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Coronavirus Roundup: Rosh Hashanah Begins with Caution in Orthodox Communities

All the news and announcements from New York State, the Hudson Valley, and the Catskills for Thursday, September 17 and Friday, September 18.

Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the Jewish New Year, began Friday evening.
Ri Butov/Pixabay
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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, September 17 and Friday, September 18. 

448,052 cases confirmed (790 new)
9,711,647 tests performed (89,727 new)
Positive test rate: 0.88%
25,423 deaths (10 new)
478 hospitalizations
141 ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065

The Jewish New Year starts off Friday night with a new uptick in cases: Some leaders in New York’s Orthodox Jewish communities are trying to curtail holiday travel in an effort to keep rising cases in Orthodox communities in New York City and the Hudson Valley from spreading. The Times of Israel reports that Kiryas Joel’s Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum is canceling his traditional Rosh Hashanah trip to Brooklyn because of new cases in the Orange County Orthodox enclave; other Orthodox leaders in Brooklyn are warning residents not to invite people from out of town for holiday visits, the paper reports. Teitelbaum, who is 72, contracted COVID-19 in March. 

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took a barrage of public criticism for relaxing testing guidelines, suggesting people who had come into close contact with COVID-19 might not need to be tested for the virus unless they had symptoms. This week, they reversed course again, to the relief of public health experts across the nation. New testing guideline revisions from the CDC return emphatically to the agency’s original message: If you’ve been exposed, you need to be tested, no matter how you’re feeling. Furthermore, people who have been in close contact with someone who is COVID-19-positive should self-quarantine for 14 days after the exposure even if they receive a negative test, the CDC now says. Tests conducted very soon after an exposure may not be sensitive enough to detect an infection that is just getting underway

Some heartening news on the COVID-19 treatment front: A small clinical trial of monoclonal antibodies, which are artificially manufactured versions of the antibodies the immune system generates to fight off infection, showed promising results in patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 infection. In the trial, conducted by drugmaker Eli Lilly, COVID-19-infected patients receiving the engineered antibodies were 72 percent less likely to be hospitalized than those who received a placebo. There are still plenty of questions about what the data mean, and the trial is ongoing. Also, the drugs are likely to be expensive and slow to produce. But for a first look at the impact of a new weapon in the medical arsenal against COVID-19, the Lilly results are encouraging.

Not encouraging: A forthcoming study from the CDC that analyzes the dangers of virus transmission during flights. The report, which will be published in November, is one of the first to analyze the dangers of in-flight transmission of SARS-CoV-2. According to The Hill, the findings are especially worrisome for long-distance flights: Researchers identified that one woman infected 15 people on board a flight from London to Vietnam in March, likely via aerosol or droplet transmission. A small silver lining is that the flight was on March 1, before face masks were required or recommended on airplanes. Masks certainly help reduce the risk of transmission in any environment, but the study’s authors recommend more on-board precautions and screening procedures should be taken.

This week, New Jersey legislators reached agreement on a so-called “millionaires tax,” which raises the tax rate on those with incomes above $1 million to 10.75 percent. (Residents making $5 million and up were already taxed at that rate.) The tax is expected to raise about $390 million, which will go a long way to plugging budget holes left by the pandemic. Not thinking along such progressive lines? New York State, whose budget director, Robert Mujica, released a statement Thursday quashing the notion that New York should raise the top tax rate on millionaires and billionaires. But with the state facing a $14.5 billion budget deficit this year and no federal windfall forthcoming, Democratic legislators in Albany may have different ideas.

New COVID-19 cases at SUNY Oneonta, the site of the state’s worst college outbreak, have slowed to a trickle, but a few are still coming in. The college reported four new positive cases on Friday, bringing the total number of students infected to 676. Eight students are still in quarantine on campus awaiting test results, and one infected student is in isolation on campus.

The statewide ban on single-use plastic bags, which was supposed to take effect March 1, will resume October 19. The ban was paused early in the pandemic because of since-discredited fears that the coronavirus could be easily spread by reusable bags.

For the second time this month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio delayed last-minute the reopening of schools in the city. In-person classes in the nation’s largest school district were scheduled to start Monday, but de Blasio abruptly announced on Thursday that wouldn’t be the case. It’s a characteristic bit of waffling from a mayor who’s become increasingly known for such inconsistency, and naturally, it has angered parents, teachers, and education leaders, reports The New York Times.

