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Coronavirus Roundup: New York Gets Failing Grade for Handling of COVID in Prisons

All the news and announcements from New York State, the Hudson Valley, and the Catskills for Monday, June 29.

A new report from the ACLU and the Prison Policy Initiative is critical of New York's handling of COVID-19 in prisons.
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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, June 29.

392,930 cases confirmed (391 new)
3,862,913 tests performed (46,428 new)
24,842 deaths (7 new)
853 current hospitalizations
216 current ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065

A high school graduation ceremony in Westchester County last week may have been a superspreader event. Horace Greeley High School held a drive-in ceremony on June 20 at Chappaqua Train Station; afterward, one attendee, who had recently traveled to Florida, began showing symptoms and tested positive for COVID-19. Since then, four more individuals who attended the ceremony and had contact with the first positive case have also tested positive. That individual also attended an unrelated “Field Night” event that night, which was attended by students from surrounding school districts. The New York State Department of Health and the Westchester County Health Department are working with school officials to trace the outbreak.

The official death rate of COVID-19 has been far lower in Florida than it was in New York, a trend that reflects the shift in known infections to younger people as well as improvements in treatment strategy earned through the hard-won medical experience of doctors and nurses in outbreak hotspots. But experts fear that may change soon as the cases contributing to recent record-breaking counts progress, and as younger people who have been out socializing spread the disease to older people in the community. The Miami Herald asks if young people are driving the surge in cases in Florida, while the South Florida Sun Sentinel wonders if deaths are soon to rise

In New York, public outrage has focused on the state’s handling of cases in nursing homes, but officials have also failed to prevent large-scale outbreaks in prisons and jails across the state. A new report from the ACLU and the Prison Policy Initiative took a look at how states have handled the pandemic in prisons and jails, and assigned each state a grade based on a list of factors that included testing access for inmates and staff, whether the state provided PPE, whether the state halted admissions or released medically vulnerable inmates, and others. A handful of states were deemed “D-minus,” but most got an F-plus or lower. New York State was awarded an F-plus; the state has not done widespread testing of inmates, and has not moved to halt jail admissions or release the medically vulnerable. In a recent editorial, The New York Times opinion desk writes that “the situation inside the nation’s jails and prisons amid the COVID-19 pandemic has become the stuff of nightmares,” noting that the top five outbreak hotspots in the nation are all correctional facilities. New York’s handling of nursing homes in the pandemic is soon to be the subject of hearings in the state legislature, but no such investigations are on the horizon for policy that has enabled outbreaks and deaths in prisons and jails across the state.

The situation inside nursing homes, meanwhile, may soon be litigated in the courts as well. predicts that nursing homes in New York State and across the country may face an avalanche of lawsuits based on how they handled patients during the pandemic.

With testing now much more widespread than it was in the pandemic’s early days, the percentage of positive results has become a valuable metric for measuring the spread of the coronavirus. Helpfully, New York State has rolled out a new dashboard that tracks percentage positive results for every county in the state.

Governor Cuomo was back in front of the cameras on Monday, and his penchant for tortured metaphors was on full display. Comparing the chart of coronavirus cases in New York to the state’s highest peak—Mount Marcy—Cuomo said New Yorkers had “climbed right up the mountain,” “got smart,” and “stepped up.” Future historians will note that Coronavirus Mountain has a steep face with a peak of 42 days and a gentle, 111-day-long slope. “We don’t need to climb another mountain,” Cuomo added. “One mountain was enough. We don’t want to climb a mountain range.”

More straightforwardly, Cuomo called on President Trump to sign an executive order requiring Americans to wear a mask in public, and to “start telling the people of this country the truth.” Subscribe to The River for updates on whether the president listened.

Announced by New York State on Monday and over the weekend: 

  • State employees who voluntarily travel to high-risk states after June 25 will no longer be eligible for COVID-19-related paid sick leave, according to an executive order signed by Governor Cuomo on Saturday.
  • Indoor dining with at least 50 percent capacity is now in place everywhere in nine of New York’s 10 reopening regions, but the State is holding off on making a decision on indoor dining in New York City. “We know that indoor dining has been problematic,” Cuomo said in a press briefing Monday. “Outdoor dining has worked very well all across the state, New York City included. The state’s going to be reviewing the data and consulting with stakeholders in New York City.”
  • Cuomo also announced Monday that shopping malls will be required to put high efficiency particulate air filters in their air conditioning systems capable of filtering out COVID-19.
  • Western New York has been cleared to begin Phase Four of reopening on Tuesday, June 30. It will be the sixth region in the state to progress to Phase Four.
Rate of active cases per 10,000 residents, drawn from the latest county data. Active case data unavailable for Rockland and Orange counties.

County coronavirus pages: Rockland, Westchester, Putnam

Despite the recent discovery of a new cluster of cases in Westchester County, the number of active cases in the county continues to go down. In a Monday briefing, county executive George Latimer said there were currently 471 active cases in the county, down from 536 on Thursday, June 25.

After being below 10 for several weeks, and dipping down to two last week, active cases are up to 12 again in Putnam County. The county is releasing new case counts once a week; the latest case count, which includes data collected through Thursday, June 25, included 27 new cases, 14 of them from the town of Carmel. One new death was also reported in the latest count, bringing the total number of COVID-19 fatalities in Putnam County to 63. 

Revenue has plummeted at golf courses and event venues because of the pandemic, and in Putnam County, at least, that has local legislators questioning how much should be invested in county-owned recreational facilities. The Putnam County Golf Course and Tilly’s Table and Barn brought in revenues 16 and 27 percent lower, respectively, than anticipated, leading Philipstown legislator Nancy Montgomery to ask some pointed questions at a committee meeting last week. The Highlands Current reports that Montgomery said she wants “to make sure we’re prioritizing where we need to. It should not be at Tilly Foster and should not be at the golf course,” instead advocating efforts “to provide essential services to the people.”

County coronavirus pages: Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia

The Ulster County Pool Complex will open July 4 with rules in place to account for COVID-19: Occupancy is capped at 325, swimming lessons and meets are prohibited, and the complex will only be open to county residents. Masks must be worn when not in the water, and all visitors will have their temperature checked before entering the complex. Barring changes, the pools will remain open through Labor Day.

County coronavirus pages: Sullivan, Delaware, Greene, Schoharie

Delaware County hits zero known active cases, the first in The River’s 11-county coverage area to do so, according to the latest update from the county health department. Eighty-two people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the county, with 76 recoveries and six deaths.

On Tuesday, June 30, from 12pm to 4pm, there will be a drive-in community food distribution in the Margaretville Village Park, open to all residents of the towns of Middletown, Andes, Roxbury, and Bovina, and surrounding hamlets.

The Greene County Public Health Department has stopped posting updates on case counts to the county website, and is now posting them only on the department’s Facebook page. Schoharie County Public Health also does not post current case information on the county website, only posting on Facebook.

To read more coronavirus coverage from The River, 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.