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MONTICELLO - A holiday party for local law enforcement that was organized by a Sullivan County Sheriff's deputy - and held at Ciao Bella restaurant in Monticello on December 12, 2020 - turned into a significant Covid-19 event, a source told The SullivanTimes late Sunday night.

The source said that there were approximately 35 guests at the restaurant on Forestburgh Road here, which was reportedly a "protest" holiday party since the official (annual) holiday event hosted by the Sheriff's Office and scheduled for December 11 at The Rockland House in Roscoe was cancelled.

The source said that the Ciao Bella party was organized by Sheriff's Deputy Anthony Skow-Kwestal, who could not be immediately reached for comment.

Among the Ciao Bella guests, according to the source, were also some officers from Town of Fallsburg and Village of Liberty Police Departments, as well as some 911 dispatchers.

( The Sullivan County Public Health Department issued a public health advisory on December 17 confirming that a patron at a Ciao Bella party on December 12 had tested positive for Covid. The advisory stated that "more than two dozen people" attended the party and that "many were not wearing masks." It was not known until now that the party was actually a gathering of law enforcement officers).

The source told The SullivanTimes late Sunday that at least 12 of those estimated 35 guests had tested positive for Covid-19.

"The party resulted in nearly half of those guests contracting the novel corona virus and god only knows how many people they gave it to after that," the source said. "A couple of the attendees and their significant others got pretty sick but I believe all have since recovered, thankfully. The amount of guests far exceeded the allowed capacity of the small restaurant during this time of PAUSE (which was also open for business that evening) and there was no mask wearing or social distancing." The standing Executive Order for indoor dining on that day in Sullivan County was 50 percent capacity.

The SullivanTimes late Sunday and early Monday reached out to Sheriff Michael Schiff, Town of Fallsburg Police Chief Simmie Williams and Village of Liberty Police Chief Scott Kinne for comment.

The SullivanTimes early Monday also reached out to The Rockland House to determine if there was a planned December 11 party by the Sheriff's Office that was later cancelled, presumably due to Covid case increases in Sullivan.

As for the number of guests who might have tested positive from the December 12 event, that number has not been released by County officials or any local law enforcement agencies.

On February 1, Sheriff Mike Schiff and Undersheriff Eric Chaboty stated on the Sheriff's official Facebook page:

"Sheriff's Office personnel are on the front lines of possible exposure everyday they come to work."


Photo of restaurant from Google Maps

Below is the news release issued on December 17 by the County Health Department five days after the event.

SullivanTimes December 17, 2020 ·

(via Sullivan County, NY Government) Multiple Exposures During Party at Monticello Restaurant Thursday, December 17, 2020

Monticello, NY – Sullivan County Public Health Services has confirmed that a diner at Ciao Bella, an Italian restaurant in Monticello, tested positive for COVID-19.

While there is currently no indication that the patron contracted the virus at the restaurant, the diner was at a group party, and the restaurant was hosting over two dozen people at the time, many of whom were not wearing masks. Additional individuals are awaiting their test results.

The party was being held at the restaurant, located at 46 Forestburgh Road in Monticello, on the following date and time: December 12 from 6-10 p.m.

Public Health is currently conducting contact tracing, but if someone thinks they have been exposed and develops symptoms, they and their close contacts should self-quarantine for 14 days and call their healthcare provider, or call Sullivan County Public Health Services at 845-292-5910. Please DO NOT leave quarantine while awaiting test results.

The virus that causes COVID-19 most commonly spreads between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet, or 2 arm-lengths). It spreads through respiratory droplets or small particles, such as those in aerosols, produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings, talks, or breathes. These particles can be inhaled into the nose, mouth, airways, and lungs and cause infection. This is thought to be the main way the virus spreads. For an updated list of testing locations, visit www.sullivanny.us. Due to the large increase in the number of cases and communitywide transmission, and an anticipated surge in COVID-19 cases over the holidays, public health and medical experts highly recommend avoiding gatherings, especially if masks are not worn and social distancing cannot be maintained. The following parameters and protocols are based upon recommended preventive measures issued from the public health community. Follow these CDC guidelines to protect yourself and others: • Stay at least six feet from other people. • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others. • Avoid close contact with people who are sick, even inside your home. • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow and do not spit. Throw used tissues in the trash. • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. • Be alert for symptoms. Watch for fever, cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms of COVID-19. • Take your temperature if symptoms develop. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. Possible symptoms of COVID-19 include one or more of the following: • Fever or chills • Cough • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing • Fatigue • Muscle or body aches • Headache • New loss of taste or smell • Sore throat • Congestion or runny nose • Nausea or vomiting • Diarrhea If someone is showing any of these signs, seek emergency medical care immediately: • Trouble breathing • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest • New confusion • Inability to wake or stay awake • Bluish lips or face

MONTICELLO - Sullivan County Attorney Michael McGuire today officially denied The SullivanTimes' appeal of a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request to obtain the resignation letter of Stephanie Brown, who recently departed as the County's Commissioner of Health & Family Services after one year in that position.

