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Coronavirus Roundup: Schools Must Report Cases Daily

All the news and announcements from New York State, the Hudson Valley, and the Catskills for Thursday, September 3 and Friday, September 4.

School districts must provide daily reports on COVID-19 data to the NYSDOH starting Tuesday.
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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 3 and Friday, September 4. 

437,971 cases confirmed (864 new)
8,610,853 tests performed (93,395 new)
Positive test rate: 0.93%
25,348 deaths (5 new)
428 current hospitalizations
116 current ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065

Starting Tuesday, school districts across New York State must provide daily reports on COVID-19 case data to the state Department of Health, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced this week. The data will be included in a new public dashboard on the state website. “Many of the school districts have testing protocols that will be in place as part of their plans, but as I’ve said from the beginning, those plans are only as good as their implementation,” Cuomo said Thursday. “I hope this will give teachers and parents some confidence that the plans are being implemented and if there’s a positive case, they will know and DOH will know and the locals can respond quickly.”

Not included in Cuomo’s announcement: Information on how many school districts are testing students and staff as part of their reopening plans. Some school districts are conducting tests: New York City public schools, the largest district in the US with more than 1.1 million students, has an ambitious plan to conduct mandatory random testing for 10 to 20 percent of all students and staff each month, at a potential cost of $10 million a month. But many school districts have not announced plans to test students, nor do they have the resources to do so. Steep state aid cuts are already forcing some districts to abandon plans for in-person learning

In Wednesday’s roundup, we reported that an outbreak at SUNY Oneonta had forced the university to begin testing the entire student population, found 289 cases, and forced the university to suspend in-person classes for two weeks. Since then, things have moved fast: SUNY Oneonta is now up to 540 student cases as of Friday evening, and the entire campus is shutting down for the fall semester, a decision announced by university officials on Thursday when the case count stood at 389 and climbing.

The outbreak at SUNY Oneonta has also prompted the SUNY system to implement surveillance testing for all of their campuses. In an announcement Friday, incoming SUNY chancellor Jim Malatras said that the state system will use new saliva-based testing protocols developed at SUNY Upstate Medical University and SUNY Albany to test every student at every SUNY campus every two weeks. This high level of surveillance depends on the SUNY labs being able to process tens of thousands of samples a day, a goal made possible by recent advances in saliva-based diagnostic rapid testing, as well as a “pooled testing” protocol that allows pools of 10 to 25 samples to be scanned all at once and set aside for individual testing if the pool comes back positive.

As of Thursday, SUNY Oneonta had a positivity rate of almost 17 percent. according to data on tests conducted so far. It is unclear how many students still remain to be tested, or how many went home without being tested. So far, according to administrators, no employees have tested positive, although only 208 results have been processed; the campus has almost 500 faculty members, along with other staff. SUNY faculty union president Fred Kowal said that faculty across the SUNY system are “frightened” by the outbreak. The faculty union pressed SUNY leaders over the summer to require students to be tested before returning to campus, but most campuses, including SUNY Oneonta, did not require testing.

The cases being found on the SUNY Oneonta campus through pooled testing are being reported on the New York State data tracker, said Jill Montag, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Health. “Laboratories performing pooled testing for diagnostic purposes are required to report test results to the Department, and that is reflected in the data on our COVID-19 tracker,” Montag wrote in an email. But most of the cases found on SUNY Oneonta campus in the past week did not show up in state case data for Otsego County. New York State reported 110 cases found in Otsego County over the past week, a fraction of the cases found on campus. Student cases may have been included in data for their home counties instead of Otsego County: “Test counts are assigned to a county based on this order of preference: 1) the patient’s address, 2) the ordering healthcare provider’s address, or 3) the ordering facility’s address. It is not uncommon, because of insurance and billing, for a student’s “home” address to be reported by a laboratory,” Montag wrote. 

Students at SUNY Oneonta who have tested positive, or come into contact with positive cases, are being advised to stay on campus until they are finished with isolation or quarantine, but some have already left, raising the possibility that the outbreak may seed cases elsewhere. The New York Times interviewed a Long Island student with COVID-19 who is now isolated at home with her family. SUNY spokesperson Jim Urso told The River that the university was strongly advising students not to leave campus if they were under isolation or quarantine, but that the SUNY system does not have the authority to force them to stay. “Legally, we can’t force them to do it,” he said. “SUNY is working with state and local health departments. The health department can issue those more stringent orders.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency moved this week to stop paying for masks and other PPE for schools, transit, and other “nonemergency” settings. In a statement issued Thursday, Cuomo blasted the decision: “By quietly changing FEMA policy to no longer fund personal protective equipment or disinfection efforts for the MTA and schools, the President is telling essential workers that he does not value their safety or their sacrifices over the last six months. Make no mistake, this is just another attempt by President Trump to hurt New York.”

A hopeful perspective on vaccines, for a change: Derek Lowe, a longtime industry expert who blogs about drug discovery for Science Translational Medicine, wrote this week in an overview of the COVID-19 vaccine research landscape that the pandemic will give the whole field of vaccine development a boost. “An excellent side effect is that vaccine technology will never be the same after this,” Lowe writes. “It’s going to be like aircraft design before and after World War II, and for many of the same reasons. This whole pandemic has been awful, in many different ways, but we’re going to come out of it stronger and more capable than when we went in.”

