This is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties for Tuesday, January 26 and Wednesday, January 27. Published in collaboration with The Other Hudson Valley.
Note: The River is shifting its strategy for covering the pandemic. Starting Monday, we will publish our coronavirus news roundup once per week, with occasional breakout stories as the news dictates. This will allow us to bring you different kinds of pandemic coverage: more local reporting; more data and service pieces, such as where to get vaccinated; and weekly analysis from Lissa Harris. We’re also working on some longer-term projects, but we need your help to continue the work we’re doing. Will you support our journalism?
NEW YORK STATE
11,028 new cases yesterday
202,661 tests yesterday
Positive test rate: 5.44%
172 deaths yesterday
8,771 hospitalizations (1,558 in ICUs)
New York State coronavirus page
New York State vaccine page
New York State official pressroom
COVID-19 hotline: (888) 364-3065
Vaccine appointment hotline: (833) 697-4829
Right now, there’s not enough coronavirus vaccine to go around, in New York State or anywhere else in the US. But that’s going to change: On Tuesday, the Biden administration announced plans to buy another 200 million doses of vaccine from Pfizer and Moderna, which should boost the nation’s supply enough to vaccinate 300 million Americans by the end of the summer.
The pace of vaccination needs to pick up considerably to make that goal happen, and peak rollout is still weeks or months away. But in the short term, New York and other states will receive a 16 percent increase in vaccine allocation next week. Federal officials at the Department of Health and Human Services will also begin giving states forecasts of how much vaccine they will get three weeks ahead of time, a measure that will help states and local vaccine providers plan ahead more. Governor Andrew Cuomo hailed the news of increased vaccine supply and more predictable deliveries in Wednesday’s briefing. “At least we can come up with a three-week plan. That doesn’t sound great, but it’s better than going from week to week,” he said.
Thus far in the pandemic, the emergency response has been driven by state and local decisions, in the absence of a coordinated federal effort. But as a more coherent federal plan emerges under the Biden administration, we expect more of the crucial policy that drives the situation on the ground to happen at the national level. We’ll keep an eye on that, while we stay focused on the shape of the pandemic in Hudson Valley and Catskills communities, and on ways to help our local readers get access to the news and resources they need.
The federal program that has been vaccinating nursing home staff and residents in New York State is ending soon. All residents have been offered vaccination, and 72 percent have accepted, Cuomo said. Vaccinating the staff is taking longer: The program separated staff into three groups, so that any reaction to the vaccine would not impact staffing levels at the facilities. So far, Cuomo said, 44 percent of nursing home staffers have been vaccinated, and all will have a chance to be vaccinated by February 7. The Buffalo News reported last week that about a third of nursing home staffers statewide are refusing to be vaccinated.
New York State will be getting a $450 million shot in the arm from the federal government to help with the vaccination effort, Cuomo said Wednesday. The state will deploy the National Guard to help with mass vaccination, and instead of the usual practice of reimbursing states with FEMA funds after the fact, the Biden administration is advancing FEMA funding up front. “Now we have more liberty to use the National Guard. We don’t have to worry about the economic consequences to the state budget as much,” Cuomo said.
Large businesses, including Walmart, Starbucks, and Microsoft, are entering the fray on vaccination by teaming up with local and state governments and healthcare providers to bring their logistics networks to bear on a tough problem, and lobbying the federal government for more of a role in the effort.
Four Capital Region state legislators are pressing Governor Cuomo to make healthcare workers and the disabled more of a priority in the vaccination effort. The sudden expansion of eligibility to everyone over 65 in New York State has made it difficult for many in the 1A eligibility group to schedule vaccines, and disabled people living in group homes have seen their vaccination appointments canceled as vaccine doses were reallocated to large state sites serving all eligible groups. State officials say they’re trying. “Healthcare workers and the disabled community have been the priority since the beginning and we are currently evaluating how to expand vaccinations to the disabled community beyond hospitals, and if anyone has ideas on how to do that, we’ll hear them out,” said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi.
Governor Cuomo offered in Wednesday’s briefing to partner with local governments to reach places that have been underserved in the vaccine rollout. “If a local government believes an area has received uneven coverage, let us know. We’ll partner with you, especially now that the National Guard has been freed up from an economic point of view,” he said. But with little data from the state on where vaccines are being administered and who is receiving them, it is difficult to see which areas and communities are being disproportionately left out of vaccination.
We may not have solid data on vaccine inequity in New York State, but reports from vaccination sites aren’t exactly painting a picture of fairness and equality. The City’s Josefa Velasquez visited the site at the Fort Washington Armory, a vaccination center set up in a hard-hit majority-Hispanic neighborhood in upper Manhattan, and found mostly suburbanites from out of town in line for shots. “I’ve never seen so many white people in Washington Heights,” a doctor volunteering at the center posted on Twitter. Meanwhile, an elderly Spanish-speaking woman from the Bronx, who showed up twice to the site after struggling to navigate a series of hotlines in English, was told to call and make an appointment.
High-risk school sports will return to the Hudson Valley on February 1, according to a joint statement from seven county executives issued Wednesday. For student athletes, it’s a relief to be getting back in the game: for the “UK variant” B.1.1.7, currently circulating in Westchester County, the return of basketball and wrestling matches might also be an opportunity.
The number of cases of B.1.1.7 found in New York State so far is now up to 42, with cases found in Long Island, New York City, Westchester, Saratoga, Tompkins, Niagara, Onondaga, Essex, and Warren counties.
