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Coronavirus

Coronavirus Roundup: Biden Vows Return to Normal by Summer, While Cuomo’s Vaccine Czar Twists Arms

Plus: New York Democrats increase heat on governor, a new law guarantees time for vaccination, and the state’s rapid testing program is expanding.

Three new state-run mass vaccination sites are opening this week, including one at the Clark Athletic Center, above, at SUNY Old Westbury.
Kevin P. Coughlin / Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
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This is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties published March 15 in collaboration with The Other Hudson Valley.

NEW YORK STATE

7-day average positive test rate: 3.2%
556 deaths past 7 days
4,517 hospitalizations (923 in ICUs)
Share of population fully vaccinated: 11.6%
Share of population given 1 dose: 22.5%
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
The River’s COVID-19 vaccine guide

May Day is just a month and a half away—but by then, if the Biden administration’s plans hold up, the nation will be in a more hopeful place in the road out of the pandemic. Last week, a White House briefing and news release laid out the map to a summer that’s “closer to normal”: every adult in the country eligible for vaccine by May 1, a dramatic increase in the number of vaccination sites as well as those who can serve as vaccinators, expanded testing and variant surveillance of COVID-19, increased support for schools, and a federally supported online vaccine site locator and call center to help take some of the confusion out of getting vaccinated. (In the meantime, readers in the Hudson Valley and Catskills can check out The River’s local vaccination guide. We can’t promise you won’t be confused by the shifting landscape of the vaccine rollout, but we’ll do our best to guide you through it.)

Between the ongoing sexual harassment investigation and mounting criticism of his pandemic policy decisions, Governor Andrew Cuomo is in an unflattering spotlight, and the eyes of the nation are on his top aides and advisors as well. Over the weekend, The Washington Post had a disturbing scoop: Larry Schwartz, a personal friend and Cuomo’s volunteer “vaccine czar,” called up county executives as the scandal was unfolding to inquire about their loyalty to the governor. At least one Democratic county executive, who wished to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, was rattled enough by Schwartz’s call to file an ethics complaint with the state attorney general’s office, fearing that the county’s vaccine supply might be at stake if he said the wrong thing. In defending their own actions, neither Schwartz nor Cuomo appear to grasp how coercive these power dynamics can be. “Nobody indicated that they were uncomfortable or that they did not want to talk to me,” Schwartz told the Post in defense of his calls to county executives, sounding an awful lot like the governor himself.

The Biden administration has been fairly quiet on Cuomo’s widening scandals, but on Monday, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki spoke out about Schwartz’s calls and the implication that vaccine equity might be tainted by politics. “New developments seem to happen every day,” she said. “The president finds them troubling.”

Another must-read from the weekend: Rebecca Traister in New York Magazine with a deep dive on the culture of “thuggish paternalism” that Cuomo has been getting away with for years—until, suddenly, he wasn’t. “Cuomo was a bully, but he was our bully,” Traister writes. But no longer: “Now, the venal toxicity that has buttressed his career has, at least temporarily, been exposed for what it is.”

Many New York State politicians in both parties, including Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and a sizable chunk of the state’s Congressional delegation, are calling on Cuomo to resign. But the public isn’t there yet, a new poll suggests: About half of New York State voters think the governor should not resign, according to a new Siena College poll. Then again, they hadn’t heard about Larry Schwartz’s phone calls—the poll closed on Friday.

More indoor dining, more shows, more sports: Are New York’s loosening pandemic restrictions being guided by science? The editorial board of the Daily News worries that Cuomo might be giving New Yorkers a little bread and circus to distract them from his political turmoil. “We sincerely hope these decisions were all motivated by balanced analysis of the data and economic concerns, and not by any desire to distract from the trouble Cuomo now faces,” they write.

Meanwhile, the science on restaurants and COVID-19 continues to be grim. Last week, a report from the CDC analyzing the impact of state pandemic policy found that the lifting of bans on on-premise restaurant dining contributed to increased COVID-19 cases and deaths in the weeks and months that followed.

