This is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties for Tuesday, September 15 and Wednesday, September 16.
NEW YORK STATE
446,366 cases confirmed (652 new)
9,530,416 tests performed (75,087 new)
Positive test rate: 0.87%
25,410 deaths (5 new)
138 ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065
School aid cuts are still up in the air, but they’re already sparking legal action. It’s still unclear whether New York State will make good on its threat to cut 20 percent of state aid to school districts, but the statewide teacher’s union isn’t waiting to find out: New York State United Teachers filed suit against the state in Albany County Supreme Court on Wednesday, claiming that New York’s withholding of funds already appropriated for education is an unconstitutional overreach of power by the executive branch. In a statement, a state budget spokesperson said “NYSUT should be embarrassed” as school aid has not been cut, but with Governor Andrew Cuomo warning of a 20 percent cut to school aid and funds already being withheld, school districts are already tightening their belts to prepare. The state Division of Budget has already withheld about $300 million in promised funding, but said on Wednesday that it would not reduce school aid payments scheduled for later this month.
A new study released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that pregnant women are more at risk than their peers for being hospitalized if they contract COVID-19, and that a disproportionate number of pregnant women hospitalized for COVID-19 are Hispanic or Black. Pregnant women with COVID-19 were also found to have an increased rate of premature birth.
New York City’s shutdown this spring reduced the city’s outbreak by 70 percent, a forthcoming study from Columbia University claims. Among the study’s interesting findings: Mask use protected people older than 65 more than younger people, possibly because older people were more likely to wear masks correctly.
Last week, the New York State legislature heard testimony about the pandemic’s impact on mental health. This week, they got an earful about substance abuse and overdoses. Addiction and recovery experts condemned the New York State Department of Health for not releasing current data about overdoses, Spectrum News reports. Although many county health departments have been sounding the alarm that overdoses are rising because of the pandemic and cuts in services, state health officials have not reported any new drug overdose data since June 2019. “We’re in the middle of a double pandemic of addiction and COVID,” said John Coppola, executive director of the New York Association of Addiction Services. “It’s extraordinarily unacceptable that we do not have a system that can tell us today, how many overdoses we had last week, last month, two months ago, six months ago, maybe even a year ago.”
More public health experts are raising an eyebrow at SUNY Oswego’s case math. Over the past 14 days, the college has racked up more than the 100 cases required to trigger a state mandate to shut down for two weeks. But SUNY Oswego is counting cases in scheduled two-week brackets, rather than calculating total cases over a rolling 14-day period—a method that makes no public-health sense, but has allowed the college to avoid a shutdown so far. The college reset their case count to zero on September 12, and as of Monday night, has 78 new cases since then; at this rate, by the time they reach the next two-week bracket on September 25, SUNY Oswego may be forced to shut down anyway.
In a brief but pithy editorial, the New York Daily News called on the Cuomo administration this week to quit dithering and release data on how many New York State nursing home residents died in hospitals this spring. The Department of Health has the data, the editorial page writes: It has been collecting information daily from nursing homes all along. But state health officials are claiming it will take three months to fulfill a Freedom of Information Law request for the figures. “Cuomo, who promised the most transparent administration ever, should first demand better FOIL compliance, and second call for reform of the laws,” the Daily News writes. “He won’t, but we can dream while we wait.” Ouch.
Looking for a deep dive on what went wrong at SUNY Oneonta this semester? You can read about it in The New York Times—or you can check out local CNHI reporter Joe Mahoney’s story, which came out two days earlier, and got the dirt on how local officials were pleading with the state and with SUNY Oneonta administrators to test students before they returned to campus, to no avail.
Data’s always dirty: SUNY Oneonta trimmed its student case count from 723 to 671 on Tuesday, even as it announced five new cases on campus. Administrators explained in a statement that they removed duplicate results from the same person testing positive more than once, and also removed several positives from people who were not “campus community members.” As of Wednesday night, 15 students were still in quarantine on campus awaiting results, and one confirmed positive case was in isolation on campus.
New relaxed guidelines on visitation to nursing homes go into effect Thursday across New York State, where facilities now have to remain COVID-19-free for just 14 days (not 28) in order to receive visitors. But families of socialization-starved seniors are pushing for more: Some advocates want the state to allow each nursing home resident one designated “representative” who can be tested for COVID-19 in order to visit more freely.
Won’t somebody think of the auto inspectors? USA Today’s Jon Campbell reports that auto shop owners are pressing New York State to require people to get their cars inspected again, a requirement put on hold by one of Governor Cuomo’s many pandemic executive orders back in March. It’s partly because they’ve been losing business, but also, once the state inspection requirement starts back up again, there could be a mighty backlog of inspections to do all at once. Cuomo’s executive order suspending inspection requirements is currently set to expire on October 4.
The bell of shame is finally tolling in Washington, DC: Health and Human Services (HHS) spokesperson Michael Caputo is taking a two-month “medical” leave of absence, in the wake of a bizarre meltdown in a live Facebook video where he accused government scientists of plotting against Trump and encouraged viewers to buy ammunition to prepare for armed revolt. Caputo’s science adviser Paul Alexander—who helped Caputo pressure CDC scientists to alter their weekly reports, a revelation that has cast a pall over the venerable agency’s scientific credibility—is also out of a job at HHS, Politico reports.
