This is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties for Thursday, October 1 and Friday, October 2.
NEW YORK STATE
461,629 cases confirmed (1,598 new)
10,976,024 tests performed (119,493 new)
Positive test rate: 1.34%
25,497 deaths (7 new)
146 ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065
President Donald Trump has tested positive for COVID-19.
The news from the White House is breaking a little too fast for a tiny local newsroom to keep up with. We do have a few sources we’d recommend that you can keep an eye on in real time, though. Here’s a spreadsheet tracking the infection status of White House officials, members of Congress, military officers, journalists, and others connected to the White House outbreak, run by Peter James Walker of the excellent and reputable COVID Tracking Project. The New York Times and The Washington Post both have good live coronavirus news feeds that are kept fresh with breaking news. And if you just need to look at something else for a while, Possum Every Hour is there for you.
Politicians who had contact with President Trump in the past week are getting tested, and many have already announced negative results, including Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. This seems a good time to remind people that for a very recent exposure, testing negative doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have COVID-19. It often takes days after an exposure resulting in infection for viral levels to be high enough to be detected with even a sensitive PCR test, which is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends quarantining for a full 14 days after a close contact with a COVID-19-positive person, even if you have received a negative test.
In case you were wondering whether our nation’s unprecedented crisis of leadership has brought peace, harmony, and a spirit of cooperation to New York State’s raging turf wars: It has not. In a Friday briefing, Governor Andrew Cuomo threatened to fine local governments $10,000 a day for not enforcing compliance with pandemic guidelines. Worth noting: Not only are local governments facing a fiscal crisis, the new demands of operating in a pandemic, and a blizzard of new state mandates, they are also struggling with how to respond to widespread public calls for less punitive policing. Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro didn’t think much of Cuomo’s threats to local government, and said so on Twitter on Friday evening: “This is obnoxious, arrogant, unnecessary and not productive. Good luck with that,” Molinaro wrote.
Case numbers in New York State zip codes with clusters of infections were high again on Thursday: The most recent daily statewide testing results found a 6.4 percent positivity rate in the top 20 “hotspot” zip codes, according to Cuomo’s Friday briefing call with reporters. Unlike previous briefings devoted to the ongoing clusters, Friday’s briefing did not include a list of the zip codes and their current individual positivity rates.
Overall, the statewide positivity rate on Thursday was 1.34 percent, still elevated from where it was throughout most of August and September. Hospitalizations are up too: As of the latest state data, 648 New York State residents are currently hospitalized, a number that stood at 467 two weeks ago.
Breaking on Friday afternoon: Four additional students at SUNY Oneonta have tested positive for COVID-19 during off-campus screening. Three of the cases are newly confirmed, while one was confirmed at least 10 days ago, the university said in an email.
Members of the State Liquor Authority and New York State Police joint task force that has been busting bars and restaurants for noncompliance are being deployed to Orthodox neighborhoods that have become COVID-19 hotspots, the Times Union reports, although it wasn’t clear from the story exactly which neighborhoods. Cases have risen dramatically in several neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens as well as the Hudson Valley towns of Ramapo (Rockland County) and Palm Tree (Orange County).
A disturbing report from Gothamist: Anonymous robocallers are targeting people in heavily-impacted Orthodox neighborhoods in Borough Park and Williamsburg, urging them not to get tested because it “drives up the numbers.” More disturbing: Some medical providers in the area are also not reporting cases to the state. The Jewish news magazine Forward reported more than a week ago that some ultra-Orthodox yeshivas in Brooklyn and the suburbs were asking teachers not to be tested, even if they were sick.
One of these things is not like the others: While most of New York State’s COVID-19 hotspots are currently clustered in a few zip codes in heavily Orthodox communities, Broome County in the Southern Tier region is having its own alarming community outbreak that appears to be more connected to pubs and restaurants than religious holiday gatherings. More than 300 cases have been found in the county, many traced to a few dining establishments on Binghamton’s West Side, and the state is deploying rapid testing machines to Binghamton next week.
Get Well Soon: In response to the news of the President and First Lady coming down with COVID-19, Cuomo sent the Trumps a care package of New York State goodies. In the box, according to a press release: “apples from Upstate farms, bagels from New York City, cheesecake from Junior’s, chicken wings from Dinosaur BBQ and apple cider.” Probably beats whatever they’re serving at Walter Reed.
If you read just one long article written before news of Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis broke, make it this one: The Atlantic’s Zeynep Tufecki on “overdispersion,” the one weird trick coronavirus plays on public health and how we understand infection risk. If a virus is overdispersed, that means its spread is driven by statistical outliers, not averages. Study after study has found that most COVID-19 infections are spread by a tiny percentage of the people who test positive: Most positive cases do not infect anyone else, but the ones that do spread tend to spread far and wide, sparking many infections. Tufecki argues that a measure of overdispersal known as k, which has gotten a lot less public attention than the average-driven R0, might be key to understanding and controlling the pandemic. If we focus on k rather than on R0, we might put more energy into tracing backwards from an infected case to find out who infected them, rather than tracing forwards to find people who should test and quarantine—and for a disease like COVID-19, that approach might yield a lot more bang for our public health buck.
