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Coronavirus Roundup: Cases Rising in New York, As Country Has Worst Week Yet

All the news and announcements from New York State, the Hudson Valley, and the Catskills for Thursday, October 29 and Friday, October 30.

Daily confirmed cases in the US as a rolling 7-day average.
COVID Tracking Project
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This is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties for Thursday, October 29 and Friday, October 30. 

2,255 cases yesterday
146,885 tests yesterday
Positive test rate: 1.54%
12 deaths yesterday
1,085 hospitalizations
243 ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065

New York State met its own travel quarantine threshold on Friday, with the seven-day rolling average of cases per 100,000 residents rising above 10. The milestone won’t have any practical impact on travel in the state, but it’s not great news. New York’s cases are still low compared to the rest of the country, but they are rising steadily despite harsh new lockdowns in microcluster neighborhoods.

New Yorkers are already expected to quarantine when returning home from most other states. Soon our rising caseload may take a toll on our ability to travel freely out of state as well. Vermont, where the out-of-state quarantine rules are based on infection rates in a travelers’ home county, not state, currently requires a quarantine for travelers coming from all but five of New York’s 62 counties. In Maine, the state with the lowest positivity rate in the nation, where New Yorkers can currently travel without quarantine requirements, Governor Janet Mills said Friday she is considering tightening the rules on out-of-state travel.

It may not quite feel like it in New York, but the United States just completed its worst week yet of the pandemic. There were more than 500,000 new cases confirmed over the past seven days, more than 90,000 just yesterday—a record single-day high, and the equivalent of more than one case per second. The surge isn’t confined to a single geographical region, either; as The New York Times reports, more than half of US counties set new case records over the past month, and nearly one-third over the past week. The northeast isn’t setting regional records, but that’s only because things were so bad here in the spring. Reported cases per capita are climbing throughout New England, as they are in all but three states over the past week.

Schools in red and orange zones in New York’s microclusters will be allowed to reopen if they test every returning student and staffer, and follow up with weekly testing, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a Friday briefing and a news release on the required protocols. In Orange County’s Kiryas Joel, where a red zone has been declared, some private yeshivas have remained open by declaring themselves to be daycares. But the village’s public school, which serves children with disabilities in the Orthodox community, has been shuttered by the governor’s microcluster lockdown. The Times Herald-Record spoke to a father in the district who said “all of us would be happy to get tested every day” if it would allow his son to go to school again.

New York has pursued a tough lockdown strategy in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods where cases were spiking. New Jersey tried another tactic: community support and stepped-up contact tracing. With positivity still high in hotspots on both sides of the state line, and reports of people refusing to test in some New York hotspots, it’s still early to say which approach worked, if either. But officials and public health experts in New Jersey are cautiously optimistic that they have made progress without alienating the community, Politico reports. “The rabbis were engaged. The testing response was excellent. I think in general there was tremendous cooperation,” New Jersey state senator Robert Singer told the outlet.

The Forward, a Jewish news magazine, has been covering community response to Governor Cuomo’s crackdown on schools and gatherings in several Orthodox neighborhoods where outbreaks have erupted. A troubling trend that has emerged in both New York City and the Hudson Valley: Manipulation of testing numbers. In Orange County’s Kiryas Joel hotspot, local health officials say sick people are refusing to be tested. In Brooklyn’s Borough Park, the site of several anti-lockdown protests that have turned violent, community leaders are running public service campaigns to get healthy people to test, in order to deliberately bring the numbers down. “Do you feel like you’re healthy and strong and don’t have the virus? Very good! Make sure the government knows that as well!” reads one Yiddish-language poster from a local social service agency in Borough Park.

New York State’s budget office released its annual midyear budget report on Friday. It’s grim: The pandemic has cost the state $63 billion in revenue through 2024.

Governor Cuomo took aim at the White House’s vaccination plan in Friday’s briefing, saying that the government’s plan to work with private pharmacies to roll out vaccines nationwide would be too slow. “We know the capacity of the network because we now have it engaged,” Cuomo said. “It could take one year to vaccinate the population using only a private sector network. This country can’t afford to take one year to do vaccinations.”

Cuomo may not want to hear it, and neither do we, but STAT’s veteran health reporter Helen Branswell writes this week that “we all probably need to reset our expectations about how quickly we’re going to be able to be vaccinated.” Beyond the logistical issues with vaccinating most of the US population at once, there have already been delays along the road of vaccine development—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Pauses in clinical trials are normal, and when the goal is to be certain that a vaccine is safe and effective before rolling it out, it’s important not to rush the process.

