News of COVID-19 continues to dominate the news, this week we learned that Ossining has its first confirmed cases of the virus. As we begin to see growing positive cases, and unfortunately deaths, my thoughts are constantly with the families impacted by this virus. Of course, in addition to the spread of this disease happening rapidly, one of the main reasons we have been seeing increased numbers of positive cases is that testing has increased across the State so maybe those who weren't previously identified as positive, now are. This has certainly been an extremely challenging time for not just our own community, but also our state, country, and even the world as a whole. We know that the best way to protect yourself and your neighbors is to practice social distancing and avoid communal surfaces, as well as communal gatherings.
We have been coordinating with State and County officials to address our needs in the community. I have been encouraged by Governor Cuomo and County Executive Latimer’s leadership at this time as they make sound, yet difficult, policy decisions to attempt to contain the spread of this virus. Policies, mandates, and guidance from our State and County partners have been changing by the day, and sometimes even by the hour, as they continue to assess the developing situation and determine what steps need to be taken in response. As you read the rest of my update, please bear in mind that this is an evolving situation and I am doing my best along with my staff to provide the most accurate and most current information as possible. I encourage you to sign up for updates from New York State so you can remain informed with up to date and accurate information. Also, what is published by the State provides Spanish translation resources. As of this afternoon, the latest directive from Governor Cuomo is that all businesses and non-profits reduce their in-person, non-essential workforce to zero and no in person, non-essential gatherings of any size be held. We also learned that evictions for commercial and residential properties are prohibited for 90 days. We are still waiting for the Executive Order relating to today's press conference to be released in writing, at which point we will hopefully have a better understanding about what exactly this means for our community.
The latest guidance we have received regarding municipal staff, is that we should decrease our in-person, workforce to 50% or less. To that end, I have been working closely with our Department Heads to coordinate work from home arrangements or staggered schedules in most Town Departments to ensure the highest degree of safety and security for our staff as possible. Additionally, earlier this week, we announced in collaboration with our partners in the Village of Ossining that all Town and Village offices closed to the public effective this past Tuesday, March 17.
However, even if we aren’t in our usual work locations, or you can’t visit us in person – we are still very much here for you! All offices, with the exception of the Justice Court, remain fully operational. There are many services that are now available online, including dog license renewals, tax payments, FOIL requests, assessment records, and your garbage/recycling schedule (if you live in the unincorporated Town you can even download an app that lets you check your schedule daily on your phone, specific to your address!). If we do not already have a remote solution set up for a specific function, each Department is ready, willing, and able to find a solution to provide all services either via mail, e-mail, or over the phone. Contact information for each department is available on each individual department's page of the Town website. Even though we have experienced changes in our staffing levels at our offices, rest assured, we continue to be available via phone and e-mail. If you have any difficulty contacting a Town department, please contact the Town Supervisor’s office at (914) 762-6001. We are in the process of re-focusing our COVID-19 Resources page to be a dedicated space for residents to access up to date status of Town services, so you can remain informed in real time.
Next Tuesday will be a first for the Town of Ossining, as we have scheduled our first video conferenced Town Board Meeting. This method for public meetings was recently authorized by Governor Cuomo in an Executive Order temporarily modifying laws governing meetings of public bodies in an effort to reduce in-person meetings that could cause the virus to spread. Members of the public will be able to view the meeting live online, or listen by telephone if they choose. Please visit the meeting notice for specific information about how to join. Please note that if you do choose to join via phone to listen in, the host, participants, and attendees will be able to view your telephone number. The meeting will be recorded and posted to the Town's YouTube page later next week.
We also announced this week that all playgrounds, courts, ball fields, dog parks, and gathering areas are closed. Dale Cemetery and Sparta Cemetery are also closed, except for burials. The purpose for this change is to prevent group and team activities in our park, in an effort to slow the spread of Coronavirus. You can continue to enjoy our parks and public spaces for individual activities like walking, hiking, visiting the gravesite of a loved one, or just enjoying the fresh air. You can also continue to drop off Food Scraps at the Cedar Lane Park drop off site, but we encourage you to sign up for the Ossining Composts mailing list so you can remain informed if this needs to change so we can focus on the essential services that the Town provides. These decisions have been made following the leadership in our State government, and new mandates that we do whatever we can to prevent gatherings of any size to mitigate the spread of this illness. Check out this helpful graphic from the National Recreation and Parks Association for guidance on how to still get outside and enjoy our beautiful parks while being smart, safe, and healthy.
We greatly appreciate your patience and understanding as we make difficult decisions during this very challenging time.
