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Coronavirus Roundup: State Issues Data-Driven Guidance for Reopening Schools

All the news and announcements from New York State, the Hudson Valley, and the Catskills for Monday, July 13.

“I love history, I love poster art,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said Monday.
Governor Cuomo
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This is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties published between Saturday, July 11 and Monday, July 13.

402,263 cases confirmed (557 new)
4,724,882 tests performed (51,687 new)
Positive test rate: 1.1%
24,989 deaths (10 new)
792 current hospitalizations
175 current ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065

New York State’s long-awaited guidance on school reopening in the fall is out. In a Monday briefing, Governor Andrew Cuomo laid out the metrics for if and when K-12 schools will be allowed to reopen in New York. Schools in Phase Four regions will be allowed to reopen if the daily positive test rate in the region stands at five percent or lower over a 14-day average. If the regional positive test rate rises above nine percent on a seven-day average, schools must close. School districts have until July 31 to submit plans for reopening to the state, and must adhere to new guidance from the New York State Department of Health. Currently, every region in the state is well below the metric for reopening schools, with daily positive test rates in the state’s 10 regions ranging from 0.2 percent to two percent over the weekend.

The talk of New York State politics Twitter on Monday was Cuomo’s new poster, a pandemic-themed piece of political folk art featuring—what else?—Infection Mountain, which the governor has also produced in Styrofoam form at Albany briefings. New York magazine reports that the new poster was created by a different artist than the one who made Cuomo’s equally bonkers “Leading The Way” poster in January; it features the governor’s daughters and top advisors, the infamous boyfriend, and a raft of allusions to various milestones the state has hit along the rocky path since mid-March.

On Sunday, New York City had its first day since March with no deaths attributed to known COVID-19 infections.

Rensselaer County is facing an uptick in cases, some of them tied to travel from out-of-state hotspots. The county reported 23 new cases on Saturday, 19 of which were linked to the Riverside nursing home in Castleton.

Albany County officials are sounding the alarm about the dangers of out-of-state travel, the Times Union reports. Most of the 25 cases found in the county over the weekend were related to gatherings and “congregate settings,” with eight new cases connected to local nursing homes.

One we missed last week: A cluster of at least 16 cases has emerged in Onondaga County, all traced back to a home-based daycare where a child without symptoms spread COVID-19 to four families, including the owner of the daycare as well as her mother, husband, and two children.

New York’s Congressional delegation is upset at the US Department of Agriculture for the agency’s handling of the Food Box program, an emergency program created to connect US farm produce with hungry families during the pandemic. Just four percent of the funding for the program has gone to New York and New England so far, and local food banks have been shut out of the program, according to a release from Congressman Antonio Delgado’s office on Monday. Delgado and other New York federal representatives have written a letter to ag secretary Sonny Perdue asking for more oversight of the program and an explanation of how contracts are being allocated. 

A group of Republican legislators is calling for New York State to allow outdoor visits at nursing homes. On Friday, the state Department of Health lifted the ban on nursing home visitation in place since March, with strict limits and regulations on visits. 

Scoop from NPR: More than 1,200 employees of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have signed a letter describing a “pervasive and toxic” culture of racism at the agency, and are calling on the CDC to address longstanding issues, both for the good of its own employees and for more effective action against a pandemic that is disproportionately sickening and killing Black and brown Americans. 

COVID Exit Strategy, a website run by a group of public health and crisis experts tracking state responses to the pandemic, added a disturbing new color on Friday to their already alarming map of how states are failing to contain the pandemic: “Bruised Red.” The new color currently indicates 18 states with “uncontrolled spread”; site publishers reorganized the map’s color scheme because so many states were falling into the red “trending poorly” category that the map was becoming less useful at differentiating them.

On Sunday, Florida broke New York State’s record for most COVID-19 cases found in a single day, with 15,300 new cases reported. The previous record was New York’s 12,274 on April 4. In comparing recent Florida numbers to New York State at the peak, it’s important to note that the data are being collected in very different situations; in March and April, when the pandemic was raging across New York State, it is likely that many more cases were going undetected, and testing access was so heavily restricted that most of the positive results were patients who were very sick or had known positive contacts. “New York’s true infection rate at the peak was many times higher than what Florida is experiencing now,” Bill Hammond, director of health policy at the conservative-leaning Empire Center and a prominent health analyst in New York State, wrote on Twitter on Monday

Could herd immunity be possible with a low percentage of the population infected? That’s the intriguing topic of The Atlantic’s latest deep dive on epidemiology science, by writer James Hamblin. Caution to readers: This is a complex topic that doesn’t lend itself to sound bites or easy armchair analysis. But some epidemiologists think that if there is a lot of variation in who is likely to get infected with COVID-19, that variation might cause herd immunity to emerge at lower cumulative infection levels than would be expected if everyone has the same risk. Hamblin notes that variance in risk of infection isn’t just a fixed property of human or coronavirus biology, but one that responds to policy and people’s decisions about how to protect themselves. “There will only be as much chaos as we allow,” he writes. 

