This guide is our holiday present to regular readers of The River’s local coronavirus news roundups, many of whom have been following along with us since we began running our local pandemic coverage in mid-March. Today, we’re taking the day off for a little holiday downtime. But COVID-19 doesn’t rest, and we know people want to keep up with what’s happening in their communities—especially in areas where local news outlets have shrunk or disappeared altogether, a growing issue in our region and in the world.
In lieu of our regular Friday news roundup, we’re sharing a little of what we’ve learned in eight-plus months of tracking coronavirus and its impacts on communities in the Catskills and Hudson Valley. Here you’ll find a guide to the data, local and national news sources, and web resources we rely on to bring you our COVID-19 news roundups. Have a happy and safe long weekend, and we’ll see you Monday. —The Editors
New York State puts out a wealth of data on COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths every day. The state’s COVID-19 data tracker publishes new data every 24 hours, typically in the afternoon, on how many tests were conducted the previous day and how many positive results were received from labs, all labeled by county. Other graphs on NY Forward, the state’s online clearinghouse of pandemic information, track more detailed information across 10 regions: positivity rate, hospitalization, and metrics on testing, infections, and hospital capacity. The state also publishes more limited data on deaths in nursing homes and cases in prisons.
County health departments also publish their own data, which is drawn from the same statewide database New York State uses: the Electronic Clinical Laboratory Reporting System. But there is no coordinated guidance from the state that directs how counties report data, so every county has developed their own system. Some counties publish interactive daily dashboards that let viewers explore data. Some post case updates less frequently on county websites, or even on Facebook pages. Many counties include information not available from New York State, such as the number of active cases they are currently tracking, or what towns and cities cases have been reported in.
It is common for the numbers reported by counties to be slightly different from New York State’s numbers, even though they are drawn from the same database. Sometimes this occurs because counties are pulling more recent data than the state, which reports cases from the previous day. Sometimes discrepancies occur because cases have been transferred from one county to another, so that they will be assigned to the county health department where the person is actually located.
A note on case data: It’s normal for data to get a little weird on weekends and holidays. Delays in testing, lab processing, and reporting can cause data to “bounce” from day to day. Over the Thanksgiving long weekend, data-wranglers at the COVID Tracking Project expect the rate of incoming data across the nation to slow, followed by a spike in cases as a backlog of incoming results “catches up” next week.
Lower Hudson Valley
Rockland County keeps a regularly updated interactive dashboard. Westchester County gives out local case information in County Executive George Latimer’s video briefings, which are currently scheduled on Mondays and Thursdays, and are uploaded to the county’s YouTube channel. Putnam County publishes local case data about once a week to the county website.
Orange County maintains an interactive dashboard with some case data, but more detailed information on new case location and active cases is available in County Executive Steve Neuhaus’s weekday video briefings, which he posts on his Facebook. Dutchess County has an interactive dashboard. Ulster County posts daily case updates on its COVID-19 information page. Columbia County posts daily updates on new cases to a COVID-19 data page on its site, and once a week, a town-by-town breakdown of cases.
Sullivan County keeps an interactive dashboard of local case data. Delaware County posts daily case updates to a COVID-19 page on the county health department’s website. Some historical data is available in press releases posted less frequently by the Delaware County Board of Supervisors. Greene County posts frequent case updates on the county health department’s Facebook page. Schoharie County rarely publishes case data, but gives occasional updates on the county health department’s Facebook page.
Microcluster Focus Zones
Since Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the state strategy of mapping color-coded zones around local outbreaks mid-October, the number of “microclusters” tracked by New York State has shot up quickly. Zones do not follow town and city borders or zip codes, and can be declared or changed with little warning.
The NY Forward website has a tool for residents to look up an address to see if it is in a focus zone. The site also has a guide to the restrictions placed on business, schools, worship, and gatherings in yellow, orange, and red zones, plus high-resolution maps of focus zones in the microclusters.
The Local Scoop
New York State policy dealing with the pandemic has changed fast, and often with little warning. Governor Andrew Cuomo gives frequent briefings on case numbers and the state’s response, either televised or by phone to the press, and transcripts and video of those briefings are posted later in the day to a news section of the governor’s website. On days when there is no briefing, the governor’s office will post a press release with an update on the most recent case numbers, which includes information on positivity rates in the state’s 10 regions and in individual microcluster focus zones.
In most of the counties in our region that have a county executive—that’s Rockland, Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess, Orange, and Ulster—the executive has been responsible for communicating to the public about local response. Many local county executives hold regular video briefings or live virtual town halls for residents, which are posted either on the county’s website or Facebook page.
In counties without an executive, run either by legislative bodies (Sullivan, Greene) or boards of supervisors (Columbia, Delaware, and Schoharie), communication about local COVID-19 response falls more often to county health departments, although county officials have sometimes held meetings to brief residents about local pandemic issues.
For state-level news that goes beyond the governor’s press releases, we keep tabs on a wide variety of papers and publications: the Albany Times Union, The New York Times, the local members of the Gannett/USA Today network of papers, the state beat at CNHI, and a wonky fave of ours, City & State. But when state news gets local, smaller papers and niche media often have the sources to dig deeper. For instance: Some of the best coverage of New York’s first microcluster focus zones, which were declared in insular Orthodox neighborhoods, was done by Jewish news outlets like The Forward and New York City local news sites like Gothamist. Real estate-focused reporting at places like Curbed, TheRealDeal, and The City has dug into state pandemic policy on evictions and efforts to help New Yorkers with rents and mortgages.
It should go without saying, but if you have a local newspaper, keep an eye on their local pandemic coverage—and subscribe, if you can afford to.
There are a lot of good news and information resources for keeping track of the latest scientific developments, and the shape of the pandemic nationwide—too many to name in a couple of paragraphs. Here are a few of our favorites, though.
STAT News, a medical-science-focused project of the Boston Globe, is one of the best news sources around for sharp reporting on the latest COVID-19 science and national policy developments. In the slower world of magazine feature writing, The Atlantic has been indispensable pandemic reading this year, with in-depth features from veteran science writers like Ed Yong and Sarah Zhang, and astute analysis of how COVID-19 science is colliding with sociopolitical reality. Undark, a newer digital magazine on science and culture, is an intriguing read as well. National dailies with dedicated science reporters, like The New York Times and The Washington Post, are usually a good source on new developments in pandemic science.
For checking in on the shape of the pandemic nationally, the COVID Exit Strategy site is a good resource, if a somewhat terrifying one: Watching their map get worse and worse over the past months has been an experience. The COVID Tracking Project’s blog gives frequent updates on where things stand across the nation, and what the data means. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Reports are a vital read, and often contain in-depth studies on cases that illuminate new findings on the pandemic and how cases are transmitted.
To find a test location near you, head to New York State’s online test locator, or call the state COVID-19 hotline: (888) 364-3065. If you have questions about a specific test location, you may want to call them directly to ask: We’ve seen testing locations get overwhelmed, resulting in shifting priorities for who gets tested at a given site.
Your local county health department is also a good resource on testing; it may have more up-to-date information than the state site on where testing is actually available, or whether there are upcoming test clinics in the area.