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Coronavirus Roundup: Cuomo Slams Local Governments on Enforcement

All the news and announcements from New York State, the Hudson Valley, and the Catskills for Tuesday, September 29 and Wednesday, September 30.

Governor Andrew Cuomo slammed local governments for failing to enforce public health measures.
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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 29 and Wednesday, September 30. 

458,649 cases confirmed (1,000 new)
10,747,313 tests performed (97,960 new)
Positive test rate: 1.02%
25,479 deaths (9 new)
605 hospitalizations
144 ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065

Clusters of COVID-19 infection are burning fiercely in a few neighborhoods in the Hudson Valley and New York City. On Wednesday, in a briefing mostly devoted to the recent outbreaks, Governor Andrew Cuomo slammed local governments for not doing more to enforce compliance. “It is a state law and the localities must enforce it. The localities—and we’re talking about Orange, Rockland, New York City, Nassau that have a couple of communities affected—they have to enforce the state law. And they’re not doing it with enough diligence. Period,” Cuomo said. “It is not up to them to say, ‘Well we’re not going to enforce the mask ordinance, we’re going to offer a mask.’ It’s too late in the game to do that.” 

Among Cuomo’s recommendations to local governments: Assign some local police to the state police to create new enforcement task forces. “I don’t have the numbers to do statewide enforcement. I have about 5,000 State Troopers. New York City has 35,000 NYPD. If they don’t want to enforce the law, I will enforce the law,” he said—prompting more than one observer on Twitter to point out that as an agency, the NYPD is not known for compliance with mask-wearing. 

Enforcement of mask-wearing and social distancing regulations is likely to make people unhappy, but there are worse things, the governor said, in characteristically blunt Cuomo fashion. “You know what makes people really unhappy? Dying makes people really unhappy.” 

As The River pointed out last Friday, and as several Jewish news media outlets reported last week, many of the clusters currently active in the Hudson Valley as well as in New York City are in Orthodox communities. Cuomo did not directly address the issue in any of his public briefings until Tuesday, when he pledged to meet with Orthodox community leaders; on Wednesday, the governor said that he spoke to community leaders and had a “good conversation.” “How do we educate the public? How do we use the media? How do we use the newspapers that circulate in the community, the radio stations in the community? How do we have community meetings? How do we get the word out? We have another religious holiday coming up this Friday and how do we make sure that we have a different sense of behavior? And they have said that they are committed to taking a more aggressive stance,” Cuomo said. 

Speaking to the Rockland/Westchester Journal about the local outbreaks and Cuomo’s response to them, Rockland County Executive Ed Day said he was relieved to hear that the state’s response would be “solely focused on Ramapo, which is what I want to hear.” More than two-thirds of Rockland County’s cases are concentrated in two zip codes, and Day said he did not want to see businesses throughout the county have to roll back their reopening efforts. “To punish our local small business would be an absolute atrocity of epic proportions,” he said.

In Tuesday’s COVID-19 case numbers, infection levels in some of New York State’s most heavily affected zip codes were high, but down from their peak several days ago. Still topping the list of the hardest-hit areas were zip code 10952, with 17 percent, and 10977, with 14 percent. Both are in the Rockland County town of Ramapo. The New York State Department of Health has deployed rapid testing machines to the worst-affected areas, and offered to help local public and private schools as well as local governments conduct testing. 

Among the hurdles to controlling the outbreak in Orthodox communities: New York doesn’t have enough Yiddish-speaking contact tracers. In a Wednesday hearing, Ted Long, head of New York City’s contact tracing program, declined to put a specific number on how many of the city’s 3,600 contact tracers speak Yiddish, saying only that it was “between zero and five.” 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “no-sail order,” which bans cruise ship operations, expired today. As you may recall, cruise ships were the sites of early outbreaks in the US. CDC Director Robert Redfield pushed to extend the order, but was overruled by White House officials, Axios reports.

Meanwhile, on an airplane, an NBC reporter overheard Redfield blast Trump’s COVID-19 advisor Scott Atlas on a cell phone call. “Everything he says is false,” Redfield said, in a conversation he later acknowledged was about Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no epidemiology background who has pushed for the US to adopt a “herd immunity” strategy that would lead to millions of US deaths.

