This is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties for Thursday, July 30 and Friday, July 31.
NEW YORK STATE
415,014 cases confirmed (644 new)
5,889,237 tests performed (68,869 new)
Positive test rate: 0.9%
25,150 deaths (5 new)
576 current hospitalizations
140 current ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065
This week’s most devastating read: Vanity Fair’s exclusive investigation into a coordinated national testing plan, produced by a special White House task force under Presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner’s leadership—and how, instead of being deployed, it evaporated, leaving states to fend for themselves with results that are only growing more disastrous daily. Staffers on the team believed they were working on a project that would form a centerpiece of America’s pandemic response. “I was beyond optimistic,” one team member told the magazine. But instead of being put into action, the plan was apparently scrapped by an administration that sank further into denial and inaction as the pandemic raged on. The national testing plan “just went poof into thin air,” the source said. The story is a long and enraging read, but there’s a succinct takeaway: We could have had nice things.
Speaking of testing: Governor Andrew Cuomo had an op-ed in Friday’s New York Times dispensing advice to fellow officials and others involved in the pandemic response on how to combat delays in testing, which has become a problem nationwide as labs struggle to keep up with demand. Long delays between test collection and result have been a problem in New York State as well as across the country, but in the editorial, Cuomo said that 85 percent of New York’s tests in the past week took an average of three days from collection to result—better than the rest of the country. Cuomo says New York will share lessons learned: “We stand ready to help any state or local government replicate our success.”
This week, the nation’s death toll from COVID-19 passed 150,000, surpassing some of the grimmest early predictions. In a Wednesday report, public health experts at Johns Hopkins University called for a “reset” on the US response to the pandemic, with 10 recommendations aimed at strengthening public health interventions, investing in research and the supply chain, and shutting down high-risk activities. “Unlike many countries in the world, the United States is not currently on course to get control of this epidemic. It’s time to reset,” the authors write.
Why aren’t we taking airborne transmission more seriously? In The Atlantic, which has been raising alarms lately about the dangers of being lulled into complacency by “hygiene theater,” Zeynep Tufecki writes “We Need To Talk About Ventilation.” Official safety recommendations are still largely treating indoor and outdoor spaces the same, Tufecki says, even though evidence is mounting that “this disease stalks us indoors.” Cities are closing beaches while letting gyms stay open. Institutions are focusing on surface sanitation practices, but not taking measures like air filtration, or even simple window-opening, that might be much more effective at keeping transmission low.
With the positive test rate in all 10 of the state’s economic development regions still far below the five percent cutoff set by Cuomo for schools to reopen, it’s looking likely that there will be in-person public school statewide in September.
School districts’ plans for reopening in the fall were due to be submitted to New York State on July 31. Many districts in the state are planning on a hybrid model, with children attending school on some days and learning remotely on others, in order to keep the required amount of distance within school buildings. It’s a no-win situation for students and their families; one Syracuse kindergarten teacher, whose three children are all slated to attend school on different days, doesn’t quite know how she’s going to make it work. “A lot of people I know are quitting their jobs to be home with their kids. How is that possible?” Tiffany Gratien asked the Syracuse Post-Standard. “I can’t do that and I don’t want to.”
The science on how likely children are to be coronavirus vectors is still evolving, but a large outbreak at a Georgia YMCA camp is adding evidence that children can and do spread the virus readily—an unwelcome message with school reopening around the corner, but a timely one. On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report on the camp, which ran for just a week before closing down due to the outbreak. At least 260 of the 597 campers and staff became infected despite the camp’s precautions, which included masks for staffers and requiring a negative COVID-19 test less than 12 days before camp for both staffers and campers. Of the 100 youngest campers, who ranged between 6 and 10 years old, at least 51 were infected.
The deadline for applying to the state’s $100 million renters’ relief fund expired Thursday, but amid criticism from housing advocates that the window was too narrow, the Cuomo administration announced Friday that it would be reopened through August 6. Applications are available here. A help center is available Monday through Saturday, 8am until 7pm, at (833) 499-0318 or email@example.com.
