City of Geneva Responds To COVID-19, Salamendra Forms Task Force

[Visit for information on services, programs, and community efforts in response to COVID-19.]

When members of the current Geneva City Council began their 4-year terms on the first day of 2020, it’s doubtful any of them imagined that, just ten weeks later, they would be dealing with a global pandemic and and a financial crisis unprecedented in modern world history.

How have city staff, the Mayor and Council responded to the the rapidly-evolving story of the COVID-19 virus?

Geneva Mayor Steve Valentino
City Acknowledges COVID-19 On March 12

Local news coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic began in early-to-mid March. One of the first stories about the virus having a direct impact on Geneva was when it was reported that local colleges (including Hobart and William Smith) had begun exploring and implementing distance learning options as students prepared to leave campuses for spring break.

The first acknowledgement of the existence of COVID-19 by the City of Geneva was on the city’s Facebook page on March 12th, with the announcement of the cancellation of two COVID-19 community forums sponsored by Ontario County Public Health. Later that day, another Facebook announcement notified the public of the cancellation of upcoming events at the City Recreation complex due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Then came Friday.

Friday The 13th

On the morning of March 13th, the Geneva Police Department issued an unsettling press release at a time when public fears about COVID-19 were rapidly increasing.

The press release did nothing to ease those fears, and in fact, it seemed to unnecessarily generate even more uncertainty and concern in the Geneva community.

The GPD announced that six officers were under voluntary self-quarantine after having direct contact with a man exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms. The man, who had been arrested and sent to Ontario County Jail, had tested negative for the flu and RSV (Respiratory syncytial virus). The man, who had recently been in several major cities before coming to Geneva, had also been tested at the jail for COVID-19, but posted bail and left the jail before those results had come back.

The press release did not indicate if the man had returned to Geneva, or if he was in any sort of quarantine.

It’s unclear who made the decision to issue the press release.

Notifying the public that six officers had been potentially exposed to a deadly virus, and that the location and condition of the person possibly carrying the virus was unknown, without any further information, was irresponsible at best.

A few hours later, the City of Geneva announced multiple cancellations and postponements of upcoming city events and meetings.

If there was any doubt before, it was now clear that the COVID-19 pandemic was hitting home in Geneva.

But by the evening of Friday the 13th, the Geneva Police put out yet another press release, this time to announce that the test results for the mysterious person who might have had COVID-19 that may or may not have been quietly roaming the streets of Geneva infecting everyone had come back negative.

While dealing with a pandemic is not something most of us (including the GPD) have experienced in the past, it’s still unacceptable that Chief Passalacqua chose to recklessly terrorize the Geneva community in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Mayor Speaks

On March 18th, a video statement from Geneva Mayor Steve Valentino was released.

With an estimated poverty rate of over 20% and a significant population of working class and working poor, the COVID-19 shutdown has been terrifying and devastating to many Geneva residents. Thousands of residents are overwhelmed with fears and issues around child care, food access, unemployment, health care brought on by the COVID-19 crisis.

So, would the residents of Geneva receive an impassioned, heartfelt and inspiring message from the Mayor?

Not exactly.

The 3 minute 20 second video shows Valentino reading a prepared statement while occasionally glancing at the camera.

“Just because I’m presumin’ that I could be a human…”

Valentino’s stiff delivery is somewhat reminiscent of a hostage video, except hostage videos usually contain at least some distinguishable emotion.

The Mayor “said all the right things” in the video, but fell far short of delivering the message in a down-to-earth, relatable manner.

Salamendra Organizes COVID-19 Task Force

While the police were scaring everyone and the Mayor was awkwardly reading a statement on video, at least one City Councilor was taking decisive action towards addressing the emergent and critical needs of the people in our Geneva community.

On March 20th, the city issued a press release announcing the formation of a COVID-19 Community Task Force, organized by Ward 5 City Councilor Laura Salamendra. The task force aims to coordinate efforts and services between the city, community organizations, and residents.

“I called this task force because it is the job of city council to serve and protect all the people of our city,” said Salamendra. “The task force is working hard to make it possible to do the most important thing we can do: stay home.”

Ward 5 Councilor Laura Salamendra

Along with the City of Geneva’s Recreation Department and Human Rights Commission, the task force includes the Geneva Lunch Program, YMCA, Catholic Charities, Finger Lakes Health, Geneva Public Library, Salvation Army, BluePrint Geneva, Geneva City Schools, Geneva Women’s Assembly, The Center of the Finger Lakes, Family Counseling Service, Finger Lakes Resiliency Center, local faith leaders and others.

In its first week, the task force began its work of “linking people to community services: food access, emergency childcare, tele-counseling, grocery deliveries, enriching activities for youth, and safe housing.”

The task force is also focused on community building (including videos of community members reading stories, teaching classes, and making music). A website, a phone line to call for information, and a phone tree for folks who can’t get online are coming soon.

“We may be physically separated, but we can still make connections,” says Salamendra. “We know how hard this all is and magnified by isolation. You are not alone. We will get through this by isolating together.”

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