The medical news outlet STAT News got its hands on an organizational chart of Operation Warp Speed—the US government effort to develop a vaccine—and found heavy military involvement in the project’s leadership. OWS is “a highly structured organization in which military personnel vastly outnumber civilian scientists,” Nicholas Florko writes. Some observers worry about the military leaders’ inexperience with public health. Others feel that the military’s involvement is appropriate, given the intense logistics involved with distributing a vaccine at scale that may need to be kept at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit.

This week, the prominent journal Science published the largest look yet at data from contact tracing: A study of almost 85,000 cases and 600,000 of their contacts from the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. What they learned: A small fraction of infected people account for most transmission, and although they may suffer less from severe disease than adults, children are definitely transmitting COVID-19. There are many differences between the healthcare systems in India and the US that may result in different outcomes, but one of the most important differences is this: India is doing a far better job of contact tracing, a factor that made the Science study possible. 

School districts in New York State got a temporary reprieve earlier this month, when a lawsuit from a prominent teachers’ union prompted the Cuomo administration to back off from plans to partially withhold large aid payments to districts in September. But many schools are still laying off staff, because in a climate of deep uncertainty about whether they will be fully funded, they can’t afford to gamble on optimism. “The wise thing to do, the efficient thing to do, is to actually make cuts sooner rather than later,” Jasmine Gripper of the Alliance for Quality Education told City & State.

Also bracing for deep cuts: New York State courts, which are facing a budget cut of about $300 million, the New York Law Journal reported Tuesday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on Wednesday to discuss the next federal economic-relief bill. No surprise: The two did not reach an agreement, though Pelosi did say that House Democrats would postpone a vote on their bill while the two sides attempt to reach a more bipartisan agreement. Given the looming battle in the Senate over the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, consider us skeptical anything gets through both chambers.

More than 4,200 children in New York State lost a parent to COVID-19 between March and July, according to a new study from the United Hospital Fund. “The consequences of losing a parent or caregiver to COVID-19 are likely to be severe and long lasting, with 23 percent at risk of entering the foster care system or the care of a relative, and 50 percent at risk of falling into poverty,” the report’s authors write. The toll on Black and Hispanic families has been especially intense: One in 600 Black children and one in 700 Hispanic children in the state have lost a parent, compared to one in 1,400 Asian children and one in 1,500 white children. 

Announced by New York State on Tuesday and Wednesday:

  • Colorado was added to the state travel quarantine list, while Arizona and Virginia were removed.
  • The National Governors Association, which Cuomo chairs, once again called on the federal government to prioritize state and local coronavirus aid.
  • Cuomo also announced that New York has been awarded an $18 million federal grant to fund workforce training, support entrepreneurs, and help small businesses recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The State Liquor Authority suspended liquor licenses for 16 additional bars and restaurants across the state, including two in The River’s coverage region: Craft 302 Restaurant in Poughkeepsie, and Quartchetti’s Roadside Cafe in Fishkill.
Rate of active cases per 10,000 residents, drawn from the latest county data.

Below is a Flourish animation we have compiled that shows the rate of active cases per 10,000 residents for each county in our coverage region 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

Putnam County issued a health alert on Wednesday for the Fuente de Gracia Church at 2 Marvin Avenue in Brewster. Anyone who was at the church on Sunday, September 27 from 6pm to 9pm may have been exposed to COVID-19. Questions can be directed to the Putnam County Department of Health at (845) 808-1390.

Mount Vernon City Schools will continue remote learning through at least November 13, the end of the first marking period, Superintendent Kenneth Hamilton announced in a letter to parents. The district will reassess whether it’s feasible to begin some in-person instruction after that date.

Somers Central School District officials announced that Primrose Elementary School will shut down temporarily after exposure to COVID-19. In a Facebook post Monday night, the district wrote that the school will move to remote learning Tuesday and Wednesday while contact tracing is conducted. It is expected to reopen on Thursday.

