(WETM) – As the Mayor of the City of Hornell, John Buckley is managing the largest hotspot of COVID-19 in the Twin Tiers. As of 3 p.m. on April 6 there are 33 cases of COVID-19 in the Hornell area and three senior citizens have died.
Buckley says that health officials “haven’t quite put a finger on” why Hornell has become what Steuben County Manager Jack Wheeler called the “epicenter” of the county.
“There’s been a lot of cases in two of our nursing homes,” said Buckley Monday afternoon after Steuben County reported that two residents of the same nursing home have died, one while still in the facility.
“I think some of the numbers that you’ve been seeing recently have come out of the two nursing homes that we have here.”
Buckley says he believes the two most recent deaths involved residents of Hornell Gardens, a “family-owned and operated facility since 1970” that “offers both long-term care and short-term rehabilitation services.”
18 News has reached out to Hornell Gardens, but they declined to comment on the issue.
Elderwood at Hornell tells 18 News that an undisclosed number of residents and three employees have tested positive for the virus.
“It’s just so sad that the virus is preying on our nursing homes and the people that are so vulnerable, and my heart just breaks for them,” said Buckley.
There have been reports of large gatherings and “shopping trips” to local stores in Hornell. Several residents who have tested positive reported visiting the Hornell Walmart, which is across the street from a nursing home.
Buckley says if you do need to visit a store that you should not go with others and, if possible, not bring your children to the store.
After schools were closed across the state, a curfew for minors was implemented by the city to ensure high school age children were not gathering in large groups. While there is currently not a curfew for all residents in Hornell, Buckley says that a meeting with the public safety board is scheduled and that a city-wide curfew is being discussed.
“When you go out it’s not just yourself you have to worry about, you’re endangering other people as well. You may be carrying the virus and you might not be symptomatic yet.”
Another side of the crisis hitting cities like Hornell is the economic impact of “non-essential” businesses having to close indefinitely. Employers and employees alike are waiting to know when their next paycheck will come, but for many it could be months until they can reopen their doors and return to work.
In October 2019 the City of Hornell was a recipient of a $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant. The money, which is controlled by New York State, is designated for public and private projects to update roads and buildings.
Buckley is open to a change on the state level that would allow that money to be used not just for updating physical structures, but keeping businesses open.
“That money could be applied very well to help people here locally. Obviously we have sidewalks would it be nice to redo some of the sidewalks and some of the things downtown? Absolutely, but you know what? We have sidewalks, we can replace those later down the road, but you can’t replace people.”
“These are (unemployment) numbers that the country has never really seen before. This is unlike anything i can compare to in my lifetime, certainly. I think you have to go back to the great depression to find a comparable to something like this.”
The New York Times estimates the national unemployment rate is approximately 13 percent, numbers that haven’t been seen in 80 years.
Buckley said he “would absolutely be welcomed to” New York allowing cities that receive DRI money to use it towards keeping the lights on in businesses.
Hornell has submitted a list of proposed projects to New York for review and that an announcement would come this summer on which projects were approved.
“There was a whole host of different projects out there”, said Buckley, including street work, adding stories to buildings, and updating facade work.
The city submitted projects worth $13-15 million to the state to decide which would be approved.
“If the program stands the way that it was originally intended, we’ll have more projects than we’ll have funds available for, which is a good problem…but just to reiterate, if the state does allow us to access that DRI money and we can apply that to those affected by this pandemic, I think that would be very appropriate… I think our focus should be on people and these projects can be put on hold for sometime.”
While more money would solve a lot of problems, Buckley says the best thing right now is for people to practice social distancing and wash their hands.
“It all comes down to individuals making good choices.”