Picente Featured in COVID-19 Response Book

Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. today announced the release of a new book that chronicles the county’s response through the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our Darkest Hours: County Leadership and the COVID Pandemic” was commissioned by the New York State County Executives Association, through the New York State Association of Counties, to document and share the hard lessons learned during this once-in-a-century public health crisis.

“There were too many lives lost and too many livelihoods disrupted to let the experience gained during this crisis be lost to history,” Picente said. “We felt very strongly that the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic needed to be documented so that the next generation of local leaders is better prepared when disaster strikes.”

Part I of the book comes directly from the written or oral histories submitted by county executives to document what happened in their county. The first-person accounts provide a glimpse into the fear, struggle, triumph and pain that local leaders faced as they worked to protect their residents from an invisible and insidious enemy.

“The work that we did to stop the spread of the virus and get our communities vaccinated may be the most important work we ever do as county leaders,” said NYSCEA President Marcus Molinaro. “We felt that we owed it to the county leaders who come after us to provide an accurate and unvarnished account of what happened so that when it’s their turn to step up as onsite incident commanders, they don’t have to re-learn the same hard lessons that many of us did.”

Part II provides a public policy account of the fractured federal and state response to COVID-19 and explores the economic impact of New York on Pause, the unprecedented state executive powers and the diminution of local home rule. The Appendices include material relating to congressional actions, the state’s executive orders and cases and COVID deaths by county by month from March 15, 2020 to March 15, 2021.

“This book is a commemoration of the struggle and the hardship and what the county leaders went through during the height of the pandemic,” said NYSAC Executive Director Stephen Acquario. “They were the ones on the ground working 15-hour days, seven-days a week for 150 days, coordinating efforts to secure PPE, enforce mask and social distancing mandates while also encouraging residents to check on their neighbors and support struggling local businesses. These are stories that needed to be documented for posterity. They must not be forgotten.”

“Our Darkest Hours: County Leadership and the COVID Pandemic” was written by Stephen Acquario, Mark Lavigne and Peter Golden. Softcover copies are available for purchase from Archway Publishing and Amazon for $19.99 and an e-book version can be purchased for $4.99. All proceeds from the book will be donated to Feeding New York State, which supports the ten regional food banks that have been feeding the hardest hit New Yorkers.

Here is an excerpt from County Executive Picente’s chapter:

In early March, as the world was learning more of what was to become a pandemic, a situation occurred in my community that proved to be the precursor of what was ahead. Two local physicians, a husband and wife, returned from Italy with symptoms of COVID-19. They began seeing patients before they felt too sick to go to work and canceled the rest of their appointments. That incident set off a rush of panic in the community, and it then became evident that we were dealing with something different than a run-of-the-mill illness. Both physicians tested negative for the virus, but people were becoming noticeably anxious.

On March 13, 2020, I declared a state-of-emergency across the county and closed the schools. We had yet to have a positive case, but the virus was spreading, and I knew it was only a matter of time. The next day, a Saturday, my staff along with other essential department heads went to the office. Our health director and I met with the director and chief physician of our regional medical group to discuss testing capacity, and to get their perspective on what we would be facing. After hearing their predictions, I couldn’t sleep that night. I resolved that on Sunday we would take more actions and engage the entire healthcare network and all of our resources in a comprehensive plan. I’ve often said there is no playbook in times of crisis. In this case, that was never more true. But of one thing I was sure: we had to act fast.