New York State’s microcluster focus zones, which have been frozen in regulatory limbo since a state pandemic strategy shift in mid-December, finally got an update: On Wednesday, Cuomo announced that all orange and yellow zones in the state would be lifted except for five yellow zones: two in the Bronx, one in Washington Heights, one in Queens, and one in Newburgh.
LOWER HUDSON VALLEY
Elected officials throughout the lower Hudson Valley praised Governor Cuomo’s decision to eliminate most microcluster focus zones on Wednesday. Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano wrote on Twitter that the lifted restrictions will enable the city to “recharge our economic activity,” while New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson called the move sensible in a statement. Other local leaders joined the chorus—including Rockland County Executive Ed Day, who said “I am ecstatic that the governor’s onerous and unnecessary yellow zone restrictions have been lifted. It’s about time.” That’s a different tune than Day was singing back in April when the virus was surging in Ramapo, a heavily Jewish community. As LoHud.com points out, Day had demanded that the governor establish a containment zone around the area.
The Rockland County health department announced on Facebook that it had received 1,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine on Wednesday. Of those, 700 were designated for essential workers eligible under Phase 1B; the remainder appear to have been set aside for vaccinating seniors. According to the department’s website, all the appointments for essential workers are filled. County residents aged 65 and older can try to schedule an appointment by calling the Office for the Aging at (845) 364-2110 during weekday business hours, but good luck: A comment posted Wednesday evening by the health department in reply to one frustrated local states “Office for the Aging staff will work to find an appointment for your mother when more open up.”
Westchester County will open remote learning centers across the county where essential workers who cannot remain home can send their children to safely attend virtual school. Seventeen centers began operating Tuesday, with three more scheduled to open shortly, according to a press release issued by the county. The centers, which serve children aged 5-12, originally opened late last year, but recently received additional funding to ensure their continued operation through the end of the 2020-21 academic year. The centers have a 1:5 staff-to-student ratio, require masks to be worn, and some serve snacks. For more information, residents can contact Rosie Finizio, the county’s director of policy and programs for childcare and education, by phone at (914) 995-2501 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Putnam County released its weekly town-by-town breakdown of active cases on Tuesday, one day later than usual. As we’ve noted previously, Putnam County’s dashboard is useful for seeing where spread has happened, but it’s an outdated snapshot of the current state of the pandemic, as officials use data that is several days old by the time the dashboard is updated. Case in point: This week’s update reflects cases between January 15 and 21.
Active cases declined slightly over the past 24 hours across the region, according to county dashboards. Westchester County fell from 11,259 to 10,925, and Putnam County’s active caseload declined by 19, to 1,141, according to state data analyzed by The Examiner. Rockland County hasn’t updated its active case count, which has been stuck at 2,641 all this week. County officials had been in the habit of updating the county dashboard daily; we’re not sure why that has changed this week.
Orange County residents eligible for the vaccine were urged by County Executive Steve Neuhaus to sign up at vaccination.orangecountygov.com or by calling the Office for the Aging at (845) 615-3700. Neuhaus promised those who signed up would be vaccinated with the county’s shipments, adding that the county’s ability to vaccinate far outstripped the limited supplies it has received. He also requested medical professionals and others volunteer to help distribute next week’s shipment, which is expected to contain 16 percent more doses.
Four deaths were announced by the Columbia County Department of Health on Tuesday. Large outbreaks are underway in three nursing homes, according to the county: 32 residents and four staff members are confirmed infected at The Grand of Barnwell; 26 residents and 17 staff at Livingston Hills; and 69 residents and 25 staff at the Ghent Rehabilitation facility.
Ulster County’s latest shipment of vaccines contained 1,500, to be doled out to three groups: 400 to healthcare workers, 400 for essential workers, and 700 to senior citizens, according to County Executive Pat Ryan’s COVID-19 briefing.
Schoharie County has created a page on the county website where residents can sign up to be alerted when vaccination appointments open up. To add your name and contact information to the list, fill out the form online or call (518) 295-8390. The county is hosting vaccination clinics for essential workers and the elderly on Thursday and Friday this week; appointments for both clinics filled up within minutes of being announced.
Sullivan County legislators took a unanimous vote last week on a resolution to work with towns and villages, businesses, and school districts to assist with vaccination and testing for COVID-19, and to create a medical reserve corps of volunteers, the Sullivan County Democrat reports. Also in the story are some sobering numbers that show how difficult it will be to keep COVID-19 out of nursing homes, even after the rollout of vaccination. Out of 149 staff members at the Sunset Lake facility, only 54 have opted to be vaccinated, administrator Burt Kohn told the paper. “It took a lot of convincing, because everybody’s afraid to take it,” he said, adding that some who have already had COVID-19 feel they do not need to be vaccinated. Scientists are still studying how long immunity lasts for both vaccinated people and those who have been infected, but the CDC is recommending vaccination for those who have already had COVID-19 and recovered.
Greene County officials still don’t know when local pharmacies will start receiving vaccine doses, legislative chair Patrick Linger told Hudson Valley 360 this week. “We’ve asked to have that available to us, we still don’t have it,” he said. The county is working on a registration system on its website so people can sign up to indicate their interest in being vaccinated.
On-the-ground local reporting and analysis has never been more important, and that’s what The River aims to provide. But we need your help to continue the work we’re doing. Will you support our journalism today?
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.
To read more of our coronavirus coverage, visit our coronavirus page.