JEFFERSON COUNTY, N.Y. (WWTI) — A State of Emergency has been declared in Jefferson County.

This was announced on Wednesday, December 8 by County Officials at a Community Briefing on Public Health and Health Care. Participating partners at the meeting included Chairman Scott A. Gray, Public Health Director Ginger Hall, Health Planner Stephen Jennings and representatives from Fort Drum and local hospitals.

The decision was made based on the increase in COVID-19 cases throughout the region and to avoid overwhelming the health care systems.

“Our very strong concern is with people inside, during the colder weather, the holiday gatherings that illness will spread to an even greater level than we are currently seeing, we will experience another spike in and that our capacities already burdened may give way,” Public Health Director Ginger Hall said.

“The glass is full,” Chairman Gray added. “This is not a preemptive measure. This is a call to action right now.”

To begin the briefing, Chairman Gray reflected on the COVID spike the North Country saw in January and February 2021.

As of December 8, the county had 62.13 of average daily COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents. If the county’s daily COVID-19 rate increases in December to match the rate in increased last year in the same timeframe, Chairman Gray said it would reach 88 cases per 100,000 residents in December.

Gray also shared that in November, COVID-19 deaths accounted for 20% of hospital discharges. He said that if things don’t change, the county is predicting an additional 30 to 40 COVID-related deaths in the next few months.

Health Planner Stephen Jennings also shared data from the county’s COVID-19 index. Jennings confirmed that nearly 44% of all reported COVID-19 cases to date in the county have occurred since September 2021, and 36% of all hospitalizations have also been since September.

COVID-19 cases have also risen 30% every month since August and the County predicts that hospitalizations will also increase 30% between November and December.

Taking this data into consideration, the group addressed how this State of Emergency will be a call to action to focus on the strain local hospitals are facing, especially as emergency rooms are overwhelmed and some have had to divert patients across the state.

“We have been exceeding 20 patients per day. That’s just 20 COVID patients, out of hundreds of patients that are in the hospital,” Samaritan Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Thomas Carman shred. “That is concerning too because if I look back at this same time, one year ago, we had less than 10 patients in the hospital. We didn’t peak last year until January. If we stay on this trajectory through January, we could be overwhelmed.”

With the State of Emergency, the biggest change is the mask mandate for all businesses, as stated in the emergency declaration, businesses will now be permitted to deny customers who are not wearing masks.

Chairman Gray used Fort Drum as an example as the military base has seen lower infection rates due to mask mandates and vaccine requirements.

“The masking the social distancing does work. Our infection rate is below that of what the county is currently experiencing,” Fort Drum MEDDAC Commander Colonel Mapes added.

The County will also require all CDC guidance which includes social distancing, avoiding large gatherings and getting the COVID-19 vaccine and all additional doses.

Jefferson County will remain in the State of Emergency for 30 days. County leaders will examine the emergency declaration to determine if an extension is needed prior to January 8, 2021.

This is a developing story. Check back with ABC50 for additional details.