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Coronavirus Roundup: New York Legislators Punt On Looming Budget Gap

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

New York State lawmakers are set to take up pandemic legislation this week. Above, the Assembly chamber.
Wade Ster/Flickr
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This is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties published Monday, July 20. 

407,326 cases confirmed (519 new)
5,164,812 tests performed (49,342 new)
Positive test rate: 1.1%
25,056 deaths (8 new)
716 current hospitalizations
158 current ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065

New York State legislators head for Albany this week, digitally or in person, to take action on a swath of important pandemic legislation—but not on what is arguably the state’s biggest un-tackled problem, a looming $13 billion deficit that some lawmakers want to address by raising taxes on high earners in the state. The Buffalo News reports that the state legislature is keeping an eye on Congress to see if they’ll act first; with some sort of pandemic aid package in the works at the federal level, state lawmakers want to know what they have to work with before making big fiscal decisions.

One of the more high-profile actions pending in the New York State legislature: A proposed rollback of liability protections that Governor Andrew Cuomo extended to nursing homes during the pandemic. The measure has bipartisan support, City & State reports. 

Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, everybody is wrangling furiously over the next big pandemic package. The battle is not just between Democrats and Republicans, the AP reports, but between Congressional Republicans and the White House. The Trump administration is objecting to a GOP plan to spend $25 billion on testing and tracing, an unnamed Republican told reporters.

On Monday, Cuomo threatened to close bars and restaurants if owners and patrons don’t shape up. “One of the main threats to our progress is the number of congregations that we’re seeing across the state, but especially in downstate, primarily of young people, and we saw it again over the weekend. It is a problem, and I’m telling you in plain New York speak that it’s stupid and it has to stop,” he said. “This is not just morality, these restaurants and bars are breaking the law, and they are going to make it bad for everyone else, because if this continues we’re going to have to roll back the reopening plan and close all bars and restaurants.” There isn’t much evidence that New York City residents have been any worse at social distancing than the rest of the state, but with more than 8 million of them, when New York City screws up, it does so at scale.

Cuomo was in Savannah, Georgia on Monday, appearing in a press briefing with Mayor Van Johnson to announce the opening of two new testing sites in the city with help from New York State. Cuomo acknowledged that New York State’s response hasn’t been perfect—a thing the governor has been loath to admit, despite a few high-profile in-depth accounts of the state’s early missteps. “We’ve made a lot of mistakes,” he said. The spread of COVID-19 is fairly under control in New York now, Cuomo said, but he’s not resting easy. “I take no peace in that. Because if it’s increasing in Georgia and it’s increasing in Texas and increasing in Florida, guess what? It will be increasing in New York in just a matter of time.”

The New York State Board of Elections will host cybersecurity tabletop training exercises this week for county election officials, information technology professionals, and election vendors to prepare for potential threats to the November election. Federal security experts at the Department of Homeland Security are also involved in training local officials in a nationwide effort to anticipate and counter any attacks on the voting system. USA Today has more on the push to prepare for some of the biggest threats.

The primary focus for schools is on keeping the coronavirus out entirely, but if and when transmission occurs, are school districts liable? That’s the question education officials are starting to ask, reports. Earlier this month, the School Superintendents Association, the Association of Educational Service Agencies, and the National School Boards Association wrote a letter asking Congress to pass temporary legislation to protect school districts alongside businesses, nonprofits and healthcare organizations from “unfair lawsuits” related to COVID-19.

The process of creating and testing new vaccines is slow, but there are almost two dozen candidates in the works for a COVID-19 vaccine around the world, and they’re making progress. This week, a pair of studies in The Lancet are reporting promising results on two candidate vaccines: one being developed by Oxford University researchers with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, and another by Chinese biotech company CanSino. So far, the data on how both vaccines performed in small, targeted groups of human subjects bodes well for their safety and efficacy, scientists say; both will now proceed to Phase III trials, in which they are tested on much larger groups. 

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

In his regular coronavirus briefing—once given daily, then four times a week, and now reduced to once a week—Westchester County Executive George Latimer said Monday that widespread testing in the county has helped officials keep the outbreak in check. “The increase in testing has not generated a significant increase in the number of positive tests,” Latimer said. “The more widespread the amount of testing we have, the greater confidence we have that we have some sense of the size and scope of the infection.” On Monday, New York State reported that Westchester County had 3,104 tests performed in the past 24 hours, with 36 positives, a rate of 1.2 percent. Since testing began in March, Latimer said, about 35 percent of county residents have gotten tested. 

Latimer also said that he believed the spike in cases traced to a June 20 Chappaqua graduation party had run its course. “We believe that there are no additional cases that we expect to track to that particular outbreak,” he said.

Westchester County also announced a working group that will provide information and support around public health and emergency preparedness in order to help county school districts prepare for the fall, whether or not that involves bringing children back into classrooms at pre-pandemic rates. The working group’s first task will be to create a survey for school districts to identify the quantity and type of PPE gear required for a safe reopening.

County coronavirus pages: Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia

There were zero positive tests out of 1,146 people tested Sunday in Dutchess, Ulster, and Columbia counties, a welcome development after mini spikes last week. Seven of 417 people (1.7 percent) tested positive in Orange County.

In a coronavirus briefing last week, Dutchess County officials said that interest is picking up again in filming for television and movies in the Hudson Valley. “We’ve been working with the Hudson Valley Film Commission in our office,” said Mary Kay Vrba, the county’s outgoing tourism director, who is retiring this year. “We know that there are several looking, we’ve had several calls in our office.” Dutchess County will hold a town hall via telephone and Facebook Live at 5:30pm on Wednesday, July 22. 

County coronavirus pages: Sullivan, Delaware, Greene, Schoharie

The Valley Market in Middleburgh abruptly shut down on Saturday, and stayed closed through the weekend, in response to escalating conflict about mask-wearing both among customers and between customers and staff. News 10 reports that store owner Geanine Eisel is facing a slew of customer complaints to the state about employees not wearing masks. In a Facebook post, Eisel explained that she allows her staff mask breaks when not near customers, and expressed confusion about the changing state of New York State law: On July 9, the Department of Health updated the state’s public health law with stiffer new requirements for businesses. The law now requires businesses to compel patrons to wear masks, requires employees to wear masks when in contact with customers or unable to social distance, and sets steep new fines for both businesses and individuals who do not comply. 

There was one positive test, in Greene County, out of 568 people tested over the weekend in The River’s four-county Catskills coverage area. Delaware County reported an additional positive test on Monday

Amid pandemic-caused budget shortfalls, Sullivan County Manager Josh Potosek proposed a residential energy tax during a Management and Budget Committee meeting last week, the Sullivan County Democrat reports. The four-percent tax would apply to homeowners with electric and heating costs; commercial businesses, along with about half of New York counties, already pay a similar tax.

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.