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Coronavirus Roundup: Concerns About an ‘October Surprise’ Vaccine

All the news and announcements from New York State, the Hudson Valley, and the Catskills for Tuesday, September 1 and Wednesday, September 2.

Coronavirus vaccine trials are underway, but none has yet reached the critical Phase 3.
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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, September 1 and Wednesday, September 2. 

436,218 cases confirmed (708 new)
8,428,477 tests performed (88,447 new)
Positive test rate: .80%
25,336 deaths (5 new)
445 current hospitalizations
117 current ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065

The US got a one-two punch of bad news on the vaccine front this week. On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that the Trump administration will not participate in the global effort to develop and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine, because that effort is being helmed by the World Health Organization. No matter who develops an effective vaccine first, Americans stand to suffer from the decision: If the cooperative global vaccine project, dubbed Covax, develops an effective vaccine first, Americans will not have early access to it. If the US “wins” the vaccine race ahead of Covax, the rest of the world will not have early access to the US vaccine, dragging out the effort to stamp out hotspots around the world and extending the pandemic’s impact on supply chains, travel, and the economy.

On Wednesday evening, an even more troubling development on the vaccine front came to light: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has begun telling local health departments to prepare for distribution of a vaccine by early November. “It’s hard not to see this as a push for a pre-election vaccine,” epidemiologist Sasha Popescu told The New York Times. Although there are several promising candidates in the race to develop a safe and effective vaccine, no candidate has yet gotten through Phase 3 trials, the last, largest, and longest stage of the process of testing vaccines for efficacy and safety. It is possible that the Food and Drug Administration may approve a vaccine for emergency use without waiting for Phase 3 trials to be completed, a prospect that has public health experts divided; if trial data show that a vaccine is highly effective, some experts say that ending trials early might be scientifically warranted. But no matter what the trial data reveals, if the rollout of a vaccine is widely seen as a political stunt designed to boost President Donald Trump’s election odds, people might be wary of getting vaccinated—and with both the FDA and the CDC showing signs of bowing to political pressure in recent weeks, there’s a growing worry among experts that politics are interfering with science at the highest level of government.

A large outbreak underway at SUNY Oneonta continues to spiral. On Wednesday, the university reported 289 COVID-19 cases in students so far this semester, up from seven cases a week ago. It is unclear what the positivity rate is for campus tests overall, because the college is not reporting the total number of tests, but a batch of test results received by SUNY Oneonta on Tuesday morning had a 14.1 percent positivity rate. The college is using a new “pooled testing” approach developed at Upstate Medical to test the entire student population quickly, but above about a 10 percent positivity rate, pooled testing largely stops being useful.

SUNY Oneonta has shut down all in-person classes for two weeks, the first in New York State to do so under new state guidelines for shutting down university campuses in response to outbreaks. The state has deployed a “SWAT team” of health responders to the city of Oneonta, where three free rapid testing sites opened today and will remain open to local residents through Saturday. Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig expressed dismay that rapid testing would only be available for four days, and blamed outbreaks in Western New York for stretching state resources thin. Residents who want to be tested should call 833-NYSTRNG to make an appointment at one of the three Oneonta testing sites: the Oneonta Armory, Foothills Performing Arts and Civic Center, and St. James Church.

SUNY Oneonta’s outbreak is taking a toll on the local economy, the Daily Star reports: Some local restaurants are scaling back, and others are losing customers because of fear of the outbreak.

The college’s 289 cases are not fully reflected in the data for Otsego County, either on New York State’s COVID-19 data site, which shows a total of just 65 cases in Otsego County over the past week, or in figures released by the Otsego County Department of Health. When asked about the discrepancy on Monday, a New York State Department of Health spokesperson gave a brief statement noting that “it is not uncommon, because of insurance and billing, for a student’s ‘home’ address to be reported by a laboratory.” The NYSDOH did not respond to several days of repeated requests for followup via email and telephone. Otsego County health officials were too overwhelmed with inquiries to give out any information on Wednesday. A SUNY central administration spokesperson took questions from The River about testing at SUNY Oneonta, and the disparity between campus case numbers and state data, but did not have answers for us by press time on Wednesday. 

Across the nation, college administrators and the general public alike are wringing their hands about illicit student parties. But some campuses are tracing outbreaks to small groups of students studying together, or eating dinner with their roommates. At the University of Southern California, these smaller gatherings have fueled most of the spread of the cases on campus, which reached 147 last week, the Los Angeles Times reported: “It is five to 10 people getting together sharing a meal; it’s study groups and board games,” USC Student Health officer Sarah Van Orman told the paper. 

The CDC has issued a sweeping halt to evictions across the US, effective through December 31. With no clear consensus emerging from Congress on pandemic legislation, the latest Trump administration action might be the only relief on the horizon for a growing number of renters facing eviction, although it does not offer landlords any assistance for unpaid rent, and may just delay the issue until January.