The state didn’t make a big fuss over the release, but new guidance on testing and attendance policies for public schools from the New York State Department of Health released Wednesday were a hot topic in the education world this week. A nine-page document lays out detailed flow charts for how schools should handle events like a student or teacher having a fever, or being exposed to a COVID-19 case. One item of note: The document says that schools must “deem [a] symptomatic student/staff positive” if they cannot get COVID-19 test results within 48 hours, and have no other diagnosis from a healthcare provider besides COVID-19. According to a statement from the DOH, schools will not be required to report these “presumptive” positives to the state school case dashboard. But Sullivan County Health Director Nancy McGraw told The River that she is worried testing delays and the difficulty of accessing affordable tests might keep rural students out of school longer than their more urban peers if they catch a bug. “We want to make sure certain groups are not impacted in a negative way just because they can’t get a COVID test,” she said. “If that’s going to be a requirement, that’s going to put a lot of kids at a disadvantage.”
New York State now has a COVID-19 app. It’s called COVID Alert NY, and it uses Bluetooth signals from other people’s phones, not the user’s location data, to alert people if they have come within six feet of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. “We believe this is the first in the nation usage of this,” Cuomo said in Thursday’s briefing. It isn’t, though.
Zinger of the week goes to The Wall Street Journal’s Jimmy Vielkind, a veteran of the Albany press corps, who got a dig in at New York State’s penchant for denying and delaying public information requests: “For those worried about @NYGovCuomo touting an app that tracks your location to see if you’ve been near someone who’s tested positive for coronavirus…I can assure you that the Cuomo administration is very good at not making data and documents public.”
Speaking of not making data public: The Cuomo administration still hasn’t released any data on how many nursing home residents died in hospitals of COVID-19. On Wednesday, Cuomo got testy with a reporter who asked about the state’s now-reversed policy of requiring nursing homes to accept residents who were COVID-19-positive: “It just never happened in New York where we needed to say to a nursing home, ‘We need you to take this person even though they’re COVID-positive.’ It never happened,” the governor said, sounding downright Orwellian in light of the documented facts of the state’s controversial policy. CNN’s Holmes Lybrand fact-checked Cuomo’s snappy retort and found it basically false.
Both the city and state of New York got their credit ratings downgraded by Moody’s on Thursday because of ongoing pandemic financial turmoil and the agency’s expectation that “New York City is on a longer recovery path than most other major cities.”
A study out of Cornell University published Thursday found that President Trump has been the single biggest driver of misinformation about the coronavirus. Researchers analyzed 38 million English-language articles about the pandemic around the world, and found that mentions of or concerning Trump comprised 38 percent of the overall “misinformation conversation.” “That’s concerning in that there are real-world dire health implications,” said Sarah Evanega, the director of the Cornell Alliance for Science and the study’s lead author, in the understatement of the year.
The Washington Post had an absolutely brutal look this week at the inequality of the COVID-19 recession, which has far surpassed the recessions of 1990, 2001, and 2008 in aiming the pain straight at the lowest-earning sector of US society. Low-wage jobs have been lost at a rate eight times that of high-wage ones, the Post reports, and people of color, women, and service workers have all suffered in vast disproportion to the rest of the economy.
Four times as many women as men dropped out of the job market in September, according to a report from the National Women’s Law Center.
Almost 20,000 of the 1.37 million employees of Amazon and its subsidiary, Whole Foods, have been infected with COVID-19, the company revealed on Thursday. The Daily Poster, a progressive-leaning newsletter run by reporter and commentator David Sirota, promptly slammed Amazon for seeking (and getting) backing from the Trump administration to shut down a workplace safety shareholder initiative while its workers were getting infected. Amazon claims that the infection rate among employees has been 42 percent lower than the expected rate of infection in the population at large.
Last week, a federal judge smacked down the Trump administration’s attempt to end the Census early with an injunction. On Thursday, US District judge Lucy Koh indicated she meant business: The judge threatened Census Bureau director Steven Dillingham with sanctions or contempt of court if he persisted in ending the Census’s nationwide head count on October 5 instead of October 31. “Defendants’ dissemination of erroneous information; lurching from one hasty, unexplained plan to the next; and unlawful sacrifices of completeness and accuracy of the 2020 Census are upending the status quo, violating the Injunction Order, and undermining the credibility of the Census Bureau and the 2020 Census,” Koh wrote in her decision. “This must stop.”
Democrats in the House of Representatives passed a revised version of a $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill on Thursday, though the legislation is almost certainly DOA in the Senate. But Trump’s diagnosis may change the dynamic such that a bill, if not this one, will get passed with bipartisan support. That’s what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday, after meeting with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Signs are good from the Republican side, too: White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows revealed to reporters that Trump asked about the status of an agreement after his diagnosis, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that “talks have speeded up in the last couple days” during a news conference in his home state of Kentucky.
