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Coronavirus Roundup: Outbreak at SUNY Oneonta Forces Shutdown and Containment Strategy

All the news and announcements from New York State, the Hudson Valley, and the Catskills for Saturday, August 29 through Monday, August 31.

At least 177 people at SUNY Oneonta have tested positive for COVID-19 in the first week of school.
SUNY Oneonta
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This is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties for August 29 through 31. 

434,756 cases confirmed (656 new)
8,263,033 tests performed (66,241 new)
Positive test rate: .99%
25,328 deaths (1 new)
418 current hospitalizations
109 current ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065

An outbreak is underway at SUNY Oneonta, where at least 177 people have tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the fall semester. The campus is closing down all in-person classes for two weeks, the first in the SUNY system to be shut down under Governor Andrew Cuomo’s new rules requiring campuses with more than 100 cases or a greater than five percent positivity rate to shut down temporarily.

Like other schools in the SUNY system, SUNY Oneonta did not require students to be tested for COVID-19 before returning to campus. SUNY New Paltz is currently in the process of testing all on-campus students, reversing an earlier decision not to do mass testing in the wake of a student case discovered last week.

Are cases that are spreading locally being counted elsewhere? Despite the fact that nearly 200 cases were found on the SUNY Oneonta campus in the past several days, state and county COVID-19 data show no sign of the outbreak. According to the latest New York State data, updated on Monday afternoon, Otsego County (where the SUNY Oneonta campus is located) has only 19 new COVID-19 cases reported for the weekend. When asked by The River to explain the discrepancy, a New York State Department of Health spokesperson gave only a brief statement implying that student cases may have been counted elsewhere: “Test count information on our COVID-19 tracker is reported from laboratories in New York State via the Electronic Clinical Laboratory Reporting System. 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.”

New York State is deploying a “SWAT team” to the city of Oneonta and opening three rapid testing sites in coordination with Bassett Healthcare to offer free COVID-19 tests to local residents. The testing sites, located at the Oneonta Armory, Foothills Performing Arts Center, and St. James Church, will open at 11am on Wednesday morning and stay open from 9am to 6pm Thursday through Saturday.

A report posted last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sparked a flurry of conspiracy-minded social media posts over the weekend that reached all the way up to the White House. The report, published August 26, noted that 94 percent of COVID-19 fatalities have an additional cause of death listed on the death certificate. Some of these cases involve people who had another illness before contracting COVID-19, like high blood pressure or diabetes. In other cases, symptoms caused by COVID-19—like, for instance, heart failure or pneumonia brought on by the virus itself—were listed on death certificates as additional causes of death. In a Twitter post, a QAnon supporter misinterpreted the CDC data to mean that only six percent of COVID-19 fatalities were actually caused by COVID-19; President Donald Trump retweeted (and later deleted) the post. 

In one of the weirder, darker turns taken by the pandemic so far, the Twitter account of the late Herman Cain, a prominent Trump supporter who died of COVID-19 10 days after attending a Trump rally in Tulsa, tweeted on Monday in response to the CDC data: “It looks like the virus is not as deadly as the mainstream media made it out to be.” The manager of Cain’s Twitter account later took the tweet down. 

New York is aggressively recruiting poll workers for the November election. More than half of regular poll workers in New York are over the age of 60, an age demographic that is more vulnerable to the coronavirus. “Amid COVID-19, New York is facing a critical shortage of poll workers,” said Douglas Kellner, State Commissioner of Elections.

On Monday, Congressman Antonio Delgado visited businesses on Main Street in Oneonta, where the local community is keeping a wary eye on the college outbreak. Delgado said in a press release about the visit that he is pushing for Congress to pass a second round of PPP loans to small businesses

Announced by New York State on Monday and over the weekend: 

  • Six bars and restaurants had their liquor licenses suspended over the past week for pandemic guideline violations: three in Brooklyn, two on Long Island, and one in Oswego County. The most recent list of establishments with suspensions and/or violations was posted on the New York State website on Saturday.
  • Cuomo and New York State labor leaders issued a joint statement on Monday calling on Congress to fund aid to local and state governments and repeal the 2017 tax law changes that capped the SALT property tax deduction. “There is no combination of state efforts that will address this financial crisis without federal assistance,” they wrote. “Even if state and local governments cut expenses, increase taxes, and reduced services, the revenue shortfall would still be in the billions of dollars.”
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

The Westchester County Youth Bureau will hold a free online back-to-school forum for parents, students, and youth service providers this week. “COVID 19: Preparing for Back to School” will focus on “strategies to manage the anxiety of students and parents, instilling routines and norms during this unprecedented time, and resources in coping with loss, family members, and other stressors,” according to a press release. Residents can register to participate by sending an email to The forum will take place on Facebook this Thursday, September 3, at 6pm.

Westchester County also announced that it’s extending beach season for the two beaches operated by the parks department. Playland Park, in Rye, and Croton Point Park, in Croton, will be open the weekends of September 12-13 and 19-20 from 11am-6:30pm.

The New York State Public High School Athletic Association voted Monday to delay the start of winter sports by two weeks, from November 16 to November 30, the Examiner News reports.

County coronavirus pages: Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia

SUNY New Paltz announced Monday that two more students have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the total on campus to three. The university also announced that the first positive student participated in two pickup basketball games last week in Highland; the 12 students who were involved in those games have all been tested and are now in quarantine.

The Miscellany News, the Vassar College newspaper, takes a look from students’ perspective at the difficulty of enforcing the “island model” on campus, in which students cannot leave and the public cannot enter. There’s a healthy amount of skepticism, it seems. “We’re facing not only a philosophical quandary about community policing, but a logistical nightmare,” one student said. “We could never be a bubble—we are at best a semipermeable membrane.”

The pandemic has had devastating public health consequences even for those who don’t contract the coronavirus. On Monday—which is global International Overdose Awareness Day—Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan declared a public health emergency due to the recent spike in deaths caused by fentanyl, the highly addictive synthetic opioid. As part of the emergency, the county’s Healing Communities Study team will partner with the Sheriff’s office to create a spike alert communications plan to give real-time updates to treatment providers when there is a spike of overdoses. From January through July of this year, opioid-related deaths increased 171 percent compared to the same period in 2019.

County coronavirus pages: Sullivan, Delaware, Greene, Schoharie

Sullivan County held a virtual town hall Monday, hosted by county legislative chair Rob Doherty and vice chair Mike Brooks. Topics discussed included the broadband local development corporation, the four percent energy tax, updated COVID-19 stats, evening meetings of the Legislature, and more. You can watch the 30-minute video on Facebook.

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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.