In Congress, infighting continues to bog down the process of passing another pandemic relief bill. The Democrat-controlled House passed a $1.3 trillion spending package on Friday, which includes funding for federal agencies as well as local and state governments to fight the pandemic, but it’s expected to be dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan, former editor of the Buffalo News, had a barnburner of a column on Thursday claiming that “this was the week America lost the war on misinformation.” While the virus spreads through communities, misinformation and conspiracy theory is going viral on social media: this week, one of the most-shared posts on Facebook was a video by a fringe group of doctors peddling debunked coronavirus cures and falsely claiming that masks don’t help stop transmission. Sullivan turns to the late Hannah Arendt, a scholar of political theory who wrote extensively about totalitarianism and the Nazi regime, to explain why this sort of content is getting so much traction—and why the president is promoting it. “Through an onslaught of lies, which may be debunked before the cycle is repeated, totalitarian leaders are able to instill in their followers ‘a mixture of gullibility and cynicism,’” Sullivan writes. “Over time, people are conditioned to ‘believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true.’ And then such leaders can do pretty much whatever they wish.”
Former presidential candidate Herman Cain has died of COVID-19, after being hospitalized for several weeks. Cain, co-chair of Black Voices for Trump, attended President Donald Trump’s June 20 rally in Tulsa, where at least eight Trump staffers tested positive for COVID-19. Cain was 74.
Announced on Thursday and Friday by New York State:
- Seven more bars have had their liquor licenses suspended by the state Liquor Authority for pandemic violations: five in New York City, one in Erie County, and one—the Atlantic Bar in Ossining—in Westchester County.
- New York is sending about 30 healthcare workers to Utah to assist with pandemic response. Utah’s Intermountain Healthcare sent workers to New York earlier in the pandemic, and New York’s Northwell Health is now returning the favor.
- Twelve New York State companies have received $6.9 million in incentives to produce PPE and other supplies, in preparation for another wave of infection in the state.
- New York State is setting aside $30 million in local funding for contact tracing and flu prevention, in advance of the start of fall flu season, which is expected to put additional burdens on local health departments. Most of the funding will be made available as grants to county health departments to increase staffing; $2 million is also being set aside for local efforts to boost flu vaccination rates.
- On Thursday, Cuomo announced the awarding of $94 million in funding to 131 school districts and five special education schools for technology upgrade projects, made available through the Smart Schools Bond Act. A list of the schools receiving grants is available on the state website.
Westchester County’s annual September 11 memorial ceremony will be virtual this year. The county is inviting family members to read the names of those who died as a result of the 9/11 attacks. If you would like to participate, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and contact information.
Drastic times call for drastic measures. Rockland County officials are bracing for “dire financial times,” LoHud.com reports, and the county may eliminate almost $1 million in vacant job salaries early next week. County Executive Ed Day refused to rule out layoffs, fearing a “fiscal tsunami” could wipe out the county’s $32 million budget surplus from 2018.
Cases have continued to spike in Ulster County, with 36 positive tests on Wednesday and nine on Thursday, according to the county’s COVID dashboard. As it did earlier this week, after 31 people tested on Tuesday, the county is attributing the jump to an outbreak in prisons. Assistant Deputy County Executive Daniel Torres said Thursday that 28 of the new positive results were among the inmate populations at the Wallkill and Shawangunk correctional facilities in southern Ulster County, reports the Daily Freeman.
Districts in the mid-Hudson region are posting their school plans, and most of them are aiming for some version of a hybrid model, with a mix of remote and in-person learning. Some, the Freeman reports, are reserving in-person instruction for lower grades, and planning to educate high school students remotely. One school district taking a different strategy is Newburgh: The Times Herald-Record reports that the district is planning to start off all classes remotely, and move toward in-person instruction in phases.
A community Zoom meeting about the Catskill Central School District’s pandemic reopening plans was derailed during the public comment section when an unknown participant began heckling superintendent Ronel Cook with obscene, racist language, repeatedly using the N-word and calling for violence. Cook, who is Black, told the Catskill Daily Mail that the incident was under investigation.
A summer day camp in Liberty, Camp Bnos on Ferndale Loomis Road, closed down this week after two positive cases of COVID-19 were found at the camp. Camp Bnos is among the members of the Association of Jewish Camp Operators, a group that filed a lawsuit against New York State in June for closing sleepaway camps during the pandemic. On July 6, a federal judge denied the group’s request for a temporary order to allow sleepaway camps to operate.
Sullivan County legislators narrowly rejected a resolution to cut 20 staff positions at the county-owned Sunset Lake nursing home, which the county is considering selling to cut ongoing losses exacerbated by the pandemic. The vote was 5-4, the Sullivan County Democrat reports.
No details yet, but by the looks of an intriguing Facebook post from Middleburgh Rotary, there might be some outdoor movies happening in the village soon. Stay tuned.
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.
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