Congressman Antonio Delgado, who has been touring the 19th Congressional District to see how his constituents are holding up through the pandemic, visited Chaseholm Farm in Dutchess County on Friday to talk about the impact of COVID-19 on local farms. Delgado took a few minutes out of touring around Columbia and Dutchess counties to shoot a quick video message from his car.

Announced by New York State on Thursday and Friday: 

  • Casinos can reopen statewide at 25 percent capacity starting Wednesday, September 9, Cuomo announced Thursday. Reopening casinos will have to follow new safety protocols that include masking, social distancing, additional staffing to control occupancy, extra cleaning and sanitation, and new air filtration and ventilation requirements. Malls in New York City, which have been kept closed longer than malls in the rest of the state, may also begin reopening on September 9 with 50 percent capacity and new safety protocols.
  • Here’s one we missed in our last roundup: On Wednesday, Cuomo announced a partnership with HelloFresh to provide fresh meals to veterans and military families in New York City. The partnership, an extension of the state’s Nourish New York program launched to combat hunger during the COVID-19 pandemic, is expected to provide more than 200,000 meals, with help from Black Veterans for Social Justice, The Campaign Against Hunger, and the New York City Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
  • Cuomo issued an executive order on Friday putting a halt to a tax and water lien sale planned in New York City. In a joint statement with Attorney General Letitia James, the governor said the action was taken to spare homeowners: “COVID-19 caused enormous disruption in the daily lives of New Yorkers, including their ability to keep a roof over their head. The tax and water lien sale was delayed in May in recognition of this hardship, and given the current economic climate it makes sense to delay it again so that homeowners aren’t facing further uncertainty. This measure is part and parcel with our ongoing efforts to help New Yorkers weather the ongoing public health emergency.”
Rate of active cases per 10,000 residents, drawn from the latest county data. Active case data unavailable for Rockland and Orange counties.

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

Two priests and a staff member at Holy Innocents Church in Pleasantville have tested positive for COVID-19, the Examiner News reports. The Westchester County Department of Health advised that anyone who attended morning mass on August 24 or 26, the August 29 First Communion ceremonies, and all masses last Sunday, August 30 is subject to a 14-day quarantine.

Westchester County hosted a wide-ranging discussion on schools, kids, and mental health Thursday, which included PSAs geared toward children. The 20-minute conversation included County Executive George Latimer, White Plains School District Superintendent Dr. Joe Ricca, Department of Community Mental Health Deputy Commissioner Joe Glazer, and DCMH Children’s Mental Health Services Program Coordinator Tori Shaw. The video is available on the county’s website.

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

A crowd of 4,400 cadets is expected to attend Army’s first game at West Point on Saturday. How, you may ask? The US military academy is technically federal property, and thus not subject to New York State rules on large gatherings. The crowd will not include any fans from outside the insular campus, but it will be one of the largest crowds for a single event in New York since March.

Dutchess County will host a free drive-in showing of Back to the Future at the Overlook Drive-In in Poughkeepsie on Wednesday, September 23 to honor first responders and frontline workers.

In advance of Labor Day weekend, Columbia County released guidelines for public gatherings and face coverings. Or rather, let’s call it a reminder. “The desire to get together and celebrate [and] enjoy our friends and family over the holiday weekend is strong, and we all understand that,” wrote Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murell in a press release. “However, even though it’s a long weekend, it doesn’t mean that we can pretend social distancing and mask-wearing rules have been lifted.”

Some welcome good news on the coronavirus-strikes-campuses front: SUNY New Paltz has reported no new cases since Wednesday. The campus currently has six active cases among students.

Vassar College will begin Phase 2 of its return-to-campus guidelines on September 8. Phase 2 includes some community vendors coming to campus; indoor gatherings of up to 10 people are permitted with masks and social distancing; and the pool, chapel, and library will reopen, with restrictions. The full guidelines are posted on Vassar’s website.

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

Anyone who visited Paesano’s Pizzeria at 10 S. Main Street in Liberty on August 25, 26, and/or 27 may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, according to an alert issued by Sullivan County, should contact Public Health Services at (845) 292-5910. As of September 3, there are seven known cases associated with this location, two of which are also connected to exposures at Nelly’s Sports Bar at 456 Broadway in Monticello on Saturday, August 15, for which the county previously issued a health alert.

SUNY Delhi will begin surveillance testing on campus for COVID-19 starting Tuesday, September 15. SUNY Delhi will use SUNY Upstate Medical University’s new pooled testing protocol, which involves testing a “pool” of multiple saliva samples all at once, and retesting the samples one at a time to identify individual cases if the pool comes back positive.

As of Friday, no further cases have been found at SUNY Cobleskill, where two students tested positive for COVID-19 in August. University president Marion Terenzio wrote in a public letter to Cobleskill students that the outbreak at SUNY Oneonta was a reminder to the campus to be careful. “There are no guarantees that our campus will be immune from the outbreak experienced at Oneonta, and we may be required to stop on-campus instruction at some point. Still, our collective behavior will play a major role in our ability to remain open. We are in this together, and you have earned a seat at our planning table,” Terenzio wrote. 

Resorts World Casino in Monticello will reopen on Wednesday, September 9, the Sullivan County Democrat reports. Local officials applauded the news, announced in the wake of Cuomo’s decision this week to allow casinos to reopen at 25 percent capacity with new safety guidelines. Cuomo staffers and the New York State Commissioner of Gaming toured Resorts World recently to see new safety protocols put in place by the casino, Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther told the Democrat. “They always say ‘It isn’t over until the fat lady sings,’” Gunther said. “Well, the fat lady sang: Success, Success, Success.”

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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.