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Coronavirus Roundup: With Cases Rising, New York Changes Travel Rules

All the news and announcements from New York State, the Hudson Valley, and the Catskills for Saturday, October 31 through November 2.

New York State announced new quarantine rules for travelers on Saturday.
Mike Groll
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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, October 31 through Monday, November 2.

Programming note: On Wednesday, our small editorial team will be devoting its resources to bringing readers post-election coverage, including who won local and state races. As such, we won’t publish a coronavirus news roundup that day. We will be back as usual on Friday.

1,633 cases yesterday
96,101 tests yesterday
Positive test rate: 1.70%
14 deaths yesterday
1,151 hospitalizations
276 ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065

With almost every state in the nation meeting New York’s threshold for requiring a 14-day quarantine, including New York itself, Governor Andrew Cuomo has opted to scrap the ever-shifting list of quarantine states. Starting Wednesday, November 4, travelers entering from any state that does not share a border with New York must keep a 14-day quarantine, or a shorter quarantine if they get tested twice. In order to be released early, a traveler must be tested within three days of leaving for New York State, quarantine upon arrival in New York, and be tested again on the fourth day of quarantine in New York. If both tests are negative, the traveler can exit quarantine. Travelers who are out of New York State for less than 24 hours do not need to quarantine, but must fill out a travel advisory form and be tested upon returning to New York State. Essential workers are exempt from the requirements. The rules of the state’s new travel guidelines are a little complicated, but at least they won’t change every Tuesday anymore.

Travelers have a lot of questions about New York’s new rules. Here at The River, where our main concern is keeping track of the pandemic across the large Hudson Valley and Catskills region, we have questions too. If people mostly comply with the new rules, will increased testing from visitors and returning New Yorkers strain the capacity of testing centers? Will the increased testing of people without symptoms or known positive contacts lower positivity rates in state or county data? Will travelers be able to get the medical referrals and insurance coverage they may need in order to be tested in the areas they’re visiting? How will it work in healthcare-challenged rural upstate New York? “I don’t think it will,” said Heather Warner, programs manager for Delaware County Public Health, to The River on Monday. “We’re not the only county that isn’t flush with testing access. Most of upstate New York is in the same scenario.” Like many rural counties, Delaware has no state-run COVID-19 test site and no testing at pharmacies; the New York State online testing locator lists three hospitals and a clinic in a county bigger than Rhode Island as test sites, all of which require appointments and pre-screening.

All of New York’s 10 regions were above one percent positivity on Sunday, with the highest rate in the Mid-Hudson region at 2.6 percent. Two “microclusters” in the Mid-Hudson region, in predominantly Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Rockland and Orange counties, are still the focus of state lockdowns, along with three microclusters in New York City and three more in the Southern Tier. The positivity rate across the state’s eight microcluster neighborhoods on Sunday was 3.5 percent.

Neighboring states lock down: Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker declared a sweeping array of new orders on Monday in response to rising cases in the state, including a new mask mandate that eliminates exceptions for situations where people can maintain six feet of distance, and a 10pm to 5am curfew for all but essential errands. Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont has pulled the state back to Phase Two of reopening, which also carries a 10pm to 5am curfew and reinstates restrictions on restaurants and gatherings.

New York State made Maine’s naughty list over the weekend, joining our neighbors in New Jersey and Connecticut in being required to quarantine for 14 days when visiting Maine. New Hampshire and Vermont remain exempt from Maine’s quarantine rules, and the state is considering adding Massachusetts to the quarantine list.

Vermont is looking very lonely these days on the COVID Exit Strategy website: It’s the only state on the map still in green “Trending Better” territory. Maine, which had been trending better until recently, is now assigned to “Caution Warranted” yellow, and New York has continued to progress through the site’s warning color scheme to “Trending Poorly” red.

The federal government is asking states to turn over a raft of personal data for everyone who receives a COVID-19 vaccine, including names, addresses, and Social Security or drivers’ license numbers. In a Monday briefing, Governor Cuomo declared that he would not comply with the request. “I will not do it,” he said. “This is just another example of them trying to extort the state of New York to get information that they can use at the Department of Homeland Security and ICE that they’ll use to deport people. That is what this is.” The governor sent a public letter on Monday to President Donald Trump, CDC director Robert Redfield, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar asking for clarification on why the personal data is necessary, and assurance that it would not be shared with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement or any other non-public-health-oriented entity. 

