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Coronavirus

Coronavirus Roundup: Rapid Test Kits Coming to Every County

All the news and announcements from New York State, the Hudson Valley, and the Catskills for Thursday, October 8 and Friday, October 9.

New York will deploy 400,000 rapid test kits to local health departments and other providers.
Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo
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This is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties for Thursday, October 8 and Friday, October 9. 

NEW YORK STATE
471,696 cases confirmed (1,592 new)
11,786,740 tests performed (139,300 new)
Positive test rate: 1.14%
25,561 deaths (6 new)
779 hospitalizations
168 ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065

New York State has a present for county health departments: Every county in the state will be getting free rapid testing kits, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Friday. The state has already deployed Abbott ID Now rapid tests in areas with outbreaks, and will prioritize areas currently seeing upticks in providing the new kits, but the state Department of Health is promising that 400,000 kits will be made available, and that every county will have access to rapid testing free of charge.

Rapid tests, which can return a result within 15 minutes, aren’t quite the same as the slower PCR nose swab tests typically used to detect COVID-19 infection. They give false negatives more often, because it requires more viral load for a person to test positive on a rapid test than on a sensitive PCR test. But some epidemiologists think that’s not a bad thing. Harvard’s Michael Mina believes that rapid tests are the key to getting our lives back to normal, and he’s been evangelizing for their widespread adoption. The key, Mina says, is to make them widely available enough for everyone in the nation to get tested every few days. For finding out whether a person has COVID-19 and needs treatment, a PCR test is the gold standard, but from a public health perspective, where the goal is preventing outbreaks, rapid tests are a better tool, Mina argues. They aren’t a perfect measure of whether someone has been infected, but they’re very good at detecting whether someone has enough COVID-19 in their system to be contagious to others. 

An anonymous robocall went out earlier this week to Orthodox residents of Borough Park in Brooklyn, urging them to come out to protest Cuomo’s hotspot lockdowns, allegedly at the urging of the Trump campaign. On Friday, after two days of lockdown protests in Orthodox Brooklyn in which two Hasidic men were assaulted by protestors, Cuomo played the robocall in a state briefing. “Tonight, on 13th Avenue or wherever Heshy Tischler goes, everybody should hold a sign, ‘Cuomo killed thousands’. The Trump campaign is urging us to hold as many and as big signs as possible. Please send this message around, make it go viral,” the anonymous caller said. The Trump campaign denies being involved, and attempted unsuccessfully to discuss the matter off the record with the New York Daily News.

In Friday’s briefing, Cuomo accused Trump of sowing community discord in New York’s Orthodox-leaning hotspots, where a tiny fraction of the state’s population is coming down with an outsized proportion of the state’s COVID-19 cases. “The antidote to community spread is community. Caring for one another. Here, the Trump campaign wants to inflame divisions,” he said. “Meanwhile, they’re putting people’s lives at risk. Twenty percent of the cases coming from these districts. Twenty percent from 2.8 percent. Some of those people will die.”

One of the men who was attacked at a Borough Park protest was Hasidic journalist Jacob Kornbluh, a national reporter for Jewish Insider. Kornbluh’s assault, at the urging of talk-radio personality and City Council candidate Heshy Tischler, was documented on video, and occurred in the presence of New York City police officers. Kornbluh is pressing charges, and the NYPD has apparently given Tischler a heads-up that they will be arresting him on Monday

Who is Heshy Tischler? What’s with all the Trump flags in Borough Park? Plenty of New Yorkers are just tuning in now, but the radicalization of some of Brooklyn’s Orthodox communities has been quietly building since at least April, writes Jewish news website The Forward, and it has now spilled out onto the streets. “What was once a political point of view has become a fandom that makes a protest in Borough Park look at least a little like a Trump boat parade in Tampa Bay,” The Forward writes. “The flag-waving and the emergence in Tischler of a populist, Trump-like agitator who calls Black women racial slurs and journalists ‘snitches’ is a relatively recent change that transformed the neighborhood—home to normally very private and attention-shy residents—nearly overnight.”