Controversy over the politicization of the CDC’s recommendations has reached all the way up to its director, Robert Redfield. STAT News reports that agency insiders and alums are questioning Redfield’s ability to keep the CDC focused on science while under tremendous pressure from the White House to alter its messages and recommendations. “A reputation that takes 75 years to build can be destroyed in four months. That’s horrifying,” said Mark Rosenberg, former director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
The embattled Redfield appeared before the US Senate this week to give testimony that directly contradicted frequent comments made by President Donald Trump about the timeline of vaccine development. Redfield told a Senate subcommittee that a vaccine may be available to first responders by November or December, but would not be widely available until “the second or third quarter” of 2021, NPR reports. Perhaps to soften the blow of his real talk on vaccines, Redfield played up the importance of masks: “I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine,” he said.
Announced by New York State on Tuesday and Wednesday:
- The special enrollment period for uninsured New Yorkers to sign up for health insurance on the state marketplace has been extended through the end of 2020.
- Six states—California, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, and Ohio—were removed from New York’s 14-day quarantine travel list, while Puerto Rico was added. The full updated travel advisory list is Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.
- Cuomo said in an interview with News 12 Long Island that he would not ban trick-or-treating this Halloween. “You have neighbors—if you want to go knock on your neighbor’s door, God bless you and I’m not going to tell you not to.”
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.
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
New York State’s positive test rate has been below one percent for most of the past couple of months, but that’s not the case in the lower and mid-Hudson regions. The current rate of infection for Ulster, Dutchess, Sullivan, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, and Westchester counties is 1.4 percent, and the number of active COVID-19 cases in Westchester is “significantly higher” than it has been over the past few months, County Executive George Latimer said Monday, adding that “we don’t think that they’re coming from one particular or two particular regions or sources.”
In particular, cases in Rockland County are on a worrying upward slope this week: 2.3 percent of tests in the county came back positive on Tuesday, and 3.8 percent on Wednesday. County leaders held a conference call with municipal leaders in hard-hit areas to talk about how to get the numbers back down, LoHud.com reports.
Earlier this week, Rockland County rolled out an active case map to its coronavirus dashboard—good timing, given the recent uptick. The map will show active cases based on zip code and will be updated every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (ed. note: hopefully before we send out our newsletter.) The county also has a snazzy new hub site for all of its coronavirus dashboards, and outbound links to other valuable data and information. Most counties in the Hudson Valley and Catskills are sharing numbers on how many active cases their health departments are tracking, some with maps and dashboards, others in press releases and briefings. One exception: Orange County, whose executive Steve Neuhaus sometimes gives an active case number in briefings on Facebook, but whose COVID-19 dashboard does not give active case counts.
Westchester County is starting its own grant-funding initiative to help small businesses and nonprofits impacted by COVID-19. Westchester County Business FIRST (Financial Investments for Recovery and a Sustainable Tomorrow) will dole out up to $10 million in grants to companies primarily based in the county with fewer than 100 employees. The grants will max out at $49,000 each. Eligible businesses and nonprofits can apply between September 21 and 30 at westchestercatalyst.com/business-FIRST-programs.
Westchester County also announced that Executive Latimer will chair a virtual open conversation on housing on September 30 from 6-7pm. County residents are invited to share their thoughts via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by chiming in on Facebook live.
County coronavirus pages: Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia
University coronavirus page: Bard, Vassar, Marist, SUNY New Paltz, SUNY Ulster, Columbia-Greene Community College, SUNY Orange
Images began circulating Sunday showing hundreds of Satmar men and boys gathered in prayer inside Kiryas Joel’s main synagogue for the first day of selichot, the penitential prayers said during lead up to Rosh Hashanah. None seemed to be wearing masks, sparking concern among local health officials. Orange County Health Commissioner Dr. Irina Gelman said the department will discuss the gathering with the State Police, as it has done previously “when incidents such as this have arisen.”
How will counties patch the holes blown in their budgets by the pandemic? One oft-discussed potential solution is to raise property taxes, but according to Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, that’s not going to happen in his county in 2021. Molinaro said Wednesday that the 2021 county budget he will unveil next month will hold the line on property taxes, though he warned that decision requires county leaders to “make some really tough decisions.”
Also trying to not raise taxes: Ulster County, whose executive Pat Ryan is pushing to tap almost $1.5 million of a county emergency fund to protect property owners from steep hikes. County lawmakers on Tuesday also agreed to a new sales tax revenue-sharing agreement that gives towns a bigger share of sales tax revenues generated across the county.
Pine Bush Central School District will eliminate 199 positions across its seven schools on October 6, according to the minutes of a recent Board of Education meeting dug up by WPDH. The losses are a consequence of hybrid and remote learning: Of the positions, 106 are teaching assistant roles, and 81 are non-instructional school monitor positions. Twelve non-instructional school security positions are being eliminated as well.
With harvest season fast approaching, Ulster County is making free COVID testing available to farms that hire seasonal workers and develop contingency plans for positive cases.
Cobleskill-Richmondville High School officially opted out of fall sports on Monday. Superintendent Carl Mummenthey expects more schools in the Colonial Council league to opt out by week’s end.
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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.