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Coronavirus Roundup: New Task Forces and Application for Unemployment

All the news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties from Monday, April 20.

Staff at the Glen Island COVID testing site show that they're NY Tough.
New York State Police
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This is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties published on Monday, April 20. Produced in collaboration with The Other Hudson Valley.

La Voz, a Spanish-language magazine covering Hispanic news and culture in the Hudson Valley, is translating these roundups and co-publishing them on its website. Read here. You can also listen to daily audio updates from “La Voz con Mariel Fiori” on Radio Kingston.

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. 

The River is also 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.

We’ve moved our list of resources to a page on our website, which will be updated regularly. The list is not comprehensive, but if you know anything you’d like us to add, please email us.

247,512 cases confirmed (4,726 new)
633,861 tests performed (16,306 new)
14,347 deaths (478 new)
57,103 hospitalizations (overall)
16,103 hospitalizations (current)
5,016 ICU admissions
Confirmed cases per 10,000 residents: 127
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065

Antibody testing is already underway at grocery stores across New York State. On Sunday, while Cuomo was describing this week’s rollout of antibody testing of a sampling of random New Yorkers to assess the statewide scale of the pandemic, healthcare workers were already preparing behind the scenes to staff popup testing sites. On Sunday afternoon, the Daily Gazette reports, Price Chopper shoppers in Schenectady lined up for finger-prick tests, lured in by a bright yellow sign hand-lettered “NYS DOH antibody screening. Find out if you have been exposed here!” WKBW Buffalo reports that screening was also conducted Sunday at Wegmans supermarkets in Buffalo, Amherst, Binghamton, Rochester, and Syracuse. The state has not publicized locations of antibody testing ahead of time, since the goal is to get random samples and to avoid creating large crowds, but keep an eye out for a popup location and you might get lucky. 

Meanwhile, in the most populated county in the nation, antibody testing is yielding surprising results. A study in Los Angeles County found that 2.8 to 5.6 percent of adults in the county have antibodies to the virus in their blood, an estimate far greater than experts previously thought. The study follows closely on the heels of another recent antibody study from Stanford, in Santa Clara County, that also found similarly high rates of immune response among study participants. If the findings hold up, they could mean that COVID-19 is both more widespread and less lethal than early research indicated; however, the high rates of inaccuracy emerging in antibody tests cast the findings of both studies into some doubt. Also still largely unknown is whether having antibodies to COVID-19 means a person is immune to contracting the disease again. 

Congressional lawmakers and the Trump administration were closing in on an agreement for the next round of stimulus funding, after a weeks-long stalemate. CNN reports that the nearly $500 billion package will pour more funds into the emergency small business lending program, and provide additional funding for hospitals and for coronavirus testing. The deal is considered an “interim” package before a significantly larger deal that will presumably provide more direct payments to American taxpayers.

Nearly 800 state corrections employees and 243 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, according to new figures released today by the state. Nine inmates and one employee have died. Even before the new figures were released, Senator Jen Metzger (D-Rosendale) and other legislators were demanding corrections employees and inmates be provided face coverings, arguing the close quarters of the state prison system naturally lead to outbreaks. Before the beginning of the month, corrections employees were not even allowed to wear face coverings they brought from home. Inmates in at least one state prison, Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Westchester County, were not allowed to wear any sort of face covering, according to NPR.

Announced by New York State on Monday

  • On Monday morning, the state launched a new, streamlined online application for unemployment assistance that does not require applicants to first apply for unemployment insurance. The changes, intended to make it easier on applicants and hasten the process, are being adopted by several other states as well, the New York Daily News reports.
  • The state announced the creation of a COVID-19 maternity task force that will look into authorizing dedicated birthing centers to provide an alternative to giving birth in hospitals, and make recommendations about the impact of COVID-19 on pregnancy.
  • Cuomo is warning of potential 20 percent cuts in the state budget to schools, local governments, and hospitals unless the federal government delivers massive state funding aid.
  • In Monday’s briefing, Cuomo also called on the federal government to provide hazard pay to essential public workers, who are being sickened and killed by the virus at disproportionate rates. “Pay them what they deserve,” he said. “I would say hazard pay, give them a 50 percent bonus, and I would do that now.”
  • A new partnership with Ready Responders will provide increased access to healthcare services and testing to New York City Housing Authority residents, and also give out masks and hand sanitizer in NYCHA buildings.
  • Cuomo announced the creation of a new task force, Reimagine New York, that will improve systems downstate once New York is no longer on PAUSE. Leading the task force, along with state officials, will be New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, Westchester County executive George Latimer, Nassau County executive Laura Curran, and Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone; other local elected officials and housing and transportation experts will participate as well.
  • The SUNY system is distributing more than 8,800 laptops and Chromebooks to students who are currently finishing the spring semester.
  • In response to a question from a reporter, Cuomo said that the state was planning to make an announcement on Tuesday about a plan for allowing hospitals to resume elective surgeries in areas where unused bed capacity is higher and a wave of cases is not expected.

