This is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties published on Tuesday, August 4 and Wednesday, August 5.
NEW YORK STATE
418, 225 cases confirmed (636 new)
6,226,435 tests performed (72,668 new)
Positive test rate: 0.87%
25,179 deaths (4 new)
564 current hospitalizations
134 current ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065
As if a pandemic weren’t enough: Tropical Storm Isaias battered the Hudson Valley on Tuesday, flooding roadways and knocking out power to more than a million customers in New York State. Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a disaster in Bronx, Dutchess, Kings, Nassau, New York, Orange, Putnam, Queens, Richmond, Rockland, Suffolk, and Westchester counties, along with all counties that border them, meaning that Columbia, Sullivan, and Ulster counties are also covered by the disaster declaration. Fifty soldiers from the New York National Guard have been activated in Putnam County to help with the disaster.
Cuomo is calling for a public investigation into utility companies’ response to Isaias, calling it “unacceptable”: “The large volume of outages and the utilities’ failure to communicate with customers in real time proves they did not live up to their legal obligations. The fact that many customers still do not know when their power will be restored makes it even more unacceptable. The worst of this situation was avoidable, and it cannot happen again,” he said. “New Yorkers deserve answers and they deserve better.”
Overlapping natural disasters are increasingly offering a “preview of life under climate change,” The New York Times wrote on Tuesday, in a story that featured experts urging governments to rethink how they prepare for disasters. It’s solid advice, but we have to ask: What do you mean, “preview”? Climate change is here, and we are already experiencing the accelerating pace of disaster, in the Hudson Valley region and beyond.
State health commissioner Howard Zucker spoke with legislators at the New York State Senate about school safety plans and other education issues on Wednesday. Hot topics included gaps in internet access, availability of testing for students and staff, and how schools should handle closures.
Unions representing public school teachers and college professors and staff are worried about school reopening plans, and are calling on state health officials to give more details about when and how schools should close down in response to positive cases. Two large unions, the New York State United Teachers and the United Federation of Teachers, are urging the state to require schools to shut down for 14 days if a case is found.
With a bang of the gavel, Cuomo took over chairmanship of the National Governors’ Association on Wednesday. The vote to name Cuomo as chair was unanimous. Previously, Cuomo served as vice chair of the bipartisan group, with Republican Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland as chair. Another Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, will take over as vice chair. In remarks made at the ceremony, Cuomo put a positive spin on the predicament of states left to fend for themselves in a vacuum of federal pandemic leadership: “There has never been a moment where state governments have been more instrumental in the lives of the people of this country. State governments are now in the forefront, and it is a new chapter in the governance of this country,” he said. “This coming year, states are not only laboratories of democracy. We will also be the engines of economic renewal and the innovators of a new public health system.”
New York City health commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot resigned on Tuesday, apparently pushed out by Mayor Bill de Blasio. Gothamist reports that the two had clashed repeatedly over pandemic response, including the mayor’s decision to strip the city health department of contact tracing duties and turn them over to the city hospital system, a move criticized by some high-profile public health experts.
New York City will institute checkpoints at bridges and tunnels in an effort to boost compliance with quarantine requirements for travelers, de Blasio announced Wednesday, although details on the logistics are pretty scant. The checkpoints will be run by the New York City Sheriff’s Office, which is separate from the New York Police Department, and whose officers perform various civil enforcement functions.
A new hurdle in federal negotiations over the next package of coronavirus relief legislation: Republicans and Democrats in Congress are fighting over the Post Office. New Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a major Trump donor who took over in June, has put new cost-cutting policies in place that are delaying mail delivery across the country, and Democrats are demanding that the next round of pandemic legislation must reverse those rules and preserve funding for the nation’s mail service in order to ensure mail access and the integrity of elections.
Israel, a nation that tamed a fierce outbreak and got new daily COVID-19 infections down into the single digits in late May, is now facing a much higher second wave: By the end of July, Israel was reporting more than 2,000 cases a day. The culprit, many public health officials believe, was reopening schools without adequate safety plans; a single high school in Jerusalem became a superspreading environment within days. “If there is a low number of cases, there is an illusion that the disease is over,” epidemiologist Hagai Levine told The New York Times. “But it’s a complete illusion.”
A group of New York State restaurants is suing their insurers in state court for denying coverage for business losses incurred because of forced shutdowns during the pandemic, the New York Law Journal reports. Jeremy Creelan, a lawyer representing the restaurants, argued that insurers are taking a “nearly blanket” approach to coverage denials for losses based on shutdowns. “These restaurants paid their premiums and believed in good faith that when their businesses were interrupted for situations covered by their insurance policies, they would be made whole. But they weren’t. And that’s not right,” he wrote.
Visits to New York State prisons resumed on Wednesday, after months of isolation for inmates from family and friends. New safety protocols, including the use of outdoor visiting areas, are in place. All visitors must wear masks, and according to prison rules, masks can’t have any pictures or words on them. Deadly outbreaks of COVID-19 have occurred in several New York State prisons, and the state’s testing of inmates lags far behind the rate at which New York State residents generally are getting tested.