Governor Cuomo also panned the White House’s vaccine strategy in a Sunday briefing call, on which he was joined by state Attorney General Letitia James, National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial, and NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson. The officials said that the federal plan, which relies on the private pharmacies that serve as the backbone of the nation’s flu vaccination infrastructure, will leave the communities of color that have been hardest hit by COVID-19 behind. Early on in the pandemic, Cuomo said, low-income communities of color had less access to testing, a disparity the state worked to fix by setting up new testing spots in hard-hit communities. If the vaccine is distributed the same way, the same disparities will arise, he said. “They’ll distribute it to pharmacy chains, hospitals, doctor’s offices, etc.,” Cuomo said. “That is the same infrastructure that doesn’t exist in the communities we’re talking about. It’s the same infrastructure that was lacking that caused the healthcare disparities in the first place, that caused the higher infection rate in the Black and brown community, that caused the reduced testing rate in the Black and brown community.” (Editor’s note: Relying on private healthcare infrastructure for vaccine distribution is likely to leave rural communities behind, too.)

The New York Times reported Monday on the steep drop in cases in Orange County’s Kiryas Joel hotspot, and spoke to local health officials and epidemiologists who suspect the quick turnaround in local positivity rates has more to do with people refusing to be tested than with an actual decrease in infections. It’s a good story, but we think they should have given some credit to The Forward, which has been covering the issue for two weeks. The Times did get some great quotes, though. “Once you have put out a single measure as a target, people will figure out how to game that measure,” said epidemiologist Rebecca Lee Smith at the University of Illinois. Johns Hopkins epidemiologist Jennifer Nuzzo put it even more bluntly: “If public health measures are seen as punitive, you will drive cases underground.”

Credit where credit’s due: New York Times reporters have really gone the extra mile in coronavirus reporting recently. Two White House reporters who came down with COVID-19 during the outbreak that infected President Trump and dozens of others recently volunteered to have their own viral RNA sequenced by geneticists, in an effort to track the spread of a cluster that the White House has refused to do contact tracing on. Minor mutations in the RNA of the virus may not have any effect on how contagious the disease is or how it impacts the body, but they can allow researchers to create “family trees” for the virus that show the pattern of spread. In this case, the viruses contracted independently by the two Times reporters had matching rare mutations that could potentially be used to associate other infections with the White House cluster, and possibly trace its geographic origin.

Want to keep tabs on vaccine progress? McGill University researchers launched a COVID-19 vaccine tracking website last week that tracks the progress of 50 experimental vaccines in 33 countries. The New York Times and The Washington Post have been running online vaccine trackers also.

New lockdowns abroad: England is preparing to enter a new month-long lockdown as cases pass the one million mark. Several European countries are also instituting tough new lockdowns, some sparking violent protests. Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, Greece, and Kosovo are all taking new measures to contain the virus, the Associated Press reports, while Belgium, France, Poland, and the Czech Republic have already enacted recent shutdowns.

County coronavirus pages: Rockland, Westchester, Putnam
University coronavirus pages: Sarah Lawrence, Iona, SUNY Purchase, Manhattanville, Westchester Community College, Rockland Community College, Dominican, Mercy

Putnam County recorded its first COVID-19 death in four months on Thursday, as cases continue to rise in the county. On Saturday, Putnam County recorded 16 new cases, the largest single-day jump since May 18. The number was back down to eight on Sunday.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer’s latest coronavirus briefing included an update on an allegation in the early days of the pandemic that retail stores were refusing to make deliveries into New Rochelle when part of the city was under a containment zone. After a review, the Westchester Office of Consumer Protection filed complaints against four national retailer stores for “unconscionable trade practices” under Westchester’s Consumer Protection Code. The retailers are Home Depot, Peloton, Pottery Barn, and Sears. All have resolved the complaints by signing consent degrees promising not to do it again, and paying a combined $7,000 in fines to the county.

Cases in Westchester County have been rising steadily over the past two months. On Monday, Latimer said that the county was keeping a careful eye on hospitalizations as well as rising case counts; although the situation in the county is far better than it was during the spring peak, falling temperatures and the approach of the winter holidays are worrying county officials. “It is significantly above where we were two months ago,” he said. “The trend line is coming back up now. The question is, does the trend line stay that way, or flatten out again?”