The Washington Post ran an editorial on Thursday from a New York City rabbi with a message for his peers: Tell your congregations to protect themselves from COVID-19, even if it’s unpopular. “Enforcement shouldn’t have to come from government officials,” writes Benjamin Goldschmidt of Park East Synagogue. “There were many Orthodox communities that were able to minimize spread in the past months—which we don’t read about in the headlines. This is thanks largely to the rabbis and lay leaders who made communal health a priority.”

A federal judge has ruled that Cuomo’s hotspot lockdown regulations are legal, a decision reached in an emergency hearing Friday in response to a lawsuit from the national Orthodox organization Agudath Israel of America. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn has also sued the governor over his imposition of a 10-person maximum occupancy on all houses of worship in the hotspot red zones, a rule that dramatically cuts occupancy at all houses of worship and effectively excludes women from Orthodox Jewish services, which according to tradition require a minyan of 10 men to proceed.

In Friday’s briefing, Governor Cuomo said that 42 schools out of 690 across the state did not submit data on COVID-19 testing to the state’s “Report Card” website, which tracks testing data for all schools in the state, public and private. The governor warned that schools that fail to report data may be shut down

A welcome new feature on the Report Card site this week: Regional data. A new section headed “Positive School Tests By Region” allows users to see a summary of new positive case numbers across the state’s ten economic development regions. The regional data does not indicate which schools have outbreaks, but does indicate whether cases were found in public or private and charter schools.

In Broome County, where a yellow zone spanning part of Binghamton and several neighboring towns has been declared because of a local outbreak, schools in the hotspot are still awaiting guidance from the state on how they must carry out required testing for students and staff. The Binghamton City School District has decided to delay the reopening of in-person classes until October 26, the Press & Sun-Bulletin reports.

Robert Kadlec, a high-ranking official in the Department of Health and Human Services and a medical doctor with a leadership role in federal coronavirus response, said Friday that he expects a vaccine to begin to be available in January of 2021

This week, President Trump has publicly held at least two mutually contradictory positions on another round of economic stimulus. The latest gambit is a $1.8 trillion offer put on the table by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, though Nancy Pelosi’s spokesperson notes that the “absence of an agreement on a strategic plan to crush the virus” makes the deal a no-go, for now. Among the provisions are an extension of unemployment bonuses at $400 a week, and $300 billion in aid for cities and states. “Covid Relief Negotiations are moving along. Go Big!” Trump tweeted Friday, a few days after declaring talks over. With coronavirus stimulus a bête noire of right-wing media, Republicans on Capitol Hill remain unenthusiastic about another round. 

When talking about disease, we often use military-sounding words like “fight” and “battle,” or talk about the “strength” of the immune system. Ed Yong, science reporter at The Atlantic, argues that this kind of talk does more harm than good—especially with a disease like COVID-19, which sometimes kills people whose immune system responds so strongly that it overreacts to the virus.

At least eight mayors of towns and cities in New York State are quarantining after Binghamton Mayor Richard David’s Thursday announcement that he has tested positive for COVID-19. The mayors attended an in-person press briefing held on Wednesday by the New York Conference of Mayors in Syracuse, where they appealed to the federal government for stimulus funding for local governments. David’s positive test has also benched multiple news reporters who attended the event, and with local news coverage already stretched thin in New York State, their editors aren’t happy about it.

Congressman Antonio Delgado, a Democrat representing the Hudson Valley and Catskills in New York’s 19th district, announced Friday that he has received a “Friend of Farm Bureau” award from the American Farm Bureau Federation. The Congressman has doggedly championed legislation to aid small farmers in the pandemic, and has been touring his large rural district visiting farmers and small business owners over the past few months to check in with how the pandemic is treating them—most recently, the Catskill Mountain Sugar House in tiny Grahamsville

The show must not go on: The lights of Broadway will stay out until at least May 30, 2021, the Broadway League announced Friday. 

Below is a Flourish animation we have compiled that shows the rate of active cases per 10,000 residents for each county in our coverage region from May 12 through the present date.

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

COVID cluster enforcement began Friday in the hotspots identified by Governor Cuomo’s office earlier this week. LoHud.com has a report from the scene in Monsey, where it “looked like any other Friday during a school break”: families strolling the streets, with no evidence of state task force enforcement of strict rules for the red zone. Among the businesses to close is Finkelstein Memorial Library, which will remain shuttered until at least October 19.

