustrating to everyone, but unfortunately that’s where we’re at,” Ryan said.