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Coronavirus Roundup: Cuomo Says State Will Ease Shutdown Strategy With Infection Rate Falling

News and announcements from New York State, the Hudson Valley, and the Catskills for Saturday, January 23 through Monday, January 25.

The estimated rate of transmission has dropped below one in New York.
Office of the Governor
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This is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties for Saturday, January 23 through Monday, January 25. Published in collaboration with The Other Hudson Valley.


12,003 new cases yesterday
219,538 tests yesterday
Positive test rate: 5.48%
173 deaths yesterday
8,730 hospitalizations (1,522 in ICUs)
New York State coronavirus page
New York State vaccine page
New York State official pressroom
COVID-19 hotline: (888) 364-3065
Vaccine appointment hotline: (833) 697-4829

After months of relentless growth, the infection rate of COVID-19 is shrinking in New York State. In a televised Monday press conference held in Buffalo, Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered the welcome news: New York’s estimated Rt, the average number of people infected by each case of COVID-19, has fallen below 1. With test positivity rates also down, Cuomo said that the restrictions in place in microcluster focus zones would soon be loosened, with an announcement to come Wednesday about an “adjustment.”

Universities in the SUNY system are slated to resume classes on February 1, and students are already returning to campus. Every student, staffer, and faculty member in the SUNY system will be required to be tested for COVID-19 weekly, Chancellor Jim Malatras announced over the weekend. The return of widespread university surveillance testing means the statewide positivity rate is likely to drop soon, whether or not the state’s actual infection levels continue to.

In New York, getting mad about nursing home data is a bipartisan affair—and while Democrats in the state legislature have been less zealous than their Republican counterparts in hounding the Cuomo administration for facts and figures, they’re starting to lose patience. State Senator James Skoufis, a Democrat, is threatening to subpoena Health Commissioner Howard Zucker for data on nursing home cases and deaths that the state Department of Health has been refusing to release for months, if they don’t cough it up in time for a February 3 budget hearing. 

The New York State Education Department is asking federal officials for permission not to give state-mandated tests this year, from elementary grade levels through high school.

Local Congressman Antonio Delgado, Democrat of the rural 19th district, has reintroduced a bill  seeking to protect tiny critical-access rural hospitals from an agency rule change that threatens their funding. It’s the same bill Delgado tried to pass in August, but this time without a joint press release with Republican cosponsor Elise Stefanik.

The Cuomo administration is engaged in a high-profile vaccine equity campaign, touting its efforts to boost vaccination rates in Black and brown communities by setting up pop-up clinics in churches and public housing developments. The state’s vaccine equity plan is big on photo ops, but short on data: While at least 17 states are reporting vaccination data by race and ethnicity, New York State does not, making it impossible for community advocates to judge whether there are broad disparities in vaccine rollout. County and town-level data is also missing from New York State’s limited public vaccine information, which would help reveal vaccine access disparities emerging in rural health care deserts. Public health experts who are worried about vaccine equity in communities with poor access to health care are calling on New York State to release more data—and, for what it’s worth, so are we.

County leaders are pushing back on Governor Cuomo’s dictate that their departments of health should only be vaccinating essential workers, leaving seniors to get appointments at pharmacies. Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, the president of the NYS County Executives Association, told Joe Mahoney at CNHI that county leaders were reluctant to turn away seniors. “Our public health departments can’t be forced into not helping the people they are constitutionally sworn to help,” Molinaro said. Seniors in some counties have had vaccine appointments canceled as counties scrambled to comply with the state edict.

That “extra” sixth dose in Pfizer’s vaccine vials, which some providers have been able to eke out with special needles and careful administration, isn’t looking so miraculous anymore. Having received the FDA’s blessing to stretch a vial to six doses instead of five, the company is now counting (and selling) doses differently, The Washington Post reports: Vials that are shipped with the special “low dead space” syringes needed to extract that sixth dose will count for six, and vials shipped with ordinary syringes will count for five. Either way, every drop counts.

In more encouraging Pfizer news, only 20 of about 128,600 Israelis who have received both doses of the vaccine have contracted COVID-19 since receiving their second dose, and none has been hospitalized.

Spurred on by the rapid pace of emerging COVID-19 variants, which could make vaccines less effective as they evolve, Moderna is already making a booster that takes aim at the so-called “South African variant.” The process of making a booster shot should be less involved than coming up with a whole new vaccine, and Pfizer and Moderna are both laying plans to give their COVID-19 shots regular updates, much like the annual tweaking of flu vaccines.

California scientists searching for B.1.1.7, the “UK variant,” have found something equally worrying: a possibly homegrown variant circulating around the Golden State that has been given the moniker B.1.426. Disease detectives are working to figure out whether some nasty property of virulence is behind a steep surge in California cases of the newly discovered variant, or if factors like weather, travel, and a poorly timed inflatable Christmas tree costume at a holiday party might have given it a random assist.

New York State has a new toll-free number for reporting vaccine scams and fraud: Call 833-VAX-SCAM (833-829-7226) to report any vaccinatory malfeasance.


County coronavirus pages: Rockland, Westchester, Putnam

Active cases have declined in Westchester County over the past week, from the 11,600 range to 11,068 as of Monday’s dashboard update. “I think we’re starting to see the end of the spike that we got at the holiday season,” County Executive George Latimer said in his Monday afternoon coronavirus briefing. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for deaths: Latimer said “five, 10, 12 people” have been dying per day in recent weeks, driving the county’s cumulative fatality toll to 1,851.

Latimer also talked about the decision about whether or not to allow high school sports to resume, a decision that has been ceded by the state to county governments. Westchester school superintendents have been tasked with compiling data on “key areas” that will determine if and how high school sports can resume safely and properly. Latimer said he aims to reach a joint decision with other Hudson Valley county executives comprising the Section One high school sports conference by the end of this week. Sports can resume on February 1 if approved by county health departments.

Since Friday’s data update, nine more people have died of COVID-19 in Rockland County, according to the county’s dashboard. There are 2,641 active cases and 830 fatalities.

Two people died in Putnam County this past week, according to state data analyzed by The Examiner.

The tents housing hospital beds outside the Westchester County Center will be dismantled in the coming weeks, Westchester County Deputy Executive Ken Jenkins said Monday. The tents were constructed in March to expand hospital capacity in the region, but the beds were never used.


County coronavirus pages: Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia
County vaccine pages: Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia

Dutchess County’s health department vaccinated 60 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities on Monday at a popup hub in Pleasant Valley, though this group is assigned to be vaccinated at hospitals or clinics. The effort also contradicted a dictate from the state that county health departments should only be vaccinating essential workers. Of the 200 doses Columbia County will receive this week, 100 will go to seniors, Health Director Jack Mabb said, also seemingly contradicting Governor Cuomo’s edict. Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus, who has consistently advocated for seniors to get vaccinated by the county, said he would “continue to rage against the machine and try to get the right people the right vaccines” during his Monday briefing.

Columbia County announced 135 new cases of COVID-19 over the last three days, and the 64th county resident died from the virus.

Orange County Executive Neuhaus announced Monday that county leaders in the mid-Hudson Valley are putting their heads together to come up with mutual guidelines on how school sports could be conducted. The sports can be played beginning February 1 if green-lighted by county health departments.


County coronavirus pages: Sullivan, Delaware, Greene, Schoharie
County vaccine pages: Sullivan, Delaware, Greene

The vaccine show will go on in Sullivan County on Tuesday despite snow in the forecast, county health officials say. “We are obligated by the State to dispense our entire supply of vaccine by Wednesday, so we do not have time to reschedule any appointments,” said health director Nancy McGraw in a press release. Anyone who needs to reschedule a Tuesday appointment with the county clinic will, alas, lose their place in line. “Every valid appointment made for tomorrow will be honored tomorrow, and our Public Works crews will be constantly plowing and salting our entranceway and parking lot. So those who venture out can be assured of getting their vaccine dose,” she said. 

Sullivan County recently received 200 doses of Moderna vaccine from the state, earmarked for essential workers, county health officials said Monday. County officials said they would be contacting employers directly to get people signed up for an upcoming clinic, according to state guidance—a practice that raises the question of whether eligible workers whose employers don’t make proactive efforts to get their workers vaccinated might fall through the cracks. Neighboring Delaware County has also announced recently that the health department would work with employers, rather than taking calls for appointments directly from eligible workers.

The Delaware County Office for the Aging currently has about 1,300 names on a list of elderly residents who want to be vaccinated, and nowhere in or near the county for them to go, director Terri Whitney told The River. “Everyone is waiting on vaccine so there’s nothing available locally that I’m aware of,” she wrote in an email. “We are trying to compile a list of pharmacies in the area with contact information that we can give out to our seniors. The NYS “Am I Eligible’ site isn’t showing any locations nearby with appointments available.” Last week, Delaware County Public Health announced that it had already held a vaccination clinic for people in the 1B eligibility group, but did not say whether shots were given to the elderly or to essential workers, and did not respond to our questions about the clinic by press time. To be added to the county Office for the Aging’s vaccine list, call them at (607) 832-5750.

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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.

To read more of our coronavirus coverage, visit our coronavirus page.