LoHud.com also has a feature on two Rockland rabbis, one who lives within the red zone, the other who lives outside. The article contrasts their viewpoints on the outbreak in the community and how the state has handled it. “Their differences are real and reinforce that, while the outside world—including Albany—may want to paint them with the same brush, the Orthodox community is not a monolith,” reporters Peter Kramer and Nancy Culter write.

Westchester County legislator David Tubiolo tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday. Tubiolo reportedly hasn’t been in the Board of Legislators office since October 1, but out of an abundance of caution, County Executive George Latimer postponed his 2020 State of the County address, originally scheduled for Thursday.

State Senator Pete Harckham, a Democrat from Westchester County, is also quarantining after contact with Tubiolo. USA Today’s Jon Campbell points out that for an incumbent facing a challenge from former county executive (and former gubernatorial candidate) Rob Astorino, that’s “not ideal” for Harkham.

One of the treatments President Trump received while hospitalized for COVID-19 is an experimental antibody cocktail manufactured by Regeneron, a biotech company headquartered in Westchester County. Trump touted the drug as a “cure” in a video on Wednesday—it’s not, though the treatment has shown promising results in trials. But the presidential endorsement has been a double-edged sword for the small company, raising questions about how well the treatment works, how it is made, and whether Regeneron can meet the increased demand that is sure to follow.

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

The New York Times sent a pair of reporters to Kiryas Joel to see how Cuomo’s hotspot efforts are playing out in the Orange County Hasidic community, where recent test positivity rates have been higher than anywhere else in the state. There is widespread fatalism and a mistaken belief that herd immunity has been reached after the virus ran rampant through the community in the spring, the Times reports, but the Hudson Valley hotspots have not seen the kinds of protests that have erupted in Brooklyn, and local officials told the paper that compliance with masking and other pandemic protocols has been on the rise in the community in recent weeks. Joshua Hans, a Hatzolah ambulance coordinator in Rockland County, says calls are double their normal rate. “The last time we’ve seen these call numbers was mid-April,” he said. “It is really bringing us back.”

In his latest weekly town hall, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro said that the county health department is working with the state DOH to address a cluster of positive COVID-19 cases linked to Hedgewood Home for Adults in Beacon, and is also performing contract tracing on a cluster of 12 cases linked to an off-campus party near Marist College last week.

Speaking of Marist: The Poughkeepsie college declared itself “on pause” following the outbreak. All classes will be online for the next couple of days, all on- and off-campus activities are suspended, visitors are not allowed to the campus, and students must remain in their own dorm buildings.

In Newburgh, Mount St. Mary College is also shifting to online-only instruction for two weeks because of a rise in cases over the past 14 days, and SUNY Orange’s campus will remain closed through at least Tuesday after an unspecified member of the campus community tested positive on Monday.

Ulster County has had 116 children test positive for the coronavirus since the pandemic began, Deputy County Executive Marc Rider revealed Thursday.

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

Schoharie County health officials have had their hands full with contact tracing lately, according to a Facebook post by the county health department on Friday. “Unfortunately, it’s been a very busy COVID week at the Health Department, much of it due to people who chose to attend weddings and other social gatherings where COVID-19 regulations were not followed,” they wrote. The county currently has five active positive cases. 

Sullivan County Public Health will hold a drive-through flu shot clinic on October 15 from 11am to 2pm at the SUNY Sullivan Fieldhouse parking lot (112 College Road, Loch Sheldrake). There is no cost, but registration is required. Those who cannot register electronically should call Public Health at (845) 292-5910.

Oneonta’s loss is Sidney Center’s gain. Serkan Cambudak of Catskill Packing, a local butcher who had planned to build a large facility in Oneonta, decided he didn’t want to wait for pandemic delays, and started building a nose-to-tail meat processing operation on his own Sidney farm. Now open for business, Catskill Packing processes beef, lamb, goat, venison, “and the occasional bison,” the Daily Star reports, and expects to break ground on a poultry processing plant in the spring.


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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.