New York State’s positivity rate for COVID-19 test has stayed under one percent since Tuesday, after a Monday uptick that brought the rate just slightly above one percent

Rate of active cases per 10,000 residents, drawn from the latest county data.

Since mid-May, The River has been collecting and charting data on the number of active COVID-19 cases by county in the Hudson Valley and Catskills. Below is a Flourish animation we have compiled that shows the rate of active cases per 10,000 residents for each county over time, from May 12 through the present date.

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

Back in August, New York State’s eviction moratorium was extended to October 1 by court order. But with that date rapidly approaching, no end to the pandemic in sight, and federal unemployment aid diminished from its $600-a-week heights, housing insecurity is again a renewed focus of concern. In an effort to stabilize communities and families, Westchester County on Thursday announced the Community Build Back Program, an umbrella program that contains four initiatives to help with housing insecurity:

  • The RED STOP Eviction Project utilizes federal Department Housing and Urban Development funds to provide up to four months of rental or utility arrears for tenants facing eviction or shutoffs, as long as they can demonstrate that their financial hardship is due to COVID.
  • The RED Rent HELP Project also utilizes HUD funds to provide up to 12 months of rental assistance for families impacted by COVID, but it focuses on more-impacted households: Those whose tenants worked in industries closed until Phase Four, or who worked for a business that no longer exists.
  • The Blue Priority Homeowners Initiative will provide up to four months of mortgage or cooperative arrears for homeowners facing foreclosure because of the pandemic.
  • The Blue Small Business Landlord Initiative will cover up to 75 percent of back rent for up to four months of rent for landlords whose tenants are behind due to the pandemic.

Fact sheets and applications in both English and Spanish for the programs are available on

Putnam County’s first drive-through flu vaccine clinic will be held on Monday, September 21 from 1-6:30pm at the health department’s main office (1 Geneva Road, Brewster). Appointments are required; register at

Yonkers became the latest public school district to delay fall sports. Football, soccer, cheerleading, and volleyball will resume in the spring.

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

Earlier this week, we touched on upticks in COVID-19 cases in the northern New York City suburbs. Now Orange County is also seeing spikes in confirmed cases. Over the past eight days through Thursday, there have been 196 confirmed cases in the county, nearly double the previous eight-day stretch. County Health Commissioner Dr. Irina Gelman says there is no easy or “one size fits all” explanation to why the numbers are increasing, the Times Herald-Record reports, though she did rule out school restarting as a contributing factor.

Congregation Yetev Lev, the main synagogue of Kiryas Joel where hundreds of maskless congregants gathered this weekend for selichot prayers, was slapped with a cease-and-desist order by the Orange County Health Department. Health Commissioner Gelman directed members to wear face coverings and keep attendance below 50 percent of the synagogue’s capacity.

While gyms, casinos, and bowling alleys are among the indoor businesses that have reopening guidance, cinemas remain in the dark. The Daily Freeman has a report from an invitation-only colloquy on the subject hosted by Al Bulay, who owns the Lyceum Cinemas in Red Hook, the Roosevelt Theater in Hyde Park, and the New Paltz Cinemas in Ulster County (plus two cinemas in Vermont). Bulay was joined by elected officials and candidates, including Dutchess County Legislator Will Truitt, in calling on the state to allow movie theaters to operate.

Nurses and other pandemic frontline workers at Columbia Memorial Hospital are negotiating with the hospital over a new union contract—and many are angry with the hospital’s latest contract offer, which would give workers no pay increase in 2020, and increases of less than two percent a year for the following three years. “They have no regard for the people that work here, even with the cost of living going up yearly, they have no regard for the employees and they can’t understand why they can’t keep them,” nurse Robin Johnson told the Register-Star. “Hudson itself has turned into a very expensive place to live.”

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

Data from SUNY Delhi’s pooled surveillance testing is beginning to come back, and so far, the campus is in decent shape: None of the 120 students tested in the first round of pooled tests, reported on Wednesday, September 16, were positive. There have been eight positive results in the SUNY Delhi community since August 1, according to the college’s data dashboard.

SUNY Cobleskill also has no new positive cases from pooled surveillance testing this week, according to the college’s data dashboard.  

Catskill’s outdoor Skywalk Arts Festival is carrying on as planned this Sunday despite the pandemic, the Daily Mail reports. Organizers decided to skip the food truck and hands-on art lessons this year, but visitors can still buy art and listen to live music in the park next to the Rip Van Winkle Bridge toll plaza.

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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.