Warren Lucas’ plan to get us through Covid? Treat people the right way.
Warren Lucas insists there’s no stress.
The North Salem Town Supervisor, a descendant of the Town’s original 1700s settlers and now in his third decade serving residents, has experienced nearly all there is to experience when it comes to this community. Nearly all except a global pandemic. Nevertheless, he insists that helping the town through this crisis is doable.
Warren's approach to serving residents through the covid-19 crisis hinges on two things: constant communication with town residents and having a capable Office of Emergency Management coordinator (a role held by Kurt Guldan). It doesn't hurt that Lucas holds a degree in microbiology.
"I understand messenger RNA (mRNA) viruses fairly well," he said, acknowledging that while he didn’t see the pandemic coming, his scientific background has given him a helpful conceptual understanding of how the virus works.
“The worst thing is when people don’t know what is happening, and what government is doing for them,” he said, explaining that he prefers to share all available information with residents. “I try to be very open.” Lucas regularly sends emails to Town residents and posts to a community Facebook page, NorthSalemNYinfo, almost daily.
Last spring, Lucas and Guldan worked closely with local officials to establish a line of support for North Salem residents, both in town and in the town's two nursing homes, which were hit particularly hard by the virus. Approximately 120 North Salem nursing home residents tested positive for the virus in the spring, an alarming infection rate which led Lucas to petition Governor Cuomo's office for assistance. In town, Lucas and Guldan worked to secure additional personal protective equipment when it was in short supply and collaborated with local organizations such as the Lions Club and Feeding Westchester to ensure that residents had regular access to meals. Through efforts like these, supported by community donations, the Town delivered food to approximately 150 people in need.
This fall, North Salem’s nursing home population has been relatively unaffected while cases in town exploded in November. Official figures reported that 77 residents tested positive in November, compared to 54 in the preceding eight months combined. To date, roughly six percent of the North Salem population has tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began.
Lucas’ own family has been directly affected by the virus. A daughter who works as a nurse was infected in May. Another daughter recently contracted the virus and is nearing the end of a two-week quarantine. Lucas and his family consider themselves lucky that neither daughter experienced serious symptoms.
Lucas receives a lot of positive feedback from town residents for his commitment to keeping people informed about the virus, including active cases, testing locations, as well as information shared by local and regional officials. On the Town Facebook page, which is followed by two thousand people, he regularly shares local, regional and state-level charts documenting trends in caseloads and hospitalizations.
"People want information. At times I put out more information than is called for," he said, adding with a chuckle that he occasionally gets his wrist slapped by county or state officials for oversharing.
Lucas expressed confidence that by April or May of 2021, all residents who want a vaccine will have had the opportunity to get one. With that optimism, he is looking ahead to other ways that he and the Town Council can continue to try to improve the quality of life for town residents. Among those are improving access to the Purdys train station and revitalization efforts in Croton Falls. But the biggest areas of interest for Lucas are the “two T’s.”
“Traffic and taxes. Those are the two things I wish I could resolve for people.” The proliferation of GPS apps like Waze have brought more out-of-towners through North Salem as they try to skirt traffic on the 684/I-84 interchange, particularly during the morning and evening rush hours.
“Waze has made it easy for people to race down 116, 121 and Starr Ridge Road,” he said. “We see over six thousand cars come through town during rush hour. That’s far more than the number of residents we have.”
On taxes, Lucas wishes that he could “get those a little bit more under control for people.”
Regardless of the issue, Lucas’ focus is on helping town residents. “Doesn’t matter what it is,” he said. “If someone walks away and feels that their interaction with government has been an enjoyable experience, that’s the most rewarding part.”