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Coronavirus Roundup: Anticipating a Resurgence of the Pandemic in New York

All the news and announcements from New York State, the Hudson Valley, and the Catskills for Thursday, July 16 and Friday, July 17.

Mapping each state's coronavirus outbreak trends.
COVID Exit Strategy
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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, July 16 and Friday, July 17. 

405,551 cases confirmed (776 new)
4,999,449 tests performed (78,239 new)
Positive test rate: 1%
25,024 deaths (10 new)
765 current hospitalizations
179 current ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065

New York State is currently in decent shape compared to the rest of the country. Health officials and contact tracers are still stamping out outbreaks as they flare up both upstate and down, and cases have ticked up slightly, but the state’s positive test rate has stayed low for weeks. With much of the rest of the country facing increasingly uncontrolled outbreaks, will New York get swamped again? That’s what’s worrying Governor Andrew Cuomo the last few days; while many states in the South and West are battling their first waves, he’s fretting about New York’s second. In a Thursday call with reporters, and again in a Friday public briefing, Cuomo railed against federal and state inaction that has allowed the virus to run unchecked elsewhere. “I feel like we’re standing on a beach and we’re looking out at the sea and we see the second wave building in the distance, so I want all New Yorkers to be on high alert. The virus is spreading. It’s all across the country. It’s getting worse and it will have an effect on New York. How bad we don’t know, but we cannot stop the virus at our borders,” the governor said Friday. “The only question is how hard this hits.”

Bars in New York State are now required to serve food to anyone buying a drink, an order handed down by Cuomo on Thursday in response to reports of patrons not complying with social distancing guidelines. “If you’re not eating a meal and you’re just drinking, then it’s just an outdoor bar, and people are mingling and they’re not isolated at individual tables, and that’s what we’re seeing,” he said in a briefing. Bars across the state immediately scrambled to comply; has a guide to navigating the new rules. A new item on the menu at one Saratoga Springs restaurant: “Cuomo Chips.

Cuomo has been saying that New York City has a unique problem with pandemic guideline compliance, but Politico isn’t buying it. “Conversations with numerous public officials throughout the state suggest that, if anything, New York City has been more zealous in its efforts to encourage compliance than elsewhere,” the outlet writes. New York City’s failures at social distancing have been used to justify more strict rules for the state’s largest metropolis, including an indefinite ban on indoor dining. But it’s not clear that upstate residents are doing any better at following the rules; in fact, Politico writes, anecdotal evidence suggests the opposite. New York City is not currently reporting higher positive test rates than the rest of the state. And indoor dining is risky no matter where in the state it may be located.

New York City is headed into Phase Four on Monday, but without opening malls or museums, which have been allowed to cautiously reopen in the rest of the state. Indoor dining is also on hold in New York City; the rest of the state has had indoor dining with reduced capacity since Phase Three. Since the beginning of the US outbreak, evidence has grown that indoor dining is risky, and some states and cities that allowed indoor dining to resume are now reversing course. Albany County officials have recently reported clusters of cases tied to restaurants, and two restaurants have been forced to shut down temporarily because of outbreaks among staff.

If you’re exposed to COVID-19, does it matter how much virus you inhale? Infectious disease experts think so—and that might be another good reason to mask up. USA Today reports that an upcoming research paper tackles the question of whether masks offer partial protection to the wearer not just by preventing infections, but by lowering the dose of virus to those exposed, thus resulting in less severe disease. That might help explain how in some areas with high levels of masking, cases have risen without causing spikes in the COVID-19 death rate. “The bigger the load, the more you get in your system, the more severe the disease,” said Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco who co-authored the paper.

An idea from the vaults of history made an appearance in The New York Times on Friday: Outdoor classrooms, which were successfully deployed in tuberculosis-ravaged New England in the winter of 1907. “One of the few things we know about the coronavirus with any degree of certainty is that the risk of contracting it diminishes outside,” writes Ginia Bellafante. “While this ought to have activated a war-room focus toward the goal of moving as much teaching as possible outdoors, nothing like that has happened.”

On Friday, The New York Times also published a map depicting who is wearing masks in the US. The data comes from interviews conducted by the global data and survey firm Dynata, which obtain 250,000 responses to a question about mask use in public between July 2 and July 14, allowing Dynata to create a map depicting the chance all five people are wearing masks in five random encounters. There are some interesting results: “Mask use is high in the Northeast and the West, and lower in the Plains and parts of the South,” the paper writes. “But it also shows many fine-grained local differences.” Overall, Americans are wearing masks more often than the culture warring might suggest: Several recent national surveys have found that around 80 percent of Americans say they wear masks frequently or always when they expect to be within six feet of other people—higher than Canada, Finland, and Denmark.