Announced by New York State on Thursday and Friday:
- New York State has adopted new regulations that beef up requirements for insurers to cover mental health and substance abuse treatment, Cuomo announced Thursday. “The trauma this pandemic has caused is incalculable and cannot be ignored, and it’s especially critical that those who struggle with mental health and substance abuse have the support they need,” Cuomo said in a statement. “These regulations will help New Yorkers by requiring insurers to provide potentially life-saving services during this stressful time.”
- Empire State Development and the New York State Department of Financial Services are launching an initiative, dubbed Empire State Digital, that will help businesses in the state operate in the digital economy and expand beyond brick-and-mortar operations.
Below is a Flourish animation we have compiled that shows the rate of active cases per 10,000 residents for each county in our coverage region from May 12 through the present date.
LOWER HUDSON VALLEY
County coronavirus pages: Rockland, Westchester, Putnam
University coronavirus pages: Sarah Lawrence, Iona, SUNY Purchase, Manhattanville, Westchester Community College, Rockland Community College, Dominican, Mercy
The Mid-Hudson Region, which encompasses all of the lower and mid-Hudson Valley, once again had the highest percentage of positive tests on Thursday, with 2.6 percent. That number was primarily driven by Rockland County, where the COVID-19-positive rate hit 7.6 percent—the county’s highest single-day positivity rate since May 16. There are currently 1,072 active cases in Rockland County as of Thursday.
It’s flu season, too. The Rockland County Department of Health has scheduled a second flu vaccine clinic on Friday, October 16, from 10am-2pm at the Robert Yeager Health Center, in the parking lot in front of Building F (50 Sanatorium Road, Pomona). There is a $20 fee, though clinicians will provide a receipt for those with health insurance so they can be reimbursed.
County coronavirus pages: Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia
University coronavirus page: Bard, Vassar, Marist, SUNY New Paltz, SUNY Ulster, Columbia-Greene Community College, SUNY Orange
Orange County hit 4.6 percent positive test results on Thursday, its highest number since May 25.
Columbia County revealed a cluster among migrant workers at a fruit farm near Hudson had broken out this week. Health director Jack Mabb said that 10 workers at a single farm had tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, and that the health department was contact tracing the outbreak. Ten more workers are quarantining because they came into contact with the positive individuals.
The Marlboro school district reported three separate instances where “staff, students, or both” were exposed to individuals who tested positive for COVID-19, according to a letter addressed to district families and staff and posted on the district website Thursday. Superintendent Michael Brooks writes that “persons identified as a ‘contact of a person who tested positive’ will receive a call from a contact tracer from NYS. For such calls, the caller ID may read NYS Contact Tracing or display a phone number with a 518 area code.”
On Thursday, Orange County Executive Steven Neuhaus released his proposed 2021 operating budget, which reduces the county tax rate “despite significant challenges and unknowns.” That’s in part because the county’s unassigned fund balance has swelled to $54.9 million; Moody’s Investors Service, the financial services ratings company, rated the county not susceptible to immediate credit risks related to coronavirus.
JetBlue and Delta became the latest airlines to suspend operations at Stewart Airport this week, citing plummeting revenue and demand during the pandemic. Both suspensions are indefinite. This follows American Airlines’ re-suspension of services, which begins October 3 and will last until at least November 7. Allegiant is currently the only airline operating out of Stewart.
A new death from COVID-19 in Delaware County was announced by county public health officials on Thursday, bringing the county’s total to eight. With 126 positive cases so far, that’s roughly a 6.3 percent fatality rate. The state case fatality rate overall is about 5.5 percent—a figure that probably overestimates the percentage of infections in New York that led to death, because so many people with mild symptoms went untested early in the outbreak. Neither the county nor New York State releases an age breakdown of positive cases, so it’s hard to do more than speculate on why Delaware County’s fatality rate is higher than the state’s, but the county does have an aging population and poor access to health care.
Delaware County health officials announced two new positive cases in the county on Thursday, and three more on Friday, an uptick for the tiny county. There are currently six active positive cases in the county.
Cases are also rising in Greene County this week, and a positive test of someone working in the county office building at 411 Main Street in Catskill prompted county officials to close down the building around noon on Thursday. According to a county press release, the office will reopen on Monday, October 5. Eleven new positive cases were found in Greene County this week, according to state data: two on Tuesday, three on Wednesday, and six on Thursday. One of the cases is a middle-school teacher in Greenville Central School District, Hudson Valley 360 reported Friday. There are currently 10 active positive cases in the county, according to health officials.
While many colleges and universities are looking at depressed enrollments this year, SUNY Sullivan is doing well in that department, the Sullivan County Democrat reports. The college’s enrollment is pretty much level with last year’s, a feat SUNY Sullivan leaders chalk up to their decision to start the fall semester late, giving students more time to make up their minds in a profoundly uncertain time.
The Schoharie County Department of Health announced Friday that four new positive cases have been found in the county. The county currently has four known active cases.
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