Thursday, August 6 is the deadline for applying to New York State’s COVID Rent Relief program. New Yorkers seeking rent assistance can look up details on eligibility or apply online at hcr.ny.gov/RRP.
Announced by New York State on Tuesday and Wednesday:
- Rhode Island has been added to the New York State quarantine list. Delaware and Washington, DC, whose pandemic metrics have been improving, have been taken off the list. The states from which travelers must now quarantine are: Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin, plus the US territory of Puerto Rico.
- In a press release, Cuomo announced the awarding of $2.3 million in loans from the New York Forward Loan Fund to 61 businesses, nonprofits, and landlords that did not receive federal COVID-19 assistance. The state is still accepting applications at nyloanfund.com.
- Eleven more bars and restaurants have had their liquor licenses suspended since Monday, including the Sirenita Lounge in Ossining. An updated list of citations and suspensions is posted on the New York State website.
- The state Department of Financial Services has issued guidance to health insurers to make sure patients are not charged fees for personal protective equipment, and is seeking refunds for patients who have been charged such fees.
Rate of active cases per 10,000 residents, drawn from the latest county data. Active case data unavailable for Rockland and Orange counties.
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.
LOWER HUDSON VALLEY
County coronavirus pages: Rockland, Westchester, Putnam
Pfizer is seeking a whopping 93 percent reduction in property taxes on its Orangetown property, the Rockland County Business Journal reports. The pharma giant has been fighting to lower its tax assessments for years, the outlet reports, but in a time when many local governments and school districts are more strapped for cash than they’ve been in living memory, it’s rough timing for the town.
County coronavirus pages: Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia
The Kingston Teacher’s Federation is calling on the Kingston school district to begin the school year with all-remote teaching, the Daily Freeman reports. “We cannot allow our schools to become centers for spreading COVID-19 infection to our families and communities,” the union’s executive committee wrote in a resolution. “Our school district’s plans for reopening with any in-school instruction, without the needed additional resources from our federal and state governments, cannot possibly ensure safety for our students and their educators.”
Fatal opioid overdoses so far this year in Ulster County have already surpassed the number for all of 2019, the Freeman reports. In a Facebook Live forum held Tuesday, county executive Pat Ryan said that a new county opioid program would be launched soon. “Tackling the opioid epidemic has been and remains one of my top priorities, and we can’t lose focus on this in the midst of the COVID crisis,” he said.
A spike of 15 cases in Columbia County has been tied to two July golf outings, county health director Jack Mabb said in a press release. Outbreaks connected to the events have spread to people at four local retail outlets and two daycare centers. Mabb said that the problem probably wasn’t golf, but people hanging out without masks and not social distancing: “In the world of COVID-19, golf, as a game played outdoors, places you at very low risk of contracting the virus. The likely spread of the virus in this case came from people not wearing a mask and not social distancing when done playing. This outbreak is the likely result of a group of friends getting together and not doing what they should have done when off the course,” he wrote in a statement.
COVID-19 isn’t the only thing spiking in Columbia County recently: Opioid overdoses are on the rise as well, county health officials warned. In a Tuesday news release, county officials urged residents to seek help, use safely if they must use, keep Narcan and fentanyl test strips on hand, and let loved ones know where they are: “Help is available by calling Greener Pathways at 518-822-7437 or Columbia County Pathways To Recovery at 877-467-3365. In an emergency, call 911. Minutes matter in an overdose and you can save a life.”
More than 170 employees of Dutchess County have applied for the county’s separation incentive program, county executive Marc Molinaro said in a news release about the county’s Wednesday Town Hall forum. The program, which gives county employees financial incentives to retire early or leave voluntarily, was instituted to save money because of the pandemic fiscal crisis, and is expected to save the county $10 to $15 million in the 2021 budget. The county’s next virtual Town Hall will be held on Wednesday, August 12.
The Orange County Volunteer Firemen’s Association annual parade and convention, originally scheduled for Sept. 26, has been cancelled.
County coronavirus pages: Sullivan, Delaware, Greene, Schoharie
The Kartrite Resort and Water Park in Thompson, a new $180 million resort that opened in April 2019, has announced that they will not open this season because of the pandemic, the Times Herald-Record reports. No reopening date has been set. Town supervisor Bill Rieber Jr. said that between Kartrite and the Resorts World casino closing, the town is taking a big revenue hit, but not an insurmountable one: “It’s a big hit. It puts us right back to where we were before the casino and (the Kartrite) came online, which also gives you an indication that we’ll be able to handle it,” he said.
School districts in Schoharie County, like their counterparts around New York State, are facing tremendous uncertainty as the upcoming school year looms, and are still awaiting word from the state on whether schools will reopen, or whether the district plans will be accepted by state officials. “This is what we have now,” Sharon Springs Central School superintendent Pat Green told the Times-Journal. “It’s the best plan we could come up with for our kids. Will it change as the situation changes? Absolutely.”
The Walton First Baptist Church, where Delaware County health officials announced a possible COVID-19 exposure in July, is preparing to return to in-person worship after completing two weeks of online-only services to put a halt to any ongoing transmission, the church announced last week on their Facebook page. When the exposure was discovered on July 23, the church planned at first to keep holding in-person services, according to a Facebook post that was later deleted.
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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.