This is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties for Tuesday, October 27 and Wednesday, October 28.
NEW YORK STATE
2,031 cases yesterday
129,660 tests yesterday
Positive test rate: 1.57%
15 deaths yesterday
236 ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065
Case numbers are improving in the Orange County village of Kiryas Joel, the center of a “microcluster” red zone created by Governor Andrew Cuomo and state health officials on October 6. The governor called the area’s falling positivity rate “dramatic progress” in a Wednesday briefing, and announced that the state would downgrade Orange County’s red zone to orange, a designation that relaxes some of the restrictions in place in the neighborhood. But are the numbers real? There are troubling signs that the county’s hottest outbreak may simply be falling off the state’s radar, not coming under control.
Last week, Jewish news magazine The Forward reported on a growing worry among local health practitioners that Kiryas Joel residents with coronavirus symptoms are simply refusing to be tested in order to keep official numbers down and escape state regulation. County health commissioner Irina Gelman told the outlet that the area’s steep drop—from a 34 percent positivity rate to just four percent in a month—doesn’t make epidemiological sense: “This is not a typical declination in percent positive rate, which would be more gradual and over a longer period of time,” Gelman wrote in an email. “I suspect there is some degree of correlation between the physician reported patient refusal to test and the dramatic decline in the currently reported test positive percent.” While the positivity rate has gone down, so has the number of tests given in the village, Gelman says; meanwhile, hospitalizations have gone up.
In recent weeks, Governor Cuomo has chided reporters for using the statewide overall positivity rate, which includes data from the microclusters, instead of (or in addition to) the state’s rate with the microcluster data removed. The governor has said repeatedly that the areas with large outbreaks are “oversampled,” and are thus inflating the statewide positivity rate. But if Kiryas Joel’s outbreak is not being adequately measured, the opposite may be true: Test avoidance may be deflating the state positivity rate, and masking the true extent of New York’s COVID-19 problems. We note also that New York State’s overall positivity rate is not an estimate of the true infection rate in the state, and the people who decide to get tested for COVID-19 are not a representative sample of the state’s population. Using words like “oversampled” implies that New York State’s COVID-19 testing regime is designed to test people at random in order to estimate the true rate of infection statewide, and that simply isn’t true.
New York State currently has the second-lowest positivity rate in the nation, according to rankings from Johns Hopkins that Cuomo touted in Wednesday’s briefing. At 1.39 percent on a seven-day rolling average, New York’s rate is higher than it was throughout the late summer and early fall, but below every other state in the US except Maine, which stands at 0.77 percent.
While both cases and positivity tick up in New York, Empire Center health policy analyst Bill Hammond weighed in this week with a reminder that the positivity rate isn’t the only important number to keep an eye on. Over the past month or so, positivity rates in New York have risen slightly, but testing has also ramped up, adding a large new pool of negative results to the COVID-19 data being collected every day in the state. In a blog post, Hammond charts the state’s per capita known infection rate, and shows that while the positivity rate has increased only slightly, the number of known cases per capita has doubled since September. “The infection trend bears watching. Unless it changes, New Yorkers will face rising hospitalizations and deaths—and the possibility of retightened public health restrictions—as the holiday season approaches,” Hammond writes.
While Orange County’s microcluster got a slight reprieve from state lockdowns on Wednesday, the other microclusters around the state where restrictions have been imposed are staying put. There are currently microclusters in Brooklyn and Queens as well as Rockland, Steuben, Chemung, and Broome counties. Recent data on case positivity rates in the microclusters, guidance on how state officials decide to declare a microcluster, and maps of the neighborhoods where the state has imposed red, orange, and yellow zones are available on New York State’s website.
The Public Service Commission held two virtual hearings Wednesday on Central Hudson’s proposal to hike electric and gas delivery rates, which would go into effect on July 1 next year. Central Hudson is seeking approval to raise electric and gas delivery revenues by a combined $47 million, which would add an average of $7.76 to monthly residential bills. This is coming at a time when financial hardship, coupled with the lack of state or federal assistance, has left many residents unable to pay bills. State Senator Jen Metzger, whose district includes Ulster, Sullivan, and Orange counties, was among those who spoke during the public hearing. She called for the utility to freeze rates, noting that the number of households in arrears on their Central Hudson bills has increased by 157 percent since February. “People are struggling, I cannot emphasize that enough, and a rate increase is just unacceptable right now in this context,” she said. A source who presented testimony as an advocate for Spanish-speaking Central Hudson customers told The River that several families reported receiving shutoff notices from the utility company, despite the fact that utility shutoffs are banned during the COVID-19 crisis. A Central Hudson representative told the advocate, who requested anonymity to protect her identity, to have the families call in during business hours.
California was added to New York State’s travel quarantine list on Tuesday, bringing the number of states and territories that meet the standard for New York’s 14-day quarantine requirement to 45. Governor Cuomo is recommending that New Yorkers limit travel to neighboring Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Connecticut, all of whom now meet the quarantine standard. “Given the interconnected nature of the region and mode of transport between the states, a quarantine on these states is not practically viable,” a release on the state website says. It would be easier to list the states not on the advisory list: Hawai’i, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.
