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Coronavirus Roundup: Cluster Maps Change As Infection Rates Worsen Upstate

All the news and announcements from New York State, the Hudson Valley, and the Catskills for Tuesday, November 3 through Friday, November 6.

Positive test rates in the Mid-Hudson region have hovered around 2.5% this week, about a point higher than NYC.
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This is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties for Tuesday, November 3 through Friday, November 6. 

3,209 cases yesterday
160,705 tests yesterday
Positive test rate: 2%
18 deaths yesterday
1,321 hospitalizations
285 ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065

For much of New York State’s eight-month outbreak nightmare, the greater New York City metropolitan area was the state’s biggest COVID-19 problem, and the focus of its most intensive efforts to halt the disease’s progress. That is no longer true. New York’s largest city is now doing better than upstate on the whole, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a Friday briefing, calling the shift in infection patterns a “total reversal” from the first phase of the outbreak in the state.

A new “yellow zone” microcluster has been declared in the Westchester County village of Port Chester.

State health officials plan to take a close look at worrisome new infection patterns in Erie, Monroe, and Onondaga County over the weekend, and the state will probably impose new microcluster regulations in hotspot neighborhoods in those counties, Cuomo said Friday. “In Erie: Buffalo, Hamburg, Tonawanda, Orchard Park. Monroe: Rochester, Pittsford, Webster, Penfield. Onondaga: Syracuse, Cicero. Those are the highest places in the state,” Cuomo said, chiding reporters on the briefing call not to get too dramatic. “Before you scare people, they’re lower than Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, but relative to New York they’re high.”

Some of the state’s existing microclusters, where rollbacks on schools, gatherings, and businesses have been imposed in recent weeks, are being lifted or scaled back. In the Hudson Valley, Rockland and Orange County microclusters are being redrawn in response to falling case numbers. The Brooklyn microcluster is also being re-drawn and reduced in size, and one of the two Queens microclusters is being eliminated. Microclusters in Steuben, Broome and Chemung counties in the Southern Tier will remain in place.

Maps of all of the New York State microclusters, and information about the restrictions that apply to red, orange, and yellow zones within them, are available on the state website. 

While we were all watching the national election, cases surged in the US to unforeseen heights, reaching more than 125,000 new cases reported on Friday, straining hospital capacity and sapping healthcare workers’ strength in the hardest-hit areas. The numbers are hard to wrap your head around: New daily cases have increased by 45 percent since Election Day. Health officials worry that people are “giving up” on COVID-19 precautions in the US. “There’s been state health officials debating whether to continue telling people to do things, because they know many are not going to listen,” Michael Fraser, chief executive of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials told the Washington Post.

The entire SUNY system will go remote-only after Thanksgiving for the rest of the fall semester, Governor Cuomo said on Friday. All students who leave campus for the holiday will not be allowed to return until at least February. The governor is urging private colleges in New York State to take the same measures. The announcement came one day after officials at the University of Albany announced that every student living on campus would be required to submit a saliva sample for COVID-19 testing by the end of the day Friday following a significant spike in on-campus cases.

Thirty-six doctors in training at Upstate University Hospital are quarantining after being exposed to an COVID-infected coworker at a Halloween party last weekend. The hospital called the behavior an “egregious lapse of judgment.”

Only one county in New York State, Fulton County in the Mohawk Valley region, is currently below Vermont’s threshold requiring visitors to the state to quarantine for 14 days.

The New York State Liquor Authority is investigating possible COVID-19 violations at an Election Night party thrown by Republican congressional candidate Liz Joy in Schenectady. Joy, who lost her race to unseat Democrat Paul Tonko in the 20th district, lashed out on Twitter on Thursday at Daily Gazette reporter Pete Demola, calling him “Cuomo Gestapo” and disputing his account of the illegal 150-person event, where he shot video and took photos.

New York has lost an estimated $4 billion tax revenue due to the pandemic, according to a report issued Thursday by the state comptroller. State revenue is expected to decline by 5.6 percent overall.

Legalize it: Cuomo thinks cannabis will be legalized in New York State soon because of the state’s revenue issues. (It can’t have anything to do with the fact that New Jersey just beat us to the punch, can it?) New York Now reports that state analysts have projected that tax revenue from marijuana legalization could net New York State about $700 million a year, a drop in the bucket compared to the state’s pandemic budget problems.