The New York State Board of Law Examiners has canceled the state’s upcoming bar exam, which was rescheduled for Sept. 9 and 10 after being postponed from its original July date. “Unfortunately, the global pandemic presents a persisting threat in a growing number of states and therefore, at this juncture, an in-person exam is not yet a safe or practical option in New York,” the board said in a Thursday statement. There is no plan yet for how to handle the licensing of new lawyers in the state; about 10,000 people typically sit for the July exam, the New York Law Journal reports.

The New York State Public High School Athletic Association voted Thursday to delay the start of the Fall 2020 sports season, cancel this fall’s Regional and State Championships, and prepare a condensed season schedule in January 2021 if high school sports remain prohibited throughout the rest of the year. The guidelines come at the recommendation of the NYSPHSAA COVID-19 Task Force.

With massive budget cuts looming to schools, hospitals, and other vital public services, New York State is still playing chicken with the federal government on state aid that may not be forthcoming. The City reported Thursday on New York’s increasingly bleak budget situation—and Cuomo’s unwillingness to raise taxes to grapple with it. 

Gothamist took a look Friday at the state’s “prison nursing home” at the Adirondack Correctional Facility, where elderly inmates vulnerable to COVID-19 are being held. At least two men have tested positive for COVID-19 at the prison. A prisoner advocate told the news outlet that an inmate she is close to at Adirondack, whose name is being withheld to prevent retaliation, tells her the prison is “worse than Attica.” 

Announced by New York State on Friday, July 17: 

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

County coronavirus pages: Rockland, Westchester, Putnam

After a small spike in cases in Putnam County earlier this week, only four people tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday and Thursday, a 0.4 percent positive test rate.

In more sports news, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, which includes Iona College, in New Rochelle, and Marist College, in Poughkeepsie, became the latest Division I college conference to alter its fall sports schedule, voting to cancel nonconference volleyball and soccer games on Thursday.

County coronavirus pages: Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia

The River got a tip from a reader on Friday that several Healthquest patients in Ulster County recently received false positive COVID-19 test results due to a lab error. We followed up with Nuvance, Healthquest’s corporate parent, and a spokesperson confirmed. “Nuvance Health discovered that some COVID tests from the end of last week sent out to a reference lab for testing were determined to be false positives. These have been retested and corrected reports have been issued. All ordering physicians have been notified in order to allow them to reach out to their patients to discuss this with them,” Sarah Colomello said in a statement. We also reached out to the Ulster County Health Department to find out how many people were affected, but did not hear back by press time.

Only 10 people tested positive for the coronavirus in Ulster County on Wednesday and Thursday, or 0.7 percent, after a small spike earlier in the week.

And there were only six positive tests in Dutchess County (0.5 percent) on Thursday, three days after 38 people tested positive in the county.

The spikes in Ulster and Dutchess counties this week have been linked to area prisons, according to a report in the Daily Freeman. Asked about the Dutchess County cases, a state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision spokesman said only that the department is “awaiting test results.”

Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley, a nonprofit philanthropic organization based in Poughkeepsie, announced a new program providing grants to nonprofits and communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. “Pivoting to Respond” Funding will provide grants of up to $10,000 for nonprofits located in or providing services to Dutchess, Putnam, and Ulster counties. Learn more on their website.

Representative Antonio Delgado held a webinar on Friday for small business owners and employees to hear from small business experts, have questions answered, and get connected with resources. The panelists included Small Business Administration Upstate District Office Branch Manager Jeffrey Boyce and Regional Director of the Mid-Hudson Small Business Development Center Arnaldo Sehwerert. Video of the hourlong event is available on the Congressperson’s Facebook page.

Until last week, nursing homes in New York State have been closed to visitors since March, and that includes animal therapy visits. But some nursing homes have gotten creative. Take New Paltz Center, which on July 7 was visited by Frost, a seven-year-old Shetland pony, along with his handler, Linda Cole of Kasey’s Cast-a-Ways in Port Jervis. Frost and Cole visited with residents through a lobby window, and was reportedly a big hit. “Our residents smiled and laughed as soon as they saw Frost through the lobby window,” Samantha Cerero, recreation director at New Paltz Center, told Hudson Valley One.

County coronavirus pages: Sullivan, Delaware, Greene, Schoharie

Delaware County Public Health announced a new case on Friday, bringing the county’s active case count up to four.

Staff and family of residents at the Sunset Lake nursing home are protesting Sullivan County’s decision to sell the county-owned facility, the Sullivan County Democrat reports. There were so many residents who wanted to speak on the record about the sale at a Tuesday hearing that the county extended the hearing til Thursday. Local assemblywoman Aileen Gunther and state senator Jen Metzger have spoken in support of protestors, and voiced concerns that the sale will hurt the quality of care for residents. 

Representative Antonio Delgado held a webinar on Friday for small business owners and employees to hear from small business experts, have questions answered, and get connected with resources. The panelists included Small Business Administration Upstate District Office Branch Manager Jeffrey Boyce and Regional Director of the Mid-Hudson Small Business Development Center Arnaldo Sehwerert. Video of the hourlong event is available on the Congressperson’s Facebook page.

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.