Hudson Valley COVID-19 Update: Thursday Night, 3/19

This is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties published on Thursday, March 19. Produced in collaboration with The River Newsroom

La Voz, a Spanish-language magazine covering Hispanic news and culture in the Hudson Valley, is translating these roundups and co-publishing them on its website. Read here. | 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.

The River is also 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.

NEW YORK STATE

4,152 cases confirmed (1,770 new)

New York State official pressroom

Hotline: (888) 364-3065

Senate Republicans have a coronavirus relief aid plan, and it’s not exactly Universal Basic Income. The plan includes a provision to cut a $1,200 check to many individual taxpayers, but how much money they would receive depends on how much they make. At the bottom of the income heap, taxpayers who pay little or no federal tax would get just $600 each; those earning between $75,000 and $99,000 would receive less than $1,200. Eligibility is capped above $99,000 for single filers or $198,000 for couples who filed jointly. Families will get an additional $500 for each child. Also in the Senate GOP plan: About $208 billion for airlines and other industries.

Think coronavirus only strikes old people? Think again. A new CDC report on US coronavirus patients finds that although the mortality rate is highest among the elderly, 38 percent of those hospitalized were between the ages of 20 and 54, and almost half of ICU admissions were under 65.

Congressman Antonio Delgado will hold a telephone town hall Friday. His constituents are encouraged to join by dialing (855) 905-3295 at 6:30pm

Announced by the state today:

-Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed an executive order mandating businesses that rely on in-office personnel to decrease their in-office workforce by 75 percent. (Wait a minute—wasn’t that 50 percent on Wednesday? Yes, it was. Change in every aspect of society is happening very, very fast in response to coronavirus, and state policy is no exception.)

-All New York State mortgage servicers must provide 90-day mortgage relief to borrowers impacted by coronavirus, including waiving of payments based on financial hardship, waiving late fees, and postponing or suspending foreclosures.

-State chartered banks must waive ATM fees, late fees, overdraft fees, and credit card fees.

-New measures for hospitals and insurers are being enacted in an effort to speed up admission and discharge, increase hospital capacity, and cut through red tape.

The investment New York State has made in ramping up state and private testing for coronavirus, instead of continuing to send all samples to a CDC lab in Atlanta, is beginning to pay off. Drive-through testing sites are popping up across the state, and the process of testing a sample now sometimes takes hours instead of days, the Democrat & Chronicle reports.

With increased testing comes increased case numbers. Cuomo has been warning in briefings that the spike in cases confirmed as the state ramps up its testing infrastructure will be “astronomical”—and it has indeed been dramatic. On Thursday, the statistics announced in Cuomo’s regular morning press briefing (and used for this roundup) showed more than 2,400 confirmed cases in New York City; by lunchtime, mayor Bill de Blasio’s office was reporting more than 3,600. The data coming from increased testing is driving the state’s increasingly heightened response, Cuomo said.

We wrote Tuesday of the relaxed criteria for disaster loans from the federal Small Business Administration. Those Economic Injury Disaster loans apply statewide to states that have been declared disaster zones, and they must be requested by those states’ governors. During a town hall with Delgado and Ulster County executive Pat Ryan today, New York was declared a disaster zone, making small businesses in the state eligible for Economic Injury Disaster loans. Learn more and apply here.

Delgado penned a letter to President Trump late Wednesday urging him to use federal resources to help increase the number of hospital beds in the region. He asked Trump to task the federal Department of Health and Human Services with “identifying critical shortage areas in need of additional healthcare infrastructure” and for the US Army Corps of Engineers to begin planning to expand the region’s medical capacity. It mirrors Gov. Cuomo’s request earlier this week to use the corps to retrofit existing structures into hospitals. The state is expected to soon reach the number of patients it can take into existing hospitals.

Is your hospital ready? ProPublica rolled out a nationwide data project on Tuesday that allows readers to look at local hospital capacity under several different coronavirus outbreak scenarios, and it’s pretty cool, if you like playing around with scary data. We’re not sure exactly how ProPublica is defining the regions they’re looking at, or how large those regions are, but they seem to lump a good chunk of the Hudson Valley and Catskills in with “Albany.”