Confused about New York’s new, more confusing travel quarantine rules? The folks at the Albany Business Review are there for you, with a handy flowchart

Some travelers are finding out the hard way that New York’s new testing requirement to get out of a 14-day quarantine when coming from another state does not entitle them to insurance coverage of a COVID-19 test. WHEC News interviewed a Rochester woman who got caught by surprise by the new rules while returning to Florida, and discovered that a test might set her back $400

The New York State Board of Education has canceled the January 2021 Regents exams, standardized tests that public high school students must pass in order to earn diplomas. In a Thursday release about the decision, the state board said that the Board of Regents will adopt emergency regulations on alternatives so that the exam cancelation will not interfere with student progress. 

In the earliest days of the US outbreak, back in February when public health experts were on high alert but the general public did not yet grasp the unfolding situation, the CDC sent test kits to state health officials that were faulty and cost the nation weeks of critical response time. This week, NPR reports that the CDC knew at the time that the kits were flawed, but sent them anyway

Pandemic news out of Denmark, where the nation’s entire population of 17 million farmed mink are being culled after COVID-19 outbreaks on fur farms spread between mink and humans, is alarming the world this week. Viruses jumping between species can make the virus more difficult to tamp down, and introduce it to new reservoirs of animals that may harbor infection.  Some scientists are concerned that a new mutation that has arisen on the mink farms might have an impact on the effectiveness of vaccines against the strain. But don’t freak out just yet, says STAT News. Mutations happen in viruses all the time without fundamentally changing how they function, and the risk that the mink farm strain is more dangerous to humans or will harm vaccine effectiveness is low. “It’s almost never the case that it’s such a simple story of one mutation and all your vaccines stop working,” said Swiss epidemiologist Emma Hodcroft.

In more hopeful weasel-related animal news: A team of Columbia University scientists have found that a cheap nasal spray they developed does a great job of preventing COVID-19 infection in ferrets. Since ferrets (and mink) contract COVID-19 much like we do—mainly by breathing it in—the study could yield clues to a new preventive treatment for humans. “A daily spritz up the nose would act like a vaccine,” New York Times health reporter Donald McNeil Jr. writes. Here’s hoping.

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

Westchester County is expanding testing in response to the Port Chester yellow zone designation. Over the next few days, tests will be available at Open Door Port Chester (5 Grace Church Street) during the following hours:

  • Friday, November 6, from 10am-5pm
  • Saturday, November 7, from 9am-2pm
  • Monday, November 9, from 10am-6pm
  • Tuesday, November 10, from 10am-6pm

Walk-ins are limited. To schedule an appointment, call (914) 995-7425 or register at this link. Free swab testing will also be available on Saturday at the Don Bosco Community Center from noon to 2pm. Call (914) 995-5800 or visit this link to make an appointment.

In better news, the “red zone” microcluster in Rockland County was downgraded to an “orange zone” on Friday. Orange zone restrictions include: Public and private schools can open for in-person learning if all students and staff undergo COVID-19 testing, and then 25 percent of all people on campus are randomly tested weekly. High-risk businesses like gyms and nail salons cannot open. Restaurants can offer outdoor dining with a four-person maximum per table. Worship services are limited to 33 percent capacity, with a cap of 25 people. And mass gatherings are limited to 10 people either indoors or outdoors. “Congratulations Rockland County,” Governor Cuomo said during a Friday press conference.

Putnam County issued two health alerts on Thursday for possible coronavirus exposure. The first is for Acme Markets (1511 Route 22, Brewster) on Monday, November 2 from 10am to 11:45am. The second is for a ShopRite Supermarket (184 Route 52, Carmel) on Saturday, October 31, from 4pm to 5:30pm. Anyone experiencing symptoms for COVID-19 should get tested and contact the Putnam County Department of Health at (845) 808-1390.

The Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville will remain closed until at least January. “With local COVID-19 infection rates on the rise, we have made the difficult decision not to reopen our theater in the near future,” Margo Amgott, the film center’s interim executive director, said in a statement.