An HIV cluster is emerging in Monroe County because of New York State’s pandemic-related rollback of support for harm reduction efforts like clean needle exchange programs, Filter magazine reports.
As of Tuesday’s data from the state Department of Corrections and Community Service, 589 of 1,509 inmates tested at the Elmira Correctional Facility have been found positive for COVID-19, a positivity rate of about 39 percent.
LOWER HUDSON VALLEY
County coronavirus pages: Rockland, Westchester, Putnam
University coronavirus pages: Sarah Lawrence, Iona, SUNY Purchase, Manhattanville, Westchester Community College, Rockland Community College, Dominican, Mercy
Putnam County issued another public health alert on Tuesday: Anyone who was at the American Latino Deli at 851 Route 6 in Brewster anytime between October 6 and 22 may have been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. This is the fourth exposure warning Putnam County’s health department has issued over the past week, more than any other county in The River’s coverage area. But that’s a good thing: Putnam County has one of the lowest infection rates in the region, and the regular health alerts are a credit to the willingness of its health department to communicate risk to the public—something other county health departments have been slow to do in recent weeks.
Polling place lines have been quite lengthy in the first days of early voting. To give voters more time to cast their ballots, Rockland County’s Democratic Elections Commissioner proposed a plan to extend polling hours for the remainder of early voting. But the Republican Elections Commissioner is opposed. (In New York, county elections commissioners represent the top two parties from the previous election.) That means that early voting hours are not likely to be extended in Rockland, LoHud.com reports.
In better news for democracy, Westchester County has extended early voting hours, after waits topped four hours this past weekend.
County coronavirus pages: Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia
University coronavirus page: Bard, Vassar, Marist, SUNY New Paltz, SUNY Ulster, Columbia-Greene Community College, SUNY Orange
There have been no new cases at the Woodland Pond retirement community over the past two days, and no new residents or staffers showing symptoms, according to an update emailed to residents and family members by Woodland Pond president and CEO Michelle Gramoglia. According to the update, all staff members have been retested, and all results thus far are negative. The 12 residents who tested positive remain asymptomatic.
At least four nursing homes in Orange County have had at least one resident who has tested positive, and at least seven have had an employee test positive, Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus said in his latest Facebook live briefing. That’s up from two nursing homes with active positive cases as of Friday. Neuhaus also addressed why schools in Palm Tree have been allowed to remain open, despite the outbreak there. “The state decided that the schools are also daycare centers, so all that enforcement and lawsuits and all that stuff is now, in my opinion, moot,” he said. “Some of them have already changed their names from schools to daycare centers…it’s very interesting where things are going here, to say the least.”
Cases in Columbia County have more than doubled over the past week, to 73 active cases as of Wednesday. The county reported three deaths over that time, bringing its total to 41.
County coronavirus pages: Sullivan, Delaware, Greene, Schoharie
University coronavirus pages: SUNY Cobleskill, SUNY Delhi, SUNY Sullivan
Prison cases in Greene County are going down in the wake of a large recent outbreak, but there are still 35 active cases in Greene Correctional Facility, and another 23 in the community outside the prison in Greene County. According to a Wednesday post on Facebook by county health officials, Greene County currently has a seven-day rolling average of 1.4 percent positivity for COVID-19 tests.
Schoharie County cases are on the rise, and alarming local health officials. In a Facebook post Tuesday, county health director Amy Gildemeister announced 13 new positive cases since the county’s last update on October 15, and said there may be more coming: “Several of those are part of a developing cluster that is likely to lead to additional cases,” she wrote. There are currently nine current active positive cases in the county, Gildemeister told The River on Wednesday.
Sixteen people in the Cobleskill-Richmondville Central School District community were quarantined by Schoharie County health officials last week after coming into contact with a positive case, the Times-Journal reports. As of Monday, none have tested positive, and most have been released from quarantine.
Schoharie County’s annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner is going forward as a takeout event, and its organizers at the county Office for the Aging are looking for donations and drivers to help bring the turkey to the people. “We’re late getting to this, but it’s so, so important that we do it this year,” organizer Kevin Neary told the Times-Journal. “We’ve seen the lines at the food give-aways…We know the need is there. We’re glad that we’re going to be able to make it happen. We’re glad we were able to find a way.”
Delaware County’s slow case uptick continues, with two new cases on Tuesday. The county is up to 19 known active positives, after spending much of the summer and early fall below 10.
A River reporter voted on Tuesday at Delaware County’s only early voting location, the county Board of Elections headquarters in Delhi, and found no long lines but an unusual number of people bustling in and out of the typically quiet office. A few blocks down Main Street, at the county office building, mask requirements were clearly not being enforced, and a security guard behind the desk in the lobby was neither wearing a mask nor asking people in the building to wear one.
Sullivan County currently has 89 known active cases, a dramatic increase from the 29 active cases in the county on October 1. County health officials have not released any local exposure warnings or other information on what might be driving the increased cases in the past week. The River has contacted Sullivan County Public Health for more information on the current case spike, and will include any responses in a future roundup.
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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.
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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.