A general note on New York State data: These numbers are changing very, very rapidly. Print newspapers are out of date by the time they hit newsstands. In our own reporting, we are relying on the state’s daily counts, but those are frequently updated or contradicted by reports from local officials within hours. If our numbers in this news roundup don’t add up, it may be because local confirmed case counts have not yet been included in state numbers, or because a case that was reported to local public health authorities is officially being included in the count for another county.

WESTCHESTER COUNTY

798 cases confirmed (260 new)

County coronavirus page

A sobering report on the US Postal Service’s coronavirus preparations from ProPublica late Wednesday afternoon makes it clear that our mail carriers are on the front lines of risk in the pandemic. Postal workers say they are being pressured to work when sick and given no protection, and experts are worried that they are being forced to put both themselves and their communities at risk. An NYU professor of environmental public health science tells ProPublica: “When you look at the mathematics of one postal worker handling hundreds of people’s mail on a daily, continuous basis, the sheer probability increases dramatically.” Locally, two White Plains postal workers at a mail processing center tested positive for coronavirus earlier this month. Not discussed in the story: the particular risks coronavirus poses in rural areas, where many residents do not receive home mail delivery, but must visit a post office box to pick up daily mail.

The Journal News ran an interview with a neurosurgeon who had contracted the virus. The man, who is recovering, describes what the initial symptoms felt like for him and has a message about getting the virus. “Because it was so mild, there was no reason for me to think that I had anything other than a cold,” Dr. Ezriel Kornel told a reporter.

Here’s a story that came out March 10, a few days before we started compiling these roundups: A woman infected with coronavirus who walked into the ER at Phelps Hospital in Sleepy Hollow, on Saturday, March 7, was described by doctors as “the first real-life test” of the hospital’s procedures for handling possibly infected patients. Emergency department director Dr. Barry Geller says they passed. “There is a certain sense of relief that we did have our first case and that we were able to handle it well, and that we protected our staff,” he said.

ROCKLAND COUNTY
53 cases confirmed (23 new)

County coronavirus page

The county scrapped the “Hoarding Prevention Order” announced on Monday as one of the emergency orders in the county’s State of Emergency. The order limited customers purchases’ of hand sanitizer and soap and certain food items. There had been pushback on the order, but a county spokesman said Gov. Cuomo’s executive order requiring local emergency orders to be approved by the state rendered the county’s order moot.

ULSTER COUNTY
10 cases confirmed (1 new)

County coronavirus page
Ulster County COVID-19 hotline: (845) 443-8888

County executive Pat Ryan said mobile test sites would be set up in Kingston and Ellenville by Monday. During a town hall streamed live on Facebook, he also laid out the procedure for being tested in the county and said they did not yet have the capacity to test everyone wanting one. Ryan also announced a 30-day grace period for the county’s hotel and lodging occupancy tax. Delgado also spoke at the town hall, which can be viewed in full on Facebook.

A part-time server at Deising’s Bakery & Restaurant on North Front Street in Kingston has tested positive for the coronavirus. He started having symptoms Sunday but is now at home and not seriously ill. Owner Eric Deising said he did not know of the man being at the bakery’s second Kingston location, but both locations are being sterilized.

Kingston mayor Steve Noble asked landlords in the city to freeze rent hikes and to be flexible with rent, noting Gov. Cuomo had announced mortgage payments could be delayed by 90 days and this could be passed down to tenants. Evictions in the state have already been halted indefinitely.

A majority of the Kingston Common Council signed a letter voicing their support for a freeze on new spending and hiring in the city “until we are through the immediate crisis.” The freeze would not apply to emergency measures the city might take.

SUNY New Paltz’s spring commencement was postponed until further notice.

ORANGE COUNTY
51 cases confirmed (19 new)

County coronavirus page
Orange County Department of Health: (845) 291-2330

Kiryas Joel administrator Gedalye Szegedin said he was told of “about 14” confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the village by county health officials Thursday, according to the Times Herald-Record, but the county’s health commissioner would not comment, keeping with the county’s practice of not identifying the municipalities of confirmed cases. The Hasidic community in the village has closed all its schools, synagogues, ritual baths, prayer centers, libraries, and study halls.

Legoland New York is still planning on opening July 4, according to a park spokesman, who added the health and safety of workers remained a top priority.

