Cortland Chamber to hold its grand opening event, location makes it a potential COVID-19 “super spreader”

Bob Haight, President and CEO of the Cortland Area Chamber of Commerce

 

Despite a surge in COVID-19 positive cases in Cortland County, the Cortland Area Chamber of Commerce’s Open House Bash on Sept. 23 is “still planned to happen,” president/CEO Bob Haight said Thursday morning.

Haight and the Cortland Chamber are planning to hold an open house in two weeks to showcase its new office on 83 Main St. The chamber moved to its new office in April of this year. The chamber has just over 500 businesses as members. By having over 500 businesses, many businesses send multiple staff members to chamber events. With that said, this event could have hundreds (if not thousands) visit between the operating hours of the event, as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise with people dying locally in Cortland County.

 

Look for yourself – Virtual Tour of the Chamber’s office

 

Even with the spike in cases in the area due to the delta variant, Haight ensured that the chamber will take every precautionary measure to provide a safe and healthy event.

“Our highest priority is for the safety of our community,” he said. “Over the entire pandemic businesses have been the safest place to be and have not been a major spread of the virus. This is why when numbers were rising after all the phase openings, the Governor did not shut businesses back down. We are on the forefront of businesses keeping people safe.”

Haight listed strict guidelines and protocols for the event:

  • Masks must be worn at all times when inside the chamber office
  • Small groups will be led by chamber staff on office tours
  • Those who wish to get a refreshment may do so and proceed outside of the chamber, while socially distanced
  • Sanitizing stations will be on-site inside the chamber office and outside of it

 

The Cortland Voice asked Haight: “The new strand of COVID-19 has continued to spread, with a few more people dying locally. Are you concerned that this event might turn into a ‘super spreader,’ if people are careless and/or if your COVID-19 plan does not work?”

Haight’s response: “Careless is not an option. We will monitor all visitors. Our concerns have led to the plan we have in place with CDC as our guidance.” 

 

Cortland mayor Brian Tobin recently implemented an executive order, which is in effect until Sept. 15 at noon, that requires community members to submit applications for gatherings of 50 or more — with detailed COVID-19 protocols attached.

 

Tobin noted the order may extend past the Sept. 15 deadline.

Since invitations for the event were sent to the chamber’s business members and a handful of non-members, Haight and the chamber are required to submit an application with COVID protocols intact.

At the Sept. 7 city of Cortland Common Council meeting, councilperson John Bennett (D-4th Ward) said he contacted Haight following the Aug. 17 meeting to tell Haight that he needs to submit the chamber’s application for the event by Sept. 7. At the time of the meeting, Bennett added that an application at the time has not been submitted from Haight yet.

“The plan is in the hands of city personnel,” Haight said in response to Bennett’s comments.

Haight submitted the paperwork after its requested soft deadline to the city.

Haight said there isn’t a cutoff date for cancelling the event, adding it “could be cancelled at any time if needed” based on the virus surge the county and surrounding areas is currently facing.

 

The Cortland Voice also asked Haight the following question: “Why hold this event when the numbers are rising and people have died locally within the past few days, when you refused to hold the meeting with less than 10 masked committee members in the same location while numbers are increasing?”

We asked Haight to respond by 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 10, and no response from Haight or Cortland Chamber board of director chairperson Debbie Hubbard (Hubbard was cc’d on the email) as of Monday, Sept. 13 at noon. Hubbard is a certified public accountant at Port, Kashdin & McSherry of Cortland.

 

 

 

A deeper look:

The chamber’s interpretation of the CDC’s COVID-19 guidelines and their own COVID-19 health and safety policies have been questioned in the past. The chamber’s diversity & inclusion committee (there are close to 10 members in the committee) received an email on July 2 from president/CEO Haight, as follows:

“Our next meeting is July 22nd at 1:00. Fully vaccinated people are welcome to the Hummel’s Conference room at the Chamber suite, 83 Main Street. Everyone is welcome to join by zoom.  A zoom invitation along with an updated agenda will be sent prior to the meeting. Thank you for participating in the poll.”

Cortland Voice owner and publisher Timothy A. Bennett, also one of the chamber’s Diversity and Inclusion committee members, questioned the email by asking if a committee member wearing a mask was sufficient.

Haight doubled downed by saying: 

“We’re following CDC guidance and we do not have adequate space to distance non-vaccinated people so only those fully vaccinated may attend in person. All are welcome to attend via zoom.”

The committee meeting was held, but it was moved to the YWCA. It was later noted that chamber was incorrect on the CDC’s mask policy.

 

COVID-19 Positive Count Timeline (From July to Today)

Positive Covid-19 numbers are 9500% higher asof 9/10/21, in comparison to 7/2/21. Even though the numbers are higher, the chamber still wants to hold their bash in ten days.

 

Date that the initial email was sent to the chamber’s Diversity & Inclusion committee – July 2, 2021

Cortland County Health Department

 

Date the chamber’s Diversity & Inclusion committee meeting was held (it was moved to the YWCA) – July 22, 2021

Cortland County Health Department

 

The latest COVID-19 update from the Cortland County Health Department – September 10, 2021

Cortland County Health Department

 

As the story continues, the more updates will be provided by the Cortland Voice.