More than 4,100 casino workers across New York State are expected to be laid off this week, the Times Herald-Record reports. With no information as to when casinos will be allowed to reopen, employees at Tioga Downs, Vernon Downs, Rivers Casino Resorts World Catskills, and Resorts World New York City will receive layoff notices under the federal WARN Act, which requires employers to provide advance notice of layoffs lasting six months or more.

Announced by New York State on Monday and over the weekend: 

Rate of active cases per 10,000 residents, drawn from the latest county data. Active case data unavailable for Rockland and Orange counties.

County coronavirus pages: Rockland, Westchester, Putnam

Putnam County issued a health alert on Monday warning that anyone who was at Tom & Jerry’s Bar & Grill in Brewster on July 6 between 1-3:30pm may have been exposed to the coronavirus. A member of the public who has tested positive for COVID-19 was at the bar during those hours.

In better outbreak news, Westchester County Executive George Latimer said on Monday that there have been no additional confirmed cases from the Chappaqua cluster since last week. The outbreak, which is linked to Horace Greeley High School’s graduation and related events, has infected 27 individuals, none of whom have required hospitalization.

The Rockland County Department of Social Services Child Care Subsidy program is back open and accepting applications for low-income Rockland households who need affordable childcare, Department of Social Services Commissioner Joan Silvestri announced Monday.

County coronavirus pages: Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia

An employee of Del’s Roadside, a popular ice cream stand in Rhinebeck, has tested positive for COVID-19, according to a Facebook post by the eatery. The employee that tested positive worked on these dates: June 16, 17, 19, 20, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 29, 30, and July 2, 9, 10. As of this writing, the Dutchess County Department of Health has not issued a health advisory. 

SUNY Orange announced its fall semester plans last week. About 85 percent of the curriculum will be taught remotely, with support services moving “mostly” online and a phased plan for employees returning to the Middletown and Newburgh campuses. The semester will start as originally scheduled on August 24, and on-campus instruction will be halted starting on Tuesday, November 24 before the Thanksgiving break.

The Kingston City School District released an updated schedule for its summer meal program, which provides free meals for all 18 years of age and younger.

Kingston High School will hold two separate days of commencement ceremonies for the class of 2020, with five small ceremonies on each day so that attendees can maintain social distancing. The ceremonies will be on July 17 and 18 at Dietz Stadium. More information can be found on KHS’ website.

The Columbia County Department of Health announced its August schedule of mobile COVID-testing clinics.

Storm King will reopen this Wednesday, July 15. Timed-entry tickets are required for all visitors and available for reservation on the art center’s website.

The 32nd annual Hudson Valley Garlic Festival, which had been scheduled for September 26-27 in Saugerties, has been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers announced Monday.

County coronavirus pages: Sullivan, Delaware, Greene, Schoharie

The Schoharie County Department of Health reported five new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, a large number for a rural county that has reported only a handful of positive cases in the past month, and has had only 64 cases to date. The news was posted on Facebook; the county has not been providing any case information on its website since May, and officials did not specify where in the county the new cases were located.

On Saturday, July 11, Delaware County reported a new positive case in the county, the first reported since June 23.

Local residents and town officials in Hunter are pushing the state for enforcement of parking and littering rules at Kaaterskill Clove, the Catskill Daily Mail reports. The area has been a problem for years, but in the wake of the pandemic, overcrowding has reached a crisis point. “Post-COVID, it’s been almost unbearable,” Hunter resident Shane Valcich told the paper.

Sullivan County has issued a fact sheet on how the sale of the county-owned Sunset Lake nursing home is expected to proceed. Sunset Lake has been a significant money loser in recent years, with $3.4 million in losses in 2019, and the pandemic has pushed the county into fiscal crisis, prompting the sale. The county plans to transfer the center to a Local Development Corporation which will manage the sale until it can be sold to a private operator. Sullivan County is holding a hearing on the sale at 8am on Tuesday, July 14 at the county office building in Monticello.

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.