The CDC is also taking a look backward at guidance issued under the Trump administration, and has removed some guidance that agency leaders say was not written by CDC staff. None of the guidance the agency is now walking back escaped public criticism at the time: One piece now being singled out as unscientific—a policy issued last summer that discouraged testing of those who had been in contact with COVID-19-positive people unless they had symptoms—was reversed within weeks after an outcry from scientists.

The Biden administration is gearing up to launch an ambitious campaign to convince the American public to get vaccinated against COVID-19. STAT News took a deeper look at what it might look like—and why celebrity endorsements won’t be enough to reach communities where vaccine hesitancy is likely to slow the path to herd immunity. 

For months, in coronavirus briefings, Governor Cuomo has hammered on the theme of vaccine hesitancy in Black and brown communities. On Monday, he revisited the topic again at a televised briefing in Old Westbury. “We need the Black community and the Hispanic community to come forward and have confidence in this vaccine,” Cuomo said. But hesitancy may be more of a partisan issue than a racial issue: Recent polling indicates the demographic group least likely to get vaccinated is Republican men. What will it take to convince vaccine-hesitant Trump voters to get a shot? A focus group held recently with Trump voters pointed toward some surprising answers: The group found the comments of former CDC director Tom Frieden, an Obama appointee, more compelling than a Fox News pro-vaccine ad.

A third wave of COVID-19 cases and deaths is sweeping Europe, prompting strict new lockdowns in Italy. At the same time, several European countries are pausing their rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine, not yet approved in the US, to investigate a handful of deaths among people who recently received it. US officials are keeping a wary eye on Europe’s troubles, and top coronavirus health expert Anthony Fauci is warning that US cases are leveling off at a very high rate, leaving us vulnerable to a similar surge if variants outpace the vaccination effort. Now is not the time to relax, Fauci said. “The best way that we can avoid any threat from variants is to do two things: Get as many people vaccinated as quickly as we possibly can and continue with the public health measures until we get this broad umbrella of protection over society,” he told CNN this weekend.

Three new state sites are opening on Long Island on Friday, Cuomo announced Monday. Appointments at the new sites can be made through the state website and vaccine hotline starting Wednesday. 

A new state law entitles all New York State employees, both public and private, to four hours of excused leave for each COVID-19 vaccine injection. The law went into effect on Friday, March 12. 

A state rapid test program is expanding to support the reopening of arts events, weddings, and other events statewide. Twenty-six new state-supported rapid testing sites are opening in the Hudson Valley, New York City, Long Island, the Capital Region, and Western New York, in addition to twelve that have already opened, according to a press release issued Friday.

New York State will no longer require quarantine for domestic travelers as of April 1.

Restaurants in New York City can move from 35 percent to 50 percent capacity as of March 19, when the maximum capacity for indoor dining in the rest of the state goes from 50 to 75 percent

Jury trials in the state court system will begin again next week, but most New York State court proceedings will be virtual “for the foreseeable future,” Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said Monday. Judges and other essential public-facing court workers are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, when a planned state expansion of eligibility for many public-facing workers goes into effect. 

The recent passage of the latest federal stimulus bill means local aid for county, city, town, and village governments to cover costs incurred by responding to the pandemic, with amounts determined by census data. The Poughkeepsie Journal breaks down what that means for Dutchess County and the Hudson Valley at large. The Sullivan County Democrat also checked in with town supervisors on their thoughts about the infusion of cash soon to come; most of them sound relieved. “It’s going to help a lot,” said Bethel’s Dan Sturm.

New York high school students will be exempt from graduation testing requirements for the second year in a row, the state Board of Regents announced Monday. Education officials also revealed plans for a scaled-back version of standardized assessments for grades 3-8 and promised more information will go out to schools this week.

LOWER HUDSON VALLEY

County coronavirus pages: Rockland, Westchester, Putnam
County vaccine pages: Putnam

Rockland County will receive $9.6 million from the federal government to help tenants who have fallen behind on the rent, the county announced in a press release last week. The grant comes out of the Emergency Rental Assistance program established by the CARES Act, and will pay money directly to landlords on behalf of tenants who have lost their job, had a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or experienced other financial hardship due to the pandemic. Tenants “must also demonstrate a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability and demonstrate the household income does not exceed 80 percent of area median income,” according to the release. Tenants and landlords can contact the county via forms on the county website.