This year’s season for the federally funded Home Energy Assistance Program, or HEAP, begins November 2. If you need help with keeping your home warm, you can apply through the state’s website, or get in touch with the local HEAP contact in your county.

Hospitalizations and cases are on the rise in New York’s Capital Region, which is a hub of medical expertise serving counties in neighboring regions as well. On Monday, the region’s five-day rolling average of new cases reached its highest point since spring. Local officials and public health experts are keeping a wary eye on trends that are going the wrong way in the area, the Times Union reports, although local doctors say that improvements in treatment may be helping to lower death rates among hospitalized patients.

Visitors are currently banned from New York’s Elmira Correctional Facility, where almost 600 prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19. But WSKG got a vicarious peek at what life in the prison is like right now, with a large outbreak raging: Emily NaPier Singletary, whose husband is serving a sentence in Elmira, spoke to the station about rising tensions behind bars. “They feel like they’re sort of cut off from the outside world right now, which is scary when you’re in a situation like that,” she said. “Every time the phone rings from him it’s a huge relief, but I’m pretty on edge waiting for that call.”

France is on the eve of a new lockdown, as Europe struggles with a second wave of COVID-19 infection. CNN reported Friday on massive traffic jams surrounding Paris as people rushed to travel before restrictions are put in place.

Web graphics teams at large newspapers have had months to perfect their COVID-19 visualization skills, and it shows. There are some very good ones out this week: El País, a Spanish newspaper, has a stunning (and also slightly terrifying) visualization about the risk of airborne particles in indoor spaces that does a good job of showing why masks, ventilation, and distance are all important in combination. And The New York Times takes a Honey, I Shrunk The Kids-style tour of the inner structure of face masks to show why they help cut down on risk, even if they’re not perfect.

Remdesivir, the first drug to get full approval from the US Food and Drug Administration to treat COVID-19, is looking more and more disappointing. The news desk of the highly respected journal Science reported this week that the FDA pushed the drug’s approval through without consulting a group of outside experts that normally weigh in on such matters, which adds another layer of murkiness to already lackluster results on the drug’s performance in recent large-scale studies.

On the bright side, local company Regeneron’s monoclonal antibodies are looking more and more promising. The trouble is: There simply aren’t enough of them. “The virus is moving faster than we can make them,” STAT reports. There are currently 50,000 doses. That’s about enough to cover half of the people in the US who tested positive just on Thursday.

The Supreme Court might strike down the Affordable Care Act just as the pandemic’s worst wave hits rural America, with disastrous consequences for rural health care, the Daily Yonder reports. Small rural hospitals already aren’t equipped to deal with COVID-19, says Kathleen Sebelius, formerly the governor of Kansas and secretary of Health and Human Services under the Obama administration; if the ACA is struck down, many are likely to close. “It’s a nightmare waiting to happen, and we are seeing it play out right now in the United States,” Sebelius said.

Announced by New York State on Thursday and Friday: 

  • New York State has launched a flu tracker, with daily and weekly reports on flu infections and information on where you can get a flu shot locally.
  • Nourish New York, the state’s pandemic program to connect agricultural producers to local food aid organizations, is getting another $10 million in state funding.

County coronavirus pages: Rockland, Westchester, Putnam
University coronavirus pages: Sarah Lawrence, Iona, SUNY Purchase, Manhattanville, Westchester Community College, Rockland Community College, Dominican, Mercy

It looked earlier this week that Rockland County would not extend early voting hours to compensate for long lines, as several counties around the state have done, due to a disagreement between the county’s Democratic and Republican elections commissioners. Enter the New York Civil Liberties Union, which filed a lawsuit this week alleging that the failure to extend hours and provide signage for voters was tantamount to voter suppression. On Friday afternoon, state Supreme Court Justice Rolph Thorsen ruled in favor of the NYCLU’s legal action. Polls will now be open 9am to 4:30pm—an extra two and a half hours—this weekend at all four of Rockland County’s early voting locations.

As a reminder, Westchester County extended early voting hours earlier this week. Early voting is open from noon until 6pm this weekend.

The list of school COVID-19 cases and shutdowns in the region has become so lengthy that is now keeping a running list of them. We will continue to provide updates on specific outbreaks and infections in this roundup, as we come across them.