Is the coronavirus resurgent in Europe? In recent weeks, several countries have moved toward shortening quarantine requirements, but the European Union’s health agency warned against doing that on Wednesday. That’s because the rate of confirmed infections in the EU is nearing numbers seen in March, the beginning of the first peak in Europe. But officials say the current increase in cases was due in part to more testing.

Treatment with common, inexpensive corticosteroid drugs has been found to increase survival in severely ill COVID-19 patients, a WHO analysis found Wednesday. The recent analysis lends weight to a British study earlier this year that found that dexamethasone, a common steroid, increased the odds of survival in patients who had been put on ventilators or who needed oxygen.

On the brink of failure: Private bus companies, currently being dealt a losing hand by both consumers fleeing public transportation and the closing of schools. Last week, The New York Times interviewed local bus mogul Glenn Every of Tonche Transit, who has been sounding the alarm to national news outlets that his 60-year-old bus company may be nearing the “end of the line.” The American Bus Association warned recently that 40 percent of their member businesses may be out of business by the end of the year.

Announced by New York State on Tuesday and Wednesday: 

  • Alaska and Montana were added to New York State’s most recent quarantine list, updated Tuesday. No states were removed from the list. The full list of states and other areas from which all travelers to New York must quarantine for 14 days: Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Virgin Islands, and Wisconsin.
  • It’s decorative gourd season: New York State released updated guidance this week for a segment of the economy best described as “whimsical autumn fun times.” Corn maze growers, U-Pick orchard farmers, hayride operators, and haunted house proprietors can find their updated safety rules on the New York State website
  • New York State’s absentee ballot portal is up and running on the state website. All registered New York voters can request a ballot online at absentee Voters, don’t forget: In addition to absentee ballots, New York State now has early voting, and some local boards of elections are expanding the number of polling sites where voters can cast a ballot between October 24 and November 1. Check with your local county Board of Elections for information about how and where you can vote early, and look for a comprehensive voting guide on The River next week. 
Rate of active cases per 10,000 residents, drawn from the latest county data. Active case data unavailable for Rockland County.

Since mid-May, The River has been collecting and charting data on the number of active COVID-19 cases by county in the Hudson Valley and Catskills. Below is a Flourish animation we have compiled that shows the rate of active cases per 10,000 residents for each county over time, from May 12 through the present date.

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

Applications are now open for the Rockland County Department of Social Services’s child care subsidy program. The program provides financial assistance to eligible low-income families, and connects them to child care programs within the county. Anyone interested can call (845) 364-2797 to be prescreened and receive an application or email for more information.

The Rockland County legislature voted “no” on a financial plan that would have imposed a 0.5 percent sales tax hike to help close the budget gap caused by the pandemic. The plan had been touted by County Executive Ed Day, who did not take the defeat kindly. “I am extremely disappointed by last night’s complete lack of action by the Democratic Majority members of the Rockland County Legislature,” Day wrote in a statement released Wednesday, in which he threatened that the “no” vote put hundreds of county jobs at risk and raises the specter of a double-digit property tax increase.

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

A student living in Marist’s second-largest freshman dorm tested positive last week, sparking a temporary quarantine for a floor of their dormmates, the Marist Circle reports. According to the college’s case dashboard, only one student has tested positive since the return of students to campus.

Four more students at SUNY New Paltz have tested positive for COVID-19, the college reported Wednesday, bringing the total number of positive tests since the college reopened to seven. One student has fully recovered. The four newly diagnosed students all came into contact with a previously infected student, and all six students with active cases are quarantining.

Dutchess County has allocated nearly $200,000 for a COVID-19 Childcare Relief Scholarship to benefit families challenged with the unprecedented need for childcare for their school aged children, County Executive Marc Molinaro announced Tuesday. Scholarships will be awarded beginning October 1 through the end of the academic calendar year by a random selection process to eligible families with school-aged children. To qualify, a family’s household income must not exceed 80 percent of the county’s median income. Complete guidance and application instructions can be found here.

Dutchess County has also launched an awards program that will honor local residents who have gone above and beyond to assist their community during the pandemic. Residents can nominate candidates for the Dutchess Frontline Award at, and honorees will receive a certificate recognizing their effort from County Executive Molinaro.

We have previously noted that the Kingston-area housing market is now the hottest in the country. But now, is a housing crisis looming in New Paltz? That’s the question being asked by village trustees, who were prompted by a citizen request to find ways to keep housing costs in line with local income levels. Hudson Valley One has more on the increasing concern locally.

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

Twelve SUNY Cobleskill students were suspended this week for violating the college’s policy on gatherings, the Daily Gazette reports. The campus will begin conducting pooled testing of all students. In August, two SUNY Cobleskill students tested positive for COVID-19. The university recently launched a dashboard to track testing and case data on campus

Delaware County is seeing a small uptick in cases: Data released by New York State and Delaware County Public Health don’t quite match, but on Tuesday, the county reported three new cases, and on Wednesday, the state reported five. Most of the daily updates for the county in recent weeks have reported one or zero new cases. 

The Cobleskill-Richmondville school district may join several others in New York State in moving to remote-only education because of state budget cuts, the Times Journal reports. 

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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.