In its appeal, The SullivanTimes wrote to the County Attorney that Brown had already divulged the nature of her resignation in an extensive interview with another media outlet and that the letter could be redacted to protect any of her private information.

Her resignation came in the immediate aftermath of a public airing before the County Legislature on January 28 - and again yesterday - regarding an allegation brought to the Sullivan County Board of Ethics last Fall that centered on Legislator Luis Alvarez, who reportedly had used coarse language towards her while advocating for his wife - a long-time former resident of The Care Center at Sunset Lake that Brown oversaw at part of her job responsibilities. Deputy County Manager John Liddle and Legislator Nadia Rajsz both attended the meeting at which Alvarez got into a heated argument with Brown.

Rajsz has gone on the record recently and said that Alvarez never used the "C" word. Liddle, who doubles as the County's Social Services commissioner, has not made any public statement.

The Legislature declined to take action on the finding by the Board of Ethics, which subsequently also led to the resignation of Lorne Greene from the Ethics Board.

Yesterday, Legislature Chair Rob Doherty - who on social media and before the Legislature accused Alvarez of using the "C" word towards Brown - provided a forum for Ethics Board Chair John Kiefer, who admitted in public Thursday that the "C" word was not part of the investigation and that he did not know where that reference originated.

Kiefer also had to be interrupted by Deputy County Attorney Thomas Cawley for apparently violating the Ethics Code when he began revealing confidential information about the Ethics Board's deliberations regarding Alvarez.

As for Brown, she was also at least partly responsible for the hiring of the Care Center's former administrator, Sherita Alexander, who abruptly resigned last year after an exclusive story by The SullivanTimes revealed that she may not have been truthful about her work experience.

The continual public outrage, criticism from fellow democrats, the opening of federal investigations and widespread media coverage surrounding Governor Andrew Cuomo in connection with nursing home deaths tied to Covid-19 has abruptly changed the future of New York State politics.

In short, Cuomo - who has mostly been hailed as a national leader in crisis management for his daily Covid press briefings from March through January - now has a giant liability that will make it difficult, if not impossible, to mount a successful re-election campaign in 2022.

Until recently, the son of former Governor Mario Cuomo was considered a lock for re-election.

And, since taking office in 2011, Andrew Cuomo has faced no serious contenders to knock him out of office. But Republicans now see a crack in the Cuomo armor and their best opportunity to beat him in 2022. They are likely to launch continuous ads later this year about his handling of the nursing home situation long before the GOP chooses a challenger.

As for Sullivan residents and businesses, Cuomo has done little to make the County a priority.

Sullivan is often ignored when it comes to important, high level discussions about things like funding for significant economic growth or the handling of Covid-19 vaccines.

One also has to wonder if a previously-strong relationship with Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther has soured. Cuomo rarely talks about the area and has visited only a few times for mostly private events. His last public visit to Sullivan was during the summer of 2019 to promote the "Catskills Challenge" - which actually promoted surrounding counties even more than Sullivan except for his one-day visit that culminated in a luncheon at Bethel Woods hosted by Alan Gerry.

Sources also tell The SullivanTimes that Legislature Chair Rob Doherty and Cuomo have no relationship to speak of and that could be part of the reason why Sullivan has been coming up short when it comes to attention from Albany.

And that's beyond unfortunate as Sullivan is crying out for more vaccines and staffing help from the state during this pandemic - and with just a few weeks before SUNY Sullivan is supposed to open as a major vaccination site. In the meantime, South Fallsburg has a Covid positivity rate of 13 percent and no one in Albany (or the County Legislature) seems to consider that a problem.

Cuomo had advanced many progressive policies and legislation that helped soften the impact of former President Trump's policies that hurt many vulnerable populations. And, he started this year with a Democratic majority in the Assembly and Senate.

But with the nursing home scandal fallout, he is already in full damage control mode that risks interfering with his ability to govern effectively in coming weeks and months.

Lost in the mix, too, is an earlier investigation into Cuomo's connection to Crystal Run CEO Hal Teitelbaum and bundled campaign contributions from Crystal Run doctors/executives in exchange for the healthcare company allegedly receiving multi-million grants to build two additional Crystal Run facilities in Rockland County. Those investigations, that involved the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Orange County District Attorney, are believed to be ongoing three years later.

Finally, it's notable that, in 1994, a Republican named George Pataki upset Mario Cuomo (who also had served 11 years) and then Pataki served 11 years himself.

Is Andrew Cuomo's time also up after 11 years? And, if so, who in the Democratic Party is out there who could beat him in a primary and face down any GOP challenger?

The other question is if the Republicans have another Pataki-like candidate waiting in the wings.


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