A group of Fox Lane High School students who attended large gatherings over the weekend have been banned from school grounds and will switch to remote learning for the next 14 days.

Most Section 1 high school sports resumed across the Lower Hudson Valley on Tuesday, with practices for soccer, field hockey, cross country, and tennis.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer’s latest briefing included an update on Halloween safety regulations.

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

On Thursday, Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan will reveal his 2021 budget plan, which will not raise property taxes and will avoid layoffs, Ryan told the Daily Freeman on Wednesday. Some counties are laying off employees and/or hiking taxes to make up budget shortfalls resulting from the pandemic, primarily from decreased sales taxes during the shutdown.

County Executive Ryan also announced an agreement with Sheriff Juan Figueroa to shut down three of the 12 housing pods at Ulster County Jail and reduce staff. The plan will purportedly save the county $900,000 in its 2021 budget—savings that will be invested in the county’s mobile mental health service and to hire a full-time social worker to respond to 9-1-1 calls. The move comes after Ryan, and The River, learned last week that Westchester Medical Center has held a meeting with the Office of Mental Health to permanently close at least some of the inpatient psych beds it has temporarily shuttered because of the pandemic.

Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro previewed his 2021 budget in Wednesday’s COVID-19 town hall. Molinaro said there would be no property tax increases, and that while the county workforce will be reduced, there won’t be layoffs. Molinaro also noted that Dutchess is the only county in the Mid-Hudson region to see a decline in COVID-19 cases over the last week.

The Freeman has a roundup of the latest plans from Ulster and northern Dutchess school districts for resuming in-person learning:

  • Pine Plains: All instruction remains online. A return date will be discussed by the Board of Education at its October 7 meeting.
  • Red Hook: Elementary school students will have half-day in-person instruction starting October 13, while high schoolers will alternate between in-person and online classes.
  • Highland: Starting October 5 and being phased in over two weeks, students whose last names start with A through K will be in classrooms on Mondays and Thursdays, while those whose last names start with L through Z will be in classrooms Tuesdays and Fridays. All other instruction will be online. Under the phase-in schedule, the new instruction model will take effect October 5 for grades kindergarten, 3, 6, and 9; October 14 for grades 1, 4, 7, 10, and 11; and October 19 for grades 2, 5, 8, and 12.

Orange County reported 29 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. County Executive Steven Neuhaus gave a town-by-town breakdown of the county’s 340 active cases, 146 of which are in Palm Tree, which contains the village of Kiryas Joel.

The Monticello school district closed George L. Cooke Elementary School after a staff member who had contact with students tested positive for COVID-19, the Times Herald-Record reports. The school will remain closed until October 10.

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

Price gouging on the school bus? The Sullivan County Democrat reports that the Liberty Central School District is suing the Rolling V Bus Corp, alleging that the school bus company is “attempting to profit off the COVID-19 pandemic” by demanding payment for several months in the spring when no buses were running. Meanwhile, the bus company is suing the Fallsburg Central School District, claiming that the school breached its contract; school administrators say they object to being forced to pay more for having the bus company deliver meals to students than they would have had to pay to transport students to school. The bus company is effectively a monopoly in the region, and serves five other local school districts besides Liberty and Fallsburg. 

Several employees of Bassett Medical Center in the Otsego County town of Cooperstown tested positive for COVID-19 last week, forcing the hospital network to scramble to test its workforce and cancel some elective procedures, the Daily Star reports. The Bassett Healthcare Network has facilities in Delaware and Schoharie counties as well as Otsego and Herkimer. 

SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras, a Catskills native, visited SUNY Cobleskill last week to discuss new SUNY-wide COVID-19 policies that include suspension for students who break the rules. Last week, the college shut down for two days after wastewater testing detected “indicators associated with COVID-19,” but followup pooled testing revealed no cases in the student body. SUNY Cobleskill assured the campus community that the water is fine: “Please remember that the wastewater samples we collect are from the sewage system, and there is no cause for concern or interruption to our campus water system. As always, Cobleskill drinking water is safe and delicious,” a statement read.

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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.