This is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties published over the weekend and on Monday, August 3.
NEW YORK STATE
416,843 cases confirmed (545 new)
6,082,774 tests performed (51,839 new)
Positive test rate: 1.05%
25,172 deaths (3 new)
536 current hospitalizations
136 current ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065
Hearings on New York State’s handling of nursing home policy got off to a rousing start in the New York State legislature on Monday, with top Democrats grilling New York State health commissioner Howard Zucker and accusing the state of manipulating data to lower the number of COVID-19 deaths in the state attributed to nursing homes. At issue: The state has not been counting nursing home residents who die in hospitals as part of the total number of nursing home deaths, and has not made any data on those deaths public, or indicated how much of an impact counting them as nursing home deaths would make on the statistics. Zucker told legislators he will not release data on nursing home residents who died in hospitals until he is sure it is “absolutely accurate,” the Times Union reports. Another hearing on nursing home issues is scheduled for Aug. 10.
In a Monday briefing, Governor Andrew Cuomo called on the federal government to “hit the reset button” on response to the pandemic, echoing the words of a group of public health experts at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security who published a report last week urging the US to take sweeping action on COVID-19. “The truth is, none of us are safe until all of us are safe. That is the truth. If we don’t tell the truth on the reset, COVID will never end, and it will ricochet across the country. It will just bounce back and forth,” Cuomo said. “This was a colossal blunder, how COVID was handled by this federal government. Colossal blunder. Shame on all of you.”
Ed Yong, a science writer at The Atlantic who has become one of the leading voices on the pandemic in national journalism, took about 8,000 more words than Cuomo did, but came to much the same conclusion, in a cover story this week entitled “Anatomy of an American Failure.” “COVID‑19 is an assault on America’s body, and a referendum on the ideas that animate its culture. Recovery is possible, but it demands radical introspection,” Yong writes.
There’s no decision on schools yet from New York State, although Cuomo has said he plans to decide this week, and that schools should plan for a return to classrooms. In Monday’s briefing, Cuomo said that schools need to communicate with parents about their plans. “Just because I say the infection rate is low doesn’t mean parents are going to send their children back to school,” he said.
According to The New York Times’ Style section, which never tires of peering into the well-appointed living rooms of the Hudson Valley’s clickbaitiest second homeowners, there’s a slight uptick in enrollment in some local school districts (well, at least Rhinebeck) from wealthy New Yorkers seeking different school options. Some former Manhattanites are apparently going upstate to homeschool, too. This quote from an Elizaville erstwhile weekender is, as they say, a lot to unpack: “My kids are in second grade and fourth grade, so there’s nothing I can really do to set them back academically,” Noria Morales told the paper. “It’s not like I have to teach them algebra. Up here, you’re surrounded by trees and birds, and in my mind, I can encourage curiosity.”
In actual news from The New York Times, some scientists at the Food and Drug Administration are worried that the Trump administration may try to rush the development of a COVID-19 vaccine in time for the November election. Presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner reportedly has a seat on a board overseeing the vaccine effort, an appointment that does not inspire confidence given Kushner’s role in overseeing—and mothballing—a plan to roll out a national testing effort.
Efforts to pass another federal coronavirus relief bill are once again at an impasse, Politico reports: Democrats want to resume $600-a-week federal emergency unemployment payments, while Republicans want to scale back the payments “dramatically.” Democrats are using a House-passed legislation package dubbed the Heroes Act as a starting point for negotiations, but there has been infighting between the White House and Congressional Republicans over legislative priorities, and it’s unclear if there’s a coherent counter-proposal on the Republican side. “You can’t negotiate with a ghost,” one Democratic aide told NBC News last week.
Florida recently passed a pandemic milestone: Last week, the state’s confirmed case total surpassed New York’s. In a blog post, two analysts from the COVID Tracking Project cautioned against making simple comparisons between Florida’s number’s and New York’s, noting that at the height of New York’s outbreak, many more cases were going uncounted because of limited testing. Florida’s numbers are worrisome, and testing delays due to backed-up labs and the approach of Tropical Storm Isaias are hindering the state’s progress, they write, but “the Southern state is likely capturing far more of its positive cases than New York did.”
Congressman Antonio Delgado had an op-ed in Sunday’s Times Union making the case for pandemic aid to state and local governments. “When our communities needed it most, our local governments answered the call,” he writes.
Announced by New York State on Monday and over the weekend:
- Cuomo signed legislation on Monday authorizing the manufacture and sale of ice cream and other frozen desserts made with liquor, in an effort to give a boost to the state’s dairy and craft beverage producers. (At The River, we suspect the timing of this announcement might have something to do with somebody wanting a distraction from the pesky nursing home hearings news cycle, but you know what, we’re looking forward to a 5 percent ABV maple bourbon sundae anyway. —Ed.)
- A task force led by the New York State Police and State Liquor Authority continues to cite restaurants for pandemic violations—mostly downstate, but elsewhere in New York as well. A total of 83 bars and restaurants have now had their liquor licenses suspended for violations, and the count of citations is up to 596.