DUTCHESS COUNTY
31 cases confirmed (11 new)

County coronavirus page
Dutchess County COVID-19 hotline: (845) 486-3555

Dutchess County 24/7 mental health helpline: (845) 485-9700

Volunteers from the Medical Reserve Corps. of Dutchess County have been enlisted to take samples for COVID-19 testing from people at their homes. The corps are normally enlisted to help in emergency situations and events such as blood pressure screenings. Volunteers without medical backgrounds are being assigned to other tasks, like answering phones on the Dutchess County COVID-19 hotline.

The Sheriff’s Office posted the names, birthdays, and hometowns of more than 100 people with warrants for not paying child support in part to avoid making face-to-face arrests.

Effectively immediately, the Dutchess County Stabilization Center—a 24/7 center for individuals experiencing crisis resulting from mental health or substance abuse issues—is switching to phone and telepractice, according to a press release issued this afternoon. Folks in need can call (845) 486-2849 to speak to a mental health expert from the Department of Behavioral & Community Health or a partner agency.

DELAWARE COUNTY
1 case confirmed

County coronavirus page
Bassett Healthcare Network hotline: (607) 547-5555

Downstaters, stay out. Delaware County issued an intensely worded message to visitors, weekenders, and second homeowners today, following on the heels of a Wednesday announcement by Sullivan County that used similar language. “Travel into Delaware County from any area at this time is inadvisable and is highly discouraged,” the release said, citing the rural county’s limited access to health care; the county has three hospitals, all critical care facilities with 25 or fewer acute care beds and located more than 35 miles from another hospital.

Visitors who disregarded the advice to stay out were advised that they would be expected to adhere to strict social distancing measures. Among them: “Please DON’T hug, kiss, or otherwise touch anyone who is not your immediate family,” and “Please DO limit social activities to your family only. This includes all activities involving contact with other persons outside of the home.” Asked by email if this advice was intended to apply also to Delaware County locals, county planning director Shelly Johnson-Bennett confirmed that it was. It’s a change in tune. On Wednesday, the county issued a release encouraging locals to limit travel, but also to shop their local Main Streets.

Some business owners aren’t too happy with the tone of the county’s release warning non-permanent residents to stay out. Leigh Melander, owner of the Spillian lodge in Fleischmanns, told us she was dismayed by the county’s harsh message to second homeowners, especially those who have built businesses here. “I understand the desire to shut the doors, hoping to lock this virus out. But it’s already here,” she said. “I think folks who have homes in more than one place should be asking themselves good questions about where the best place is for them to land—both for the wellbeing of their immediate families, and for their communities. We should all be asking those questions.”

GREENE COUNTY
2 cases (0 new)

Note: In official counts, New York State lists the county where a patient was tested, not where the patient is currently, leading to discrepancies in this county, according to Catskill Daily Mail reporter Melanie Lekocevic. The newspaper reported on Sunday that three people confirmed to have coronavirus, all of whom contracted the virus outside the county, are self-quarantining in Greene County.

County coronavirus page

Columbia Memorial Health COVID-19 hotline: (518) 828-8249

No major updates out of Greene County today. To read yesterday’s news, click here.

PUTNAM COUNTY
5 cases confirmed (3 new)

County coronavirus page

Note: The county’s health department confirmed four additional cases today, three in the morning and one in the afternoon. Only the three earlier cases have been included in the state’s official count.

According to a release, the county will start releasing new positive case numbers and increased totals at noon and 4pm daily on its website.

SULLIVAN COUNTY
3 cases confirmed (2 new)

Note: The county announced two more cases of COVID-19 after the state’s official numbers came out. See below.

County coronavirus page

Public Health Services hotline: (845) 292-5910

Sullivan County Assistance Center hotline: (845) 807-0925

The county will open an Emergency Community Assistance Center on Friday to assist seniors and others unable to leave their homes with things such as groceries and picking up medication. Anyone in need of assistance should call (845) 807-0925. Those willing to volunteer should call the same number.

The county’s public health director announced two more cases of COVID-19 late Thursday. They are self-quarantining. The director said the county’s total caseload was six.

SCHOHARIE COUNTY
1 case confirmed (1 new)

County coronavirus page

Bassett triage line: (607) 547-5555

On Wednesday, Schoharie County announced its first confirmed case.

The Cobleskill Times-Journal had an account of a Monday meeting between the board of supervisors and county public health director Amy Gildemeister, in which she impressed upon them just how fast the situation was moving, and how critical it was to respond quickly. Here’s a snippet:

“Though Fulton Supervisor Phil Skowfