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Coronavirus Roundup: New Restrictions on Restaurants, Gatherings as Cases Soar

All the news and announcements from New York State, the Hudson Valley, and the Catskills for Tuesday, November 10 and Wednesday, November 11.

New York put new restrictions on restaurants on Wednesday, but the science says if you're dining in public, you should dine outdoors.
Mary Kelly
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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, November 10 and Wednesday, November 11.

Note: On November 19, we’re hosting a Zoom conversation with panel guests from the public health, local business, and community service worlds, and will answer audience questions about the pandemic—from its effects to what it’s like to cover it. Click here to learn more, and to register.

4,820 new cases yesterday
164,300 tests yesterday
Positive test rate: 2.93%
21 deaths yesterday
1,628 hospitalizations
304 ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065

A new statewide rollback on private gatherings and restaurants, announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo in a Wednesday briefing and set to go into effect on Friday evening, manages to be both tough and toothless at the same time.

Tough: The state is putting a 10-person cap on any gatherings held between multiple households at private homes, even those held outdoors. The new rule, enacted in response to rising reports of transmission from parties and smaller home gatherings, is likely to ruin a lot of Thanksgiving plans, although enforcement will essentially be impossible in most cases.

Toothless: The order will also force all restaurant seating and gyms to shut down at 10pm, though restaurant takeout and delivery will be allowed to operate after 10pm. The order might put a halt to some late-night rowdiness at bars and restaurants, but it’s not going to make much of a dent in most indoor dining, which public health experts have been saying for months is a dangerous activity no matter how many rules and protocols you adopt. 

Explaining the reasoning behind the state’s new rules, Cuomo told reporters that contact tracers are currently seeing infections in three main settings: dining, gyms, and private homes. “That’s where it’s coming from primarily, and those are the ones that we can address,” he said. The governor also said that neighboring states have recently capped parties in private residences at 10, and he wanted New York State to be in line with its neighbors. “Unless your household happens to be more than 10, then it’s your household,” he said.

In-depth research on cases that were contracted during the spring and summer is beginning to paint a picture of the risk of transmission in different venues, and it doesn’t look good for restaurants. Along with gyms and houses of worship, full-service dining establishments were found to have the highest overall risk of disease transmission among public places in a Nature study that looked at cell phone mobility data and infections in several urban neighborhoods. The study also found that public places such as grocery stores tended to be riskier in lower-income communities with more nonwhite residents, because they were more crowded. Food for thought: The study data was gathered in the spring, before many measures like masking, occupancy limits, and temperature checks became more commonplace nationwide, and more pandemic-aware behavior in public places might be lowering risk now. 

Although New York State is clearly taking statewide action to halt rising infection rates across the board, the “microcluster” approach of tackling hotter outbreaks on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis is still in effect. Cuomo announced two new microcluster focus zones in a Wednesday briefing, one in Staten Island and one in Tioga County. 

In light of the state’s new blanket restrictions on in-home gatherings and restaurant hours, “yellow zone” doesn’t mean as much now, since the new order is stricter than some of the yellow zone restrictions previously in place. There are some special rules that still apply only to yellow zones: Gatherings outside of private homes are capped at 25 instead of 50, restaurant tables have a four-person limit, and schools have to test students and staff to remain in-person.

There’s a pair of stories in STAT this week on rural issues that are very relevant to upstate New York. In a feature story, Olivia Goldhill reports that while larger hospitals and academic research centers are stocking up on the special ultracold freezers needed to store Pfizer’s vaccine, small rural hospitals that serve an aging, comparatively unhealthy population mostly can’t afford cold storage. “Obviously people who have more money and better access to the supply chain are buying freezers,” said Tim Size, executive director of the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative. “Rather than a cohesive national plan, we’ve created have versus have not, state versus state.” STAT also has an op-ed from a pair of health educators about low mask rates in rural areas, who stress the need to tailor mask messages to rural populations. “It is a challenge to create effective prevention-related messaging when the people it targets believe their risk is relatively low,” they write. That perception no longer lines up with reality: Rural case and death rates in the US surged past those of more urban places in the fall.

On the heels of Pfizer’s Monday announcement, vaccine maker Moderna said Wednesday that the company is close to announcing its own preliminary results. Vaccine trials are moving at a truly astonishing speed, partly because of massive investments of money and scientific talent, but also, unfortunately, because the pandemic is out of control. Having a large number of positive cases in a trial gives researchers more useful data.

Microcluster Focus Zone Update 
New York State’s current strategy for curbing infection involves assigning neighborhoods with outbreaks to “microcluster focus zones” that are coded red, orange, or yellow depending on severity. A guide to the restrictions on business, school, worship, and gatherings that apply to each zone color is posted on the NY Forward website. High-resolution maps of focus zones in the microclusters are also available on NY Forward. 

Zone changes announced by Governor Cuomo on Wednesday will go into effect on Friday at 10pm.

New zones: Staten Island and Tioga County both have new yellow-only zones.

Worse: The Port Chester yellow zone in Westchester County has been above 3 percent positivity on a seven-day rolling average for more than 10 days, prompting a color change. Most of the area is now an orange zone, with a yellow western buffer.

Better: Steuben County, where a yellow zone declared on October 21 was removed on Wednesday.

No change since Monday: Maps of focus zones in Rockland, Orange, Chemung, Broome, Erie, Monroe, and Onondaga counties, as well as zones in Brooklyn and Queens, will stay the same until further notice.

Recent case data on all of the state’s focus zones is posted on the state website. The overall positivity rate in the focus zones on Tuesday was 4.96 percent; the state positivity rate outside of the focus zones was 2.58 percent.

Editorial note on regional sections: Much of the local pandemic news we have been tracking involves cases at schools. At this point, there are too many school cases for us to reliably keep track of. New York State is tracking infections in school districts on its Report Card website, where you can look up individual districts to see if they have reported any recent cases.

County coronavirus pages: Rockland, Westchester, Putnam
University coronavirus pages: Sarah Lawrence, Iona, SUNY Purchase, Manhattanville, Westchester Community College, Rockland Community College, Dominican, Mercy

The Putnam County health department issued a second coronavirus exposure warning for the ShopRite in Carmel (184 Route 52). Anyone who was at the supermarket this past Saturday, November 7, between 7am and 1pm should monitor for symptoms.

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

The number of active cases in Ulster County is 311, the highest it’s been since May 22. County Executive Pat Ryan on Tuesday said the county was nearing a “make or break moment” during a Facebook live briefing. Twelve people infected with COVID-19 are hospitalized in Ulster County—the most since May 7—with one person in the ICU. “April and May were not good times for us in the county,” Ryan said. “To see us approaching back to those levels—that is concerning and that is definitely and an indicator we’re trending in the wrong direction.”

Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro struck a similarly worried tone on Tuesday. In a Facebook live update, Molinaro said the county has 317 active COVID-19 cases, with 12 people hospitalized. Eighty cases are from Marist College, and 30 stem from a Fishkill Rehabilitation Center. Molinaro said the county is assuming “a wartime posture” to control the spread.

The latest news from Orange County: 83 people are hospitalized, but 46 percent of the county’s ICU beds are available, Executive Steve Neuhaus said in a Veterans Day update on Facebook. Neuhaus also said that a Halloween house party has left 15 people infected with COVID-19, and another 30 who are being monitored for infection.

Columbia County confirmed 10 new cases in its latest update, on Tuesday, bringing its active case count to 105. One month ago, it had 12 active cases.

A cluster of patients and staff at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie have tested positive for COVID-19, according to an internal letter sent by hospital president Peter Kelly. Contact tracing is underway to identify potential sources and high-risk exposures.

Marist College extended its pause through this Friday. The university still intends to finish the semester with in-person classes.

Dixon Roadside, a restaurant off Route 212 in Woodstock, announced that someone who was in the restaurant on this Monday evening tested positive for COVID-19 the following day. The restaurant will close until at least November 19 to conduct a deep cleaning and allow its staff to get tested.

A Woodstock couple made a stir in the news recently for refusing to mask up at the Mother Earth’s Storehouse health food store in Hurley. If what you need in these trying times is an almost Mark Twain-esque account of a chaotic outdoor court hearing at a picnic table surrounded by anti-maskers, the Daily Freeman has you covered.

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

On Tuesday, Delaware County’s health department released a chart showing the number of residents in isolation for COVID-19 or quarantine for possible exposure. It’s grim: While the talk in recent weeks has been dominated by warnings of a second wave, in rural areas like Delaware County, the pandemic is much more widespread than it’s ever been. Three times as many residents are in isolation or mandatory quarantine now compared to the pandemic’s previous high in April. The county confirmed five new cases on Wednesday, bringing its active case count to 74—nearly quadruple the number of confirmed cases two weeks ago.

Two counties, both alike in dignity: Schoharie County looks a lot like Delaware County in terms of its politics, its rurality, its location, and its odd town-supervisor-run system of government. But although cases have ticked up in Schoharie since the summer, the county is currently doing much better in terms of per-capita case rate than its neighbor Delaware, with 21 active cases as of Wednesday. It might be luck: Since people with COVID-19 tend to either infect a lot of other people or none at all, there is a heavy element of randomness to where cases emerge. But it might also be due to the fact that Schoharie is doing a lot more enforcement. 

Schoharie’s health department is a “full service” department, in contrast to nearby Delaware, Greene, and Sullivan counties, which are all “partial service” counties. That means Schoharie’s health department is empowered to issue fines and enforce the law, a task the partial service counties rely on the state for. On Wednesday, Schoharie Health Director Amy Gildemeister told The River that she was in the process of ordering body cams for her public sanitarians—a job that comes with a great title, but some heavy responsibilities. “It’s a hard job that takes the right person,” she said. “It’s routine for us to have to deal with aggressive people in person. We’ve had to have the sheriff accompany us on a number of visits.” Gildemeister said her department tries to work out issues with violators first, but if they don’t comply, there’s a stick as well as a carrot: About half a dozen businesses and event hosts have been summoned to hearings by the health department, she said. 

Active cases are at 100 in Sullivan County, slightly down from a recent high of 106 on Monday. The state contact tracing program has stepped in to help the county health department trace the spread of infection, according to a post on the Sullivan County Public Health Services Facebook

Greene County officials are still frustrated with state prison authorities after a second spike of cases at Greene Correctional Facility last week. County legislative chair Patrick Linger told the Daily Mail that the county’s health department has been pushing the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision for more authority and access, to little avail. “We haven’t had the authority to find out if they have an adequate reopening plan, if they are following those things,” Linger said. “We don’t have the ability to check on that.” County health officials are doing contact tracing on cases that involve prison staff who are county residents, and have found links from the prison outbreak to cases in a local elementary school and a Columbia County nursing home.

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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.