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

Last week, Ulster County cases spiked when 15 new positives were found at the Woodland Pond retirement community in New Paltz, alarming families of residents and sparking new outbreak procedures at the facility. Turns out the outbreak was mostly lab error: Upon retesting, only one resident tested positive. Ulster County Assistant Deputy County Executive Daniel Torres told The River that state and local health officials were in conversation about how to prevent similar situations in the future, and how the county should deal with data in light of the error. “While I do not want to speculate on exactly what went wrong with the lab who did the testing, I can tell you that our Commissioner of Health has spent a substantial amount of time with the lab director and senior state Department of Health representatives trying to prevent this type of scenario from happening again,” Torres wrote in an email. It isn’t the first time laboratory errors have wreaked havoc locally: In July, a batch contamination in a lab used by Nuvance Health caused about two dozen people in Ulster and Dutchess counties to receive false positive test results. 

A poll worker who worked at the East Fishkill Community Center (890 Route 82, Hopewell Junction) on Election Day has tested positive for COVID-19, according to Dutchess County Department of Behavioral and Community Health Commissioner Dr. Anil Vaidian. The poll worker was wearing a mask and not experiencing any symptoms, which reduces the likelihood of spreading the infection. Still, any voters and others who visited the site are advised to monitor for symptoms and seek testing as a precautionary measure.

There is evidence of community spread in Columbia County. Over the past three days, 14 new cases have been reported, none of which are linked to known outbreaks or infections, writes Health Director Jack Mabb.

Marist College is going back on pause in response to a COVID-19 outbreak. On Thursday, the university shifted all classes to remote, suspended all on- and off-campus college activities, and limited student movement. As of Wednesday, reports the Daily Freeman, there were 33 active cases of COVID involving Marist students—14 on campus and 19 off campus. The shutdown is scheduled to end Monday morning.

In a Facebook video briefing Friday in which he answered questions from residents, Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus said that a social gathering in Port Jervis had resulted in some infections. Neuhaus also said that the North Main Elementary School, which has been remote-only since Governor Cuomo declared a microcluster in Orange County that placed the school in a yellow zone, was no longer under microcluster regulations since the state downgraded the red zone to yellow and removed the yellow zone from the hotspot map. Schools in yellow zones are allowed to stay open, but must conduct widespread testing of students and staff; North Main opted to shut down because they did not have the resources to carry out the testing.

Neuhaus announces a number for current known active cases in Orange County every Wednesday. In this week’s case data update, Neuhaus said that the 639 active cases in the county were the highest since he began tracking that number in August.

Multiple Halloween parties attended by students at Warwick Valley High School last weekend have resulted in a number of COVID-19 infections, the school district reported Wednesday. In a letter posted to the district’s website, Superintendent David Leach said that the high school will shift to remote learning through Monday, November 17. On Thursday, Leach confirmed that eight students so far have tested positive for the coronavirus.

A student at Haviland Middle School, in Hyde Park, tested positive this week, according to a letter sent to parents by Hyde Park Central School District Superintendent Aviva Kafka. The student was in attendance as recently as Monday. The district is assisting the Dutchess County health department with contact tracing.

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

Cases in Delaware County have shot up in recent weeks, reaching an all-time high of 52 known active positives on Friday. “This is more than we had at the height of the state shutdown in the spring,” said county planning director Shelley Johnson-Bennett in an email to local reporters about the most recent numbers. More than one in a thousand residents in the small rural county now have an active case—a rate typical of Westchester County in early June, for perspective. Seven of the 52 are currently hospitalized. Delaware County has only three hospitals, all of which are tiny critical-access hospitals. Like other nearby rural areas, the county sends complex medical cases like COVID-19 to larger urban hospitals—such as Albany Medical Center, where nurses have warned recently that safety protocols and PPE are not equipped to handle the expected fall surge that is now arriving.

Sullivan County’s known active cases have tripled in the past month, rising from 29 on October 1 to 98 as of Friday. County health officials have not released any exposure warnings since October 22, when active cases stood at 41. Only one of the county’s current known cases is hospitalized.

A renewed surge in cases at the state-run Greene Correctional Facility caused a bump in Greene County’s active case number on Friday, which had fallen almost to pre-prison outbreak levels earlier in the week. The county reported 23 new cases at the prison and one among Greene County residents on Friday. County health officials also recently released their monthly town-by-town breakdown of where cases have been found throughout the pandemic. 

Veterans’ Day plans have been scaled down or canceled across the state. In Delaware County, the Daily Star reports, a few enterprising local vets are finding ways to commemorate the holiday that don’t involve assembling large groups of vulnerable elderly people. For instance: Tom Ruff of Sidney, a 72-year-old Air Force veteran, is running a campaign to promote the sale of commemorative plaques for local veterans to be placed in the town park. 

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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.