- Cuomo has signed legislation creating a one-year extension in the deadline for bringing a sexual abuse lawsuit under the Child Victims Act, which allows a look-back window for filing abuse claims in cases where the statute of limitations has expired. But the extension doesn’t apply to a group of more than 200 cases that have been moved to federal court because of a bankruptcy filing—so anyone with a claim to file against the Rochester Catholic Diocese must do so by August 13, CBS6 reports.
Rate of active cases per 10,000 residents, drawn from the latest county data. Active case data unavailable for Rockland and Orange counties.
Negative COVID-19 tests are not a license to party, Westchester County officials said in the county’s weekly COVID-19 briefing on Monday. “We’ve heard stories of parties that have been structured for young people, teenage parties that involve parents’ structure and agreement to them, that you have to show a negative COVID test,” said county executive George Latimer. Not a great idea, said county health commissioner Sherlita Amler: “You can have a negative COVID test today, but can still be incubating and spreading COVID tomorrow. Getting COVID-tested to attend a party is a bad idea because it can lead to a lack of social distancing and mask wearing. This poses a risk to you, your children and everyone around them.”
When summer camps have had large COVID-19 outbreaks, they’ve made dire headlines, both in New York State and across the nation. This week, LoHud.com goes after the good news as well as the bad, reporting that most day camps in the lower Hudson Valley have been able to operate without seeing any infections, whether thanks to good fortune, good safety practices, or both.
Marist has begun welcoming students back to campus: A Facebook post by the Poughkeepsie college says that students from “hotspots” are returning now to begin quarantine.
SUNY New Paltz students are returning to campus too: International students arrived on Aug. 1 to begin a two-week quarantine, and first-year students arrive on Aug. 16. The Other Hudson Valley reports that about 2,000 students plan to live on the New Paltz campus this fall, down from 3,200 in a normal year: The college’s reopening plan called for up to 2,900 students living in residence halls, but with most of New Paltz’s courses being offered online, almost a third have made other arrangements.
Local legislators are worried about home healthcare workers who are not being paid well or protected with sufficient equipment while doing important work on the front lines of the pandemic, the Daily Freeman reports. According to a study released last week by NY Caring Majority, home health care is the fastest-growing occupation in the Hudson Valley, but every year, 5,100 home care workers leave the workforce due to low pay and inadequate benefits.
Sullivan County manager Josh Potosek joined a chorus of local voices this week in calling on Congressional leaders to provide federal aid to local governments. “We estimate that we’re facing a $10-$20 million shortfall in our $233 million 2020 budget, to say nothing of the grim prospects for 2021. While that may seem a small sum compared to other municipalities in your districts, it represents an incredible challenge for our rural County and our already overburdened taxpayers,” Potosek wrote in a letter to Congressional leaders. In a release, county treasurer Nancy Buck sounded a more ominous note: “Congress needs to act now,” urged Buck, “and make sure the aid comes directly to municipalities. If it gets funneled through the State, we may not see any of it.”
Lack of broadband access is hurting education in the rural Catskills and Hudson Valley, the Times Herald-Record reports. “These kids are at a very serious disadvantage compared to their peers in urban districts in terms of connectivity,” said superintendent Mike Williams of the Tri-Valley Central School District in Sullivan County.
State senator Jen Metzger will hold a socially distanced constituent Q&A session from 11am to 1pm at the Barryville Farmers’ Market this Saturday, August 8. Attendees must wear masks, and fill out an online RSVP form ahead of time.
In the tiny Delaware County village of Fleischmanns, local businessman Avi Mendlovic has continued to resist efforts by village officials and the state Department of Health to shut down what Fleischmanns mayor Fred Woller is calling “illegal camps” for teenage Orthodox Jewish boys. In an email to village residents this week, Woller urged full-time Fleischmanns residents not to paint all of the village’s seasonal Orthodox residents with the same brush. “As I sit here on my porch enjoying a beautiful Sunday afternoon, watching people pass by, I realize that most of the people who visit Fleischmanns for the summer are nice people. Were it not for the large number of boys at the illegal camp, I wouldn’t feel so overwhelmed,” Woller writes. “It’s too bad that one person can exhibit such a degree of selfishness as to have disregard for this Village and the people who live here. I am sickened by the fact that he disregards the laws and continues to act in non-compliance and in contempt. So please don’t take out your anger on every visitor to our village, their customs are different, they are here to enjoy the ‘country,’ they don’t understand much about our culture as many of us don’t understand theirs.”
A COVID-19 vaccine isn’t here yet, but when it does become available, there may be fierce local legal battles over it. The Catskill Daily Mail reports that eight New York State families whose children were barred from school because of refusal to vaccinate have filed a federal class-action lawsuit against eight schools and the New York State Department of Health. Among the schools being sued is the Coxsackie-Athens Central School District in Greene 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.
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