These are unprecedented times, but our Ossining community continues to prove their unity and strength. Along with Feeding Westchester, the Village of Ossining, Gullotta House volunteers, Ossining CAP, Star of Bethlehem Baptist Church, and some of our Town Senior and Highway staff, distributed over 900 meals in Ossining this week. The schedule for meal distribution next week is not available yet, but we will keep you posted! If you know a senior or isolated person/family in need of food or supplies please contact us and we will coordinate supplies. Also, we continue to provide nutritious meals to homebound seniors – call our Senior Nutrition Program at (914) 762-1350 to sign up. Seniors can also receive daily RUOK calls from our program staff, again, just call (914) 762-1350 to sign up. Please also share this information with any of your neighbors, friends, or family that may greatly benefit from these services. Our Senior Nutrition Program staff have been helping out for the Feeding Westchester food distribution, too. Thanks to our Social Worker Debbie Klein for her outstanding coordination. I had the opportunity to help out during this morning's distribution alongside Westchester County Legislator Catherine Borgia, Village Planner Jaime Martinez, and Oriana Downes from M&T Bank. Our Highway Staff helped out Tuesday morning with Maggie Juarez from the Village Finance office and Village Parks Foreman Miguel Marra -- huge shout out to Kevin Moore and John Orlando from our Highway Department, they really gave it their all for this community.
If you feel you have developed flu-like symptoms please call your medical provider or a hospital before appearing for testing. Mobile testing centers are by-appointment-only and must be scheduled through the hotline. Governor Cuomo is mandating that you only leave your home for medical attention after consultation with a telehealth provider. However, if you have trouble breathing (including bluish fingertips or lips) or chest pains call 911 immediately and inform them of your symptoms so first responders can take the necessary precautions for their own health. As a reminder, most cases of Coronavirus do not present with severe symptoms. For questions regarding COVID-19, please call the New York State Coronavirus Hotline 1-888-364-3065 or dial 211 for information. Visit the New York State Department of Health website or the Westchester County Department of Health website for more information. The CDC website is an excellent resource for information. They are our experts -- so we know they are the best to consult right now! As a reminder, please refer only to official sources of information to the dangerous effects of misinformation at the crucial point.
New York State and private companies have coordinated to offer relief to residents. Thank you to our local businesses rising to the occasion by adapting to act as delivery and pick-up only locations. We encourage residents to view the individual websites/pages of our favorite businesses to see how to best support them. Governor Cuomo announced this week that suspension of mortgage payments (and by extension rent payments) is in the works for those affected by the virus. Governor Cuomo also announced a moratorium on evictions, both residential and commercial. The Federal Department of Education has cancelled standardized testing across the country for our students. Con Ed is temporarily suspending shutoffs of any electric and gas service involving customers having payment difficulties. Credit card companies and banks should be contacted directly by customers with questions. The IRS income tax deadline has been extended until July 15, 2020. Low-interest emergency loans are available for businesses through the Small Business Association, Community Capital, and United Way (for non-profits). Unfortunately, price gouging has been reported in the state. To report price gouging on any items (including cleaning supplies, toilet paper, or soap) please call the New York State Department of Consumer Protection (toll-free hotline 1-800-697-1220). As a reminder, many of these updates are fluid and changing so frequently. Please contact specific agencies or departments to confirm up to date information.
This week we saw the postponement of Village elections across the state, including for the Village of Briarcliff Manor election until Tuesday, April 28. We understand and appreciate our residents’ dedication to voting – even in this crisis. As of right now, the April New York democratic primary has not yet been postponed. In anticipation of the April Democratic Primary and all local elections you can request an absentee ballot here before Friday, April 3rd. Absentee ballots must be requested and are designed for people who cannot visit a physical polling station on Election Day.
Similarly, as of right now, the US Census has not been postponed and many of you might have received your invitation to participate within the past week. If you haven’t received this information, you will be able to respond to the Census online, by phone in one of 13 languages, or by mail. Census data directly affect how more than $400 billion per year in federal and state funding is allocated to communities for neighborhood improvements, public health, education, transportation, and much more. That's more than $4 trillion over a 10-year period. Spending just a few minutes to fill out your census form will help ensure Ossining gets its fair share of federal and state funding. We have been informed by Westchester County that local field offices for the US Census have been closed for the next two weeks, but online and phone responses are still moving forward as planned. Right now, follow up "door knocking" visits are scheduled to begin May 1. For more information, visit the Ossining Counts page.
Events continue to be postponed or cancelled. We encourage everyone to check with the organizations and businesses individually for current information about the status of the events. If you would like to continue to support an organization or business, we recommend reaching out to them by phone or social media to see how to best support them at this time. Ossining is a great community where we all support one another -- please check on your neighbors, your favorite small business owner, non-profits, and more to see how they are doing. Even just some kind words can go a long way.
Stay safe, go for a walk, take some pictures, practice wellness efforts in your home, play games, watch movies, listen and be there for each other, reach out to old friends and distant family, and we hope we can come out on the other side of this sooner than predicted!