County coronavirus pages: Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia
University coronavirus page: Bard, Vassar, Marist, SUNY New Paltz, SUNY Ulster, Columbia-Greene Community College, SUNY Orange

Early voting hours have also been extended in Ulster County this weekend. The polls will now be open from 9am-5pm on Saturday and 9am-3:30pm on Sunday. You can find more information, including early voting locations, at the county’s board of elections website, linked above.

Columbia County reported the 42nd death in the county from COVID-19 on Friday. In the past week, the county has been grappling with an outbreak at the Ghent Assisted Living home, where 45 residents and 11 staff have tested positive, and four have died. County health director Jack Mabb also said in a Thursday press release that the county is getting complaints about people not wearing masks in local businesses and a church, and that the county will investigate and possibly issue fines. “If you go into a business, put on your mask. It’s that simple,” Mabb said.

A student at J.W. Bailey Middle School, in Kingston, was classified as “designated positive” for COVID-19 on Wednesday. The student has symptoms consistent with an infection, but as of yesterday had not yet received test results confirming the case. Hudson Valley One reports that contact tracing determined 39 other students and five staff members had come into contact with the student, and are now quarantining.

An individual at Phoenicia Elementary School tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, according to a letter posted Thursday by Onteora Central School District. The individual had not been in the school since Monday, and all contacts traced to them will attend classes remotely until they are cleared to return to campus.

Ichabod Crane Central School District reported one case in the middle school and two in the high school Thursday, all students. The district shared its mitigation plans for each school building in a letter posted to its website.

All residents and staff at Woodland Pond retirement community in New Paltz have been retested since an outbreak was identified earlier this week. Only one resident remains positive for COVID-19, and two test results are pending, according to an update email to residents and loved ones by Woodland Pond president and CEO Michelle Gramoglia.

The Daily Freeman has a roundup of Halloween curfews set by Ulster County communities.

A district judge ruled against a number of wedding venues in New York, including the Diamond Mills complex in Saugerties, in a class action lawsuit filed by the venues seeking to loosen COVID restrictions limiting “nonessential” gatherings to 50 people.

County coronavirus pages: Sullivan, Delaware, Greene, Schoharie
University coronavirus pages: SUNY Cobleskill, SUNY Delhi, SUNY Sullivan

Case spikes in rural regions have become a major theme of this latest wave of infections across the country, and sparsely populated areas of New York have not escaped. In Schoharie County, some 130 residents were in precautionary quarantine as of Wednesday, the highest total of the pandemic. Schoharie has the third-fewest confirmed cases of any county in the state, but the recent spike has alarmed the Schoharie County director of public health, Amy Gildemeister, in large part because there seems to be some evidence of untraced community spread. “We’re seeing asymptomatic people who really don’t have a connection to anyone with COVID,” Gildemeister told the Daily Gazette. She also noted that there have been instances of deliberate noncompliance with safety measures in the county.

In neighboring Delaware County, seven new cases were reported on Friday, bringing the number of active cases in the county to 28. That’s about one-sixth of the total number of infections confirmed in Delaware County since the pandemic began. Two recent cases are employees at T.A.’s Place, a restaurant in Walton; the county public health department is requesting that anyone who was at the restaurant on October 19, 24, or 25 monitor themselves for symptoms. Despite the infections, T.A.’s Place appeared to be open as usual on Friday, according to a post on its Facebook page.

Cases have been climbing in Sullivan County, but county health director Nancy McGraw says there have not been any obvious clusters, the Sullivan County Democrat reports. In the past two weeks, cases have been found in the Monticello Central School District and the Eldred Central School District, prompting quarantines in the school community. Active cases in Sullivan County currently stand at 86. 

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The River has a guide on where, how, and when to get tested for the coronavirus in the Hudson Valley and Catskills. To read more of our coronavirus coverage, visit our coronavirus page.

The River is collaborating with WGXC to announce these updates over the air. To listen, tune in to 90.7 FM at midnight, 5am, 7am, or 9am, or visit the audio archive online.

La Voz, una revista de cultura y noticias del Valle de Hudson en español, está traduciendo estos resúmenes y co-publicandolos en su página web. Leyendo aqui. También puede escuchar actualizaciones diarias por audio en el show “La Voz con Mariel Fiori” en Radio Kingston.