Below: A graph showing the number of cases per 10,000 residents in each county, drawn from New York State’s data. Numbers are announced daily by the New York State Department of Health, based on cases found by midnight on the day before. County populations vary widely in this region, and we feel that reporting numbers proportionally is a better way to make comparisons between counties than using the number of confirmed cases. But it is important to note that we do not know how much difference between counties is being driven by insufficient testing. The reporting of cases is lagging far behind actual infections, and sick people who cannot get tested are not being reported.

9,457 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz filed a report with the Ramapo police after a flier and a tweet accused him and two others of being “moserim”—Jews who snitch on other Jews, essentially—after the rabbi filmed instances of people in the community violating social-distancing orders. Subsequent tweets cited a medieval Torah scholar asserting moserim could be killed for turning over Jews to an authoritarian government. The Journal News had a Twitter exchange with the anonymous person behind the account, who said the tweet was not meant as a threat, nor was he against social distancing, but took issue with the posting of the films because they could inflate simmering anti-Semitism.

County executive Ed Day and county health commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert announced the #YouthCanGetIt2 social media campaign to highlight COVID-19 prevention methods for teens and young adults. Youth from a number of organizations in Rockland created visual images and video messages for social media outlets popular with their generation. “Youth play an important role in stopping community spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Ruppert. “They can educate their peers and help protect their friends and families through their own social distancing and hygiene behaviors.”

24,306 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page
County press release page

Westchester Medical Center (WMC) was sued today by the state nurses union, which alleges the hospital was not providing protective gear to nurses, putting them and the general public at risk of contracting the coronavirus. Suits were also filed against the state Department of Health and Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. A WMC nurse said in a court statement she was issued one N95 mask a week, going against a directive by Governor Cuomo that nurses should be supplied with new N95s daily. WMC released a statement calling the lawsuit “irresponsible and a distraction.”

The Westchester County Center, which was converted into a 110-bed temporary hospital for COVID-19 patients, may go mostly unused as the number of people hospitalized in the county remains manageable without it. The center was converted as part of Governor Cuomo’s directive to increase hospital bed capacity by 50 percent. Similar projects are underway up and down the Hudson Valley—a dorm at the Dutchess County Community College and the gym at the Kingston High School have been converted to take less-serious COVID-19 patients. County executive George Latimer said the center would be prepared to take patients from other counties. An outside contractor was paid $15 million by the federal government for the project, which was undertaken in conjunction with the state Health Department and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Swastikas were allegedly posted during two Jewish religious ceremonies hosted through the online meeting portal Zoom, leading the District Attorney to open an investigation. The “Zoom bombings” are being investigated by the Cybercrimes and Hate Crimes units, and supeonas have been issued.

6,482 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page
Orange County Department of Health: (845) 291-2330

The US Department of Agriculture has approved $19 billion in economic aid for farmers as part of the federal government’s overall coronavirus stimulus package. While specifics on how the aid will be distributed are still being developed, farmers and farm organizations who lobbied for assistance in the wake of the pandemic’s disruption of supply chains and prices applauded the announcement. “It’s great news,” said John Lupinski, president of the Orange County Farm Bureau and a vegetable farmer. “Food is the most important thing for people, after air, water, shelter, so this will definitely help farmers keep on producing it. But I’m concerned about whether this will be enough aid and whether there’s a mechanism in the package to revise the amount, to increase it.” The National Milk Producers Federation said the stimulus package appears to indicate at least $100 million a month of that $3 billion will be spent on dairy products, but warned it may not be enough since farmers were already teetering after five years of low prices for milk.

2,284 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page
Dutchess County COVID-19 hotline: (845) 486-3555
Dutchess County 24/7 mental health helpline: (845) 485-9700

Five refrigerated tractor-trailers and a refrigerated rental truck are parked in a lot near the Turtle Walk Playground. In front of them are plastic barricades belonging to the state park’s department, with signs that read, “This is a staging area for COVID-19 Response. Please Do Not Block or park near barricades.” What are they being used for? It’s unclear. Tractor-trailers have been used as makeshift morgues, most commonly outside New York City hospitals. However, it’s not clear if the trucks at the park along the Taconic State Parkway are being used in that way. Colleen Pillus, spokesperson for the Dutchess County Executive’s Office, said the county Department of Emergency Response is “aware the trucks are there and have been for at least a week. Beyond that, we have no other information.”

The Dutchess County Chamber of Commerce is hosting a webinar for local businesses at 1:30pm on Tuesday, April 21, with Congressional representatives Antonio Delgado and Sean Patrick Maloney. Preregistration is required.

599 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page

A Cold Spring high school production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” which had been slated to open March 13, is being released in the form of a video of its final dress rehearsal, accessible for one day only to ticket-holders. Haldane Drama is hoping to recoup some of the $10,000 cost of putting on the show, the Highlands Current reports.

544 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page

Catskill Mountainkeeper has joined a national legal fight to prevent what its leaders say is an effort by the Trump Administration to use the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to relax environmental regulations. The Sullivan County organization joined more than a dozen environmental groups, led by the Natural Resources Defense Council, in filing suit in the US District Court in White Plains. They’re challenging the EPA’s declaration late last month that it won’t issue fines for violations of certain air, water, and hazardous waste-reporting requirements, due the pandemic. The lawsuit, however, is less applicable to New York, because states have considerable autonomy to enforce federal environmental law. “In states where state-level enforcement is vigorous, [the EPA order] won’t make a huge difference on the ground,” said Richard Webster, legal director at Riverkeeper, whose group is not part of the suit. “But [the rule change] speaks to a relaxing of federal enforcement and how the EPA’s enforcement has been in decline” since Trump took office.

In a multipart series, the Sullivan County Democrat is featuring the stories of county residents dealing with the state being on “pause.” Through the series, the paper will explore the good and the bad of having to pause and stay home, and those who have to work during this crisis.

Sullivan County will release a map with a town-by-town breakdown of COVID-19 cases “by tomorrow,” according to a Monday post on the county’s Facebook page.

877 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page
Community resources page
Ulster County COVID-19 hotline: (845) 443-8888

The pandemic has put the Marbletown First Aid Unit, one of the few paid squads in a county where most ambulance squads are volunteer-staffed, in a tough spot, the Daily Freeman reports. The unit can get reimbursed by insurance for motor vehicle accident calls, but not virus-related calls; meanwhile, car crashes are down, and virus calls are way up. It’s a common problem for ambulance companies right now. “We’re tapping into our savings in order to hire people…and we’re fighting for every dime we’re getting,” squad chairwoman Rebecca Horner told the paper.

Several New Paltz business owners expressed anxiety about how their establishments would fare when reopened during an online forum Thursday. Some proprietors worried about having to act as social-distancing “hall monitors;” others said they would need to rethink their spaces to make customers comfortable or worried how the summer tourism season would be impacted. 

Kingston businesses impacted by the pandemic may be eligible for low-interest loans of up to $7,500 through a program of the Kingston Local Development Corp., the Daily Freeman reports.

111 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page
Columbia Memorial Health COVID-19 hotline: (518) 828-8249

Two more residents at Pine Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation Center died of COVID-19 over the weekend, the county announced Monday, bringing the virus’ toll in the Philmont nursing home to 12. The facility was not included in data released Friday by the state of nursing homes with more than five deaths, but the data only considers deaths that occurred within the facilities.

The county is establishing a committee to help local industry adjust when “Columbia County businesses and those across the state are given the okay by New York State to begin reopening,” according to Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murell. The committee will look at how business have been affected and what assistance they might need to reopen.

49 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page
County alerts and announcements page
Bassett Healthcare Network hotline: (607) 547-5555

There were no major updates out of Delaware County today. To read yesterday’s news, click here.

86 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page
Columbia Memorial Health COVID-19 hotline: (518) 828-8249

Senator George Amedore called on Governor Cuomo to begin reopening businesses in upstate counties starting May 1. The Greene County senator, who is retiring this year, said more businesses could be deemed “essential” in areas outside the Metro-North rail line area, and the state could evaluate the process with the goal of completely reopening the state economy May 15. “Seeing that many regions of the state have fortunately not seen dramatically large numbers of COVID-19 cases, like in New York City and other downstate regions, this is a measured approach that would allow more businesses to get up and running sooner while still protecting the public health,” Amedore wrote in a letter to Cuomo dated April 19. Cuomo has spoken of a “rolling apex” as the virus spreads upstate, and Hudson Valley county executives have said they expect the apex to hit the region several days to several weeks behind New York City.

Sheriff Peter Kusminsky issued a warning after residents reported being targeted by a coronavirus scam. Residents would receive a text claiming they had come in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 and telling them to click on a link for further information. “Do not clink on that link,” Kusminsky said.

The Windham Town Board is working with Mid-Hudson Cable to provide free WiFi at CD Lane Park for those who need internet to do school work and work remotely. No password is needed to use the network. The Hot Spot is located at the entrance of the park and users should park in the designated area. The pavilion area is still closed at this time.

20 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page
Bassett triage line: (607) 547-5555

In an interview with The River on Monday, Schoharie County Public Health director Amy Gildemeister said that for most of the cases in the county, the county health department has a good picture of the exposure route—whether through a known exposure to a positive case, travel to a more heavily impacted area, or through a job on the front lines. As of Friday, Schoharie County was counting a total of 26 confirmed cases. Even with such a small number of cases, Gildemeister said, they have seen cases of asymptomatic transmission. “We do have a number of confirmed cases that were asymptomatic, or were almost asymptomatic—maybe they lost their sense of taste and smell,” she said. “And in some cases, they passed it on to people who became quite, quite ill.”

The River has a guide on where, how, and when to get tested for the coronavirus in each county in the Hudson Valley and Catskills. You can read it here.

To read more of our daily news roundups, visit our coronavirus page.