The state-run mass vaccination site at the Westchester County Center administered its 100,000th dose last Thursday, County Executive George Latimer said in a coronavirus press briefing last week. The hub surpassed the milestone in just under two months, and the rate of vaccinations is increasing as supply improves; Latimer said that the hub will soon be vaccinating more than 3,000 people per day. As of last week, 13.6 percent of county residents had been fully vaccinated.

Latimer also said that the county expects to receive an additional shipment of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine on March 29, most of which will be reserved for seniors (the county’s first shipment of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was also reserved for those 60 and up). Westchester is working with Empress Ambulance Service to distribute the vaccine to homebound seniors who are at least 65 years old.

The statistical trends for cases continued to be good in Westchester over the past week. As of Monday’s dashboard update, active cases were at 5,038, down from a peak of 11,500 in early January. But after rising by 20 percent last week, active cases were up again in Rockland County, to 1,917 from 1,745 last Monday. 

Westchester County teamed up with El Centro Hispano, a nonprofit social services organization in White Plains, to release a Spanish-language public service announcement urging residents to sign up for the vaccine when eligible.

All students in the Bedford Central School District will return to in-person learning five days a week starting on April 12 after a strong majority of parents supported the move in a recent survey. The decision was made late last week; on Monday, the district announced that a student at Bedford Village Elementary School had tested positive for COVID-19.

MID-HUDSON VALLEY

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

Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro told WAMC that several Democratic county executives called him with concerns after Cuomo vaccine czar Larry Schwartz asked about their loyalty towards his boss. Molinaro, the head of the County Executives Association and Cuomo’s general election opponent in 2018, also said he got a call from Schwartz, but did not describe anything untoward. Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan reported through a spokesman he had received a call from Schwartz after initially denying comment to the Daily Freeman. On Friday, Ryan joined a growing number of New York Democrats calling for Cuomo to resign.

Ulster County’s main vaccination site will move from Kingston High School to a larger location at the former Best Buy in the Hudson Valley Mall, according to the county executive’s office. The new location will open March 18 and be able to administer 2,500 vaccinations a day, joining a county site in Ellenville and popup sites throughout the county. The state is also preparing a mass vaccination site at the Ulster County Fairgrounds.

School can begin to fully reopen in Ulster County after getting approval from the Health Department on Thursday, though it will be each district’s decision when and how to begin full in-person instruction. High rates of teacher vaccination and the limited spread of the virus during hybrid instruction were cited by the Health Department when making the decision.

Democrats in the Dutchess County Legislature introduced a resolution requiring the county to release more public health data on COVID-19. The county’s health department would have to release data “showing Covid’s impact in each town and city and on different demographic groups, in order to effectively target recovery,” according to a press release by the Democratic minority. The county maintains a daily town-by-town breakdown of active cases, but otherwise does not provide municipal-level data.

Nine Orange County residents died of COVID-19 since Friday, County Executive Steve Neuhaus announced Monday, and the number of hospitalized residents ticked up, from 80 to 90, as well as the number of people on ventilators, which rose from 25 to 30.

The Columbia County Clerk’s Office, which also houses the county DMV, will remain shut until March 19 after seven staff members tested positive for COVID-19 last week

CATSKILLS

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

Greene County has a prison COVID problem again: As of Monday’s data, 31 of the county’s 72 known active cases were in state-run correctional facilities.

Assemblyman Chris Tague recently got vaccinated at a clinic run by Schoharie County Public Health, and praised how county officials were handling the situation in the face of challenging direction coming from the state. “Today’s actions by Schoharie County Health Dept officials and local volunteers helped solidify my calling several times on the Governor and Dr. Zucker to get out of the way and stop micromanaging the vaccination process,” Tague wrote in a Facebook post.

Health officials in both Delaware and Schoharie County, where there are no state-run vaccination sites and few local vaccine providers, said on Monday that they expect a new state-run mass vaccination site at SUNY Oneonta to launch later this week. Appointments at the site will be available through the New York State “Am I Eligible” site, or by calling the state vaccination hotline at 1-833-NYS-4-VAX.  


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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.

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