Byram Hills High School, in Armonk, will close for two weeks after eight positive cases have been confirmed in the building. In the same district, Wampus Elementary School also reported a positive case linked to the high school outbreak, but the school will remain open.

County coronavirus pages: Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia
University coronavirus page: Bard, Vassar, Marist, SUNY New Paltz, SUNY Ulster, Columbia-Greene Community College, SUNY Orange

Cahill Elementary School in Saugerties will go fully remote for two weeks after a staff member showed symptoms consistent with COVID-19. Elsewhere in the district, Riccardi Elementary School went back to hybrid learning on Monday, and Morse Elementary and Mount Marion Elementary are set to resume hybrid learning on Thursday.

The Dutchess County Office for the Aging will host a drive-thru flu shot clinic next Thursday, November 12, at the former Arthur S. May school site in Poughkeepsie (25 Raymond Avenue). The clinic is free, but space is limited, and seniors must call (845) 486-2555 to register.

Columbia County is also experiencing an uptick in cases—79 active infections as of Monday morning, with 376 people in mandatory quarantine—prompting Columbia County board of supervisors chairman Matt Murrell to issue a press release addressing the spike. The long and short of it: If you’ve been exposed, quarantining is important, even if you don’t like it. “This is not something we’ve made up in Columbia County,” Murrell writes. “The state law for quarantining is serious and is a mandated part of the county Health Department’s work. It is not something that can simply be ignored or otherwise disregarded.”

Two stories on how the pandemic is taking a toll on small businesses. The Times Herald-Record spoke to Armando Collarelli, a tailor in Middletown who was forced to close his business of 44 years. “Every time I pass by, I feel so bad because I can’t go in anymore,” Collarelli, who’s 80, said. “It’s terrible. But if it wasn’t for COVID, I would still work for another two or three years.” Meanwhile, Hudson Valley One looks at how the operational restrictions placed on movie theaters might be too much to bear for small cinemas and arthouses like Lyceum Cinemas in Red Hook, the Roosevelt Cinemas in Hyde Park, and the New Paltz Cinemas.

County coronavirus pages: Sullivan, Delaware, Greene, Schoharie
University coronavirus pages: SUNY Cobleskill, SUNY Delhi, SUNY Sullivan

Remember a few weeks ago, when Governor Cuomo announced that the state would give free rapid testing kits to every county health department? The River asked Delaware County Public Health’s Heather Warner about the rapid tests, and discovered, unsurprisingly, that it’s a little more complicated than that. County health departments need staff they often can’t spare in order to offer rapid testing, and the state has focused on rolling out rapid tests in hotspots where outbreaks are surging. “Delaware County Public Health has not received rapid tests from the state,” Warner said. “We don’t have the capacity to do contact tracing, daily monitoring, investigations, and also test people. We can’t do all of those things. It’s not possible. If we got a bunch of rapid tests, we would likely push them to our area hospitals for them to utilize.”

Delaware County Public Health warned county residents on Sunday of potential exposures at three local businesses: T.A.’s Place in Walton on October 19, 24, or 25 (the second alert the county has issued for those dates); Gramma D’s in Walton on October 23, 24, or 25; and the Circle E Diner in Hancock on October 24. Health officials urge anyone who develops symptoms to contact Public Health at (607) 832-5200.

The Scott M. Ellis Elementary School in the Greenville district reopened Monday, after two weeks of remote learning prompted by three students and a staff member testing positive for COVID-19. The first case found, a fifth grader at the school, was linked to a prison outbreak at the state-run Greene Correctional Facility that has caused cases in the rural county to skyrocket in recent weeks.

Rejoice, Bethlehem Road: 23 households in Callicoon Center now have access to broadband internet, after joining forces with state Senator Jen Metzger to press service provider Spectrum to wire the road for broadband. Rural upstate New York still has plenty of gaps in its broadband network, and COVID-19 is making the lack of reliable internet even more of a problem in “last mile” households beyond the reach of existing networks. New York State has given grants to internet service providers for broadband buildout, but Metzger wants to see the state tackle the problem in a more comprehensive way. “We can’t do this one house or one street at a time,” she  told the Sullivan County Democrat. “We need big solutions. This is what we can do in the interim as we’re developing those solutions.”

On-the-ground local reporting and analysis has never been more important, and that’s what The River aims to provide. But we need your help to continue the work we’re doing. Will you support our journalism today?

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.