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Coronavirus Roundup: New York Schools Will Reopen Statewide

All the news and announcements from New York State, the Hudson Valley, and the Catskills for Thursday, August 6 and Friday, August 7.

An empty gym at Sullivan West, where school administrators are planning on a "hybrid" model of instruction for the fall.
Sullivan West Central School District
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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 Thursday, August 6 and Friday, August 7. 

419,642 cases confirmed (714 new)
6,368,975 tests performed (70,170 new)
Positive test rate: 1%
25,190 deaths (5 new)
579 current hospitalizations
139 current ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065

Schools will be allowed to reopen statewide in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo told reporters in a conference call briefing on Friday. All of the state’s ten regions are currently well below the 5 percent upper limit for reopening set by Cuomo in July. “If anyone can open schools, we can open schools. That’s true for every region in the state,” he said. 

Although New York’s infection rates are making the grade for school reopening so far, districts still have a lot of homework to do. Of the state’s 749 school districts, 127 have not yet submitted plans to the state Department of Health, Cuomo said on Friday, and another 50 sent plans that are either incomplete or deficient. The state has not released a list of the school districts whose plans are missing or insufficient. 

Cuomo also said that schools need to communicate more clearly with parents about their plans for testing, contact tracing, and how remote learning will work. School districts need to post clear information about those three aspects of their plans on their websites, he said. The governor is directing all school districts to hold at least three meetings before August 21—and in the case of the state’s largest districts, five—to explain their reopening plans to parents. “Parents need an opportunity to be heard. And the schools should welcome the opportunity to actually explain the plan,” he said.

Nationwide, many schools are staying remote, including 13 of the largest 15 school systems in the US. Millions of children in areas where COVID-19 cases are high are starting the school year online. In many districts, time that could have been spent preparing to do remote learning better was spent on elaborate reopening plans that have now been shelved, The New York Times reports. 

On Thursday, Cuomo and top state legislators, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, sent a letter to New York’s Congressional delegation calling on the federal government to provide aid to state and local governments. New York needs at least $30 billion over the next two years to cover its operating deficit, they wrote: “Failure to provide these essential funds would leave our state and every one of its communities in a precarious financial position.”

Talks in Congress over the next round of pandemic legislation have unraveled, The Washington Post reports. The paper reports that Democrats’ demands that the bill include about $1 trillion in state and local aid to governments in fiscal crisis were a “major sticking point.” With emergency unemployment benefits and a federal eviction moratorium both expired, the need for action is dire. The Post reports that the White House has been moving toward unilateral action through executive orders all week, side-stepping Congress to expand unemployment benefits and taking action on eviction protection, student loan flexibility, and payroll tax deferment. It is unclear whether such a move would be legal without Congressional appropriation of funds. Washington Post reporter Jeff Stein said on Twitter on Friday evening that the White House may be eyeing unspent FEMA funds to pay for an executive order extending unemployment benefits, a proposal of dubious wisdom at the beginning of what is predicted to be a fierce hurricane season.

With just hours to go before New York State’s eviction moratorium was set to expire on Wednesday, Cuomo extended the state ban on evictions until September 4 by executive order. The extension gives a reprieve to most of the roughly 14,000 tenants currently caught up in eviction proceedings in New York State, The Real Deal reports, but it remains unclear exactly how courts will interpret the order.

Frustrated gym owners are lobbying the state to allow them to reopen, but so far, Cuomo is staying firm on keeping them shut. In a call to reporters Thursday, the governor pointed to other states that have reopened gyms only to have to close them down again. 

One industry that’s raking it in during the pandemic: Health insurance. Insurance companies are reporting massive profits due to the cancellation of elective surgeries and people avoiding medical care, and may have to refund some of their windfalls to customers under Affordable Care Act rules. 

Could New Yorkers across the state vote by dropbox this November? State senator Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat, is introducing legislation to establish secure dropboxes for absentee ballots, in the wake of the state’s disastrous primary. The June primary election in New York has seen massive numbers of mail-in ballots invalidated and weeks of delay in counting results; The Atlantic has called the ensuing chaos “a warning for November” in the state. 

Ohio governor Mike DeWine announced Thursday that he had tested positive for COVID-19, ahead of a scheduled meeting with President Donald Trump, and then almost immediately announced that a second, more reliable test had come back negative. The confusing news cast a national spotlight on issues with a newer and more rapid form of COVID-19 test: antigen tests, which can be run very quickly, but are less accurate than the PCR nose swab tests used for most diagnostic testing. 

The most definitive study yet to look at asymptomatic transmission of the novel coronavirus, a study published Thursday in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that people without symptoms carry just as much virus in their nose, throat, and lungs as those who are symptomatic. The study estimates that about 30 percent of those infected with COVID-19 never develop symptoms.

It’s not too late to control the coronavirus in the US, a pair of Minnesota experts on public health and the economy argued in a New York Times op-ed on Friday, but the nation needs to commit to a more thorough lockdown. “We believe the choice is clear. We can continue to allow the coronavirus to spread rapidly throughout the country or we can commit to a more restrictive lockdown, state by state, for up to six weeks to crush the spread of the virus to less than one new case per 100,000 people per day,” write Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, and Neel Kashkari, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. “There is no trade-off between health and the economy. Both require aggressively getting control of the virus.”

Does pandemic have you yearning to live in the Hudson Valley? The New York Times has a guide to choosing the right suburb, if you can get past the lede: “For some New Yorkers, urban life is a phase, to be experienced between college and the birth of a first or second child. The question of moving to the suburbs is not ‘whether,’ so much as ‘when.’” We confess, we tuned out around the part where the writer opines that maybe a $9.95 million island on Lake Mahopac in Putnam County might be a tad overpriced.

Rate of active cases per 10,000 residents, drawn from the latest county data. Active case data unavailable for Rockland and Orange counties.

Since mid-May, The River has been collecting and charting data on the number of active COVID-19 cases by county in the Hudson Valley and Catskills. Below is a Flourish animation we have compiled that shows the rate of active cases per 10,000 residents for each county over time, from May 12 through the present date.

County coronavirus pages: Rockland, Westchester, Putnam

Lower Hudson Valley schools are gearing up for September reopening, but there are still a lot of unknowns, reports. Cuomo’s directive to schools to spell out more details about testing and contact tracing is going to be a challenge, White Plains superintendent Joseph Ricca told the paper. A looming, and still-unanswered, question: Whether parents who want to keep their children home will have support from the state to do so. “For the 25 percent, 30 percent of parents and guardians in a particular community who don’t want to send their children back to facilities, can they make that choice?” Ricca said. “We need to know that. That’ll help us plan.”

The Lifeplex Health Club in Monsey has closed down after 23 years in business, citing the pandemic and the uncertainty over when Cuomo will allow gyms to reopen as the cause of the club’s untimely demise. “We have tried to hold on but the complete loss of any income for six months and the lack of any information whatsoever from Governor Cuomo on health club re-openings have left us with no other path,” gym managers wrote in a statement posted on the club’s website.

County coronavirus pages: Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia

The Columbia County Health Department will host a series of Monday walk-up testing clinics on the sidewalk in front of the John L. Edwards Primary School in Hudson. Testing will be conducted from 9am to 11am on August 17, 24, and 31. Preregistration is not required, but testing will be limited to 50 slots, and health officials recommend arriving early to secure a test. 

In the absence of federal aid to local governments, a local official is paying out of pocket for pandemic response: Hudson 4th Ward Supervisor Linda Mussmann personally donated $1,200 toward the purchase of 100 COVID-19 test kits, the Columbia County Board of Supervisors announced Friday. Columbia County has accepted more than $30,000 worth of private donations toward test kits, and is encouraging residents to donate to the testing effort.

The Hudson Valley Credit Union closed down a branch in Hopewell Junction temporarily on Thursday after an employee tested positive for COVID-19. Customers who visited the branch between July 22 and Wednesday, August 5 are being encouraged to seek medical care. 

Why have Dutchess County cases been so high this week? The Highlands Current looked into it, and found a similar story to the one that played out recently in Ulster County: Prison inmates in Dutchess County are being tested in targeted screenings, and the resulting positives are causing local case numbers to spike. The state is still not testing all inmates, and testing in prisons has lagged far behind testing for New York State residents in general. According to data posted online Friday by the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, the overall positivity rate for tests conducted in the Fishkill Correctional Facility, where five inmates have died of COVID-19, is roughly 26 percent. In the Green Haven Correctional Facility, where three inmates have died of COVID-19, the overall positivity rate is about 23 percent.

County coronavirus pages: Sullivan, Delaware, Greene, Schoharie

Sullivan County health officials reported a possible exposure at a private family picnic at the Roscoe Firemen’s Field at 318 Gulf Road on Saturday, July 25. “Although the picnic was held in an outdoors area with a covered pavilion, making it a lower risk, many individuals may not have been wearing masks or maintaining social distancing of 6 feet or more from others,” a release stated. County health director Nancy McGraw noted that cases have been slowly creeping up over the past couple of weeks in Sullivan County. “While the number of cases in Sullivan County has been in the single digits for several weeks, this is slowly increasing. We saw active cases increase from five on July 30 to 12 just a week later, on August 7, and there are still over 100 people on quarantine being monitored for symptoms,” she said in a statement.

Like their counterparts across the state, parents in Sullivan County are weighing their options and trying to digest school plans for the fall. The Sullivan County Democrat reports that the majority of parents in the Liberty Central School District, the second largest in the county, want learning to be all-virtual, their responses to school surveys have been “all over the place.” Sullivan West parent Cassandra Egan hit the nail on the head in summing up the dilemma: “No one should have to choose between safety and survival, and for single and essential parents that is the very real issue here,” she told the Democrat. “So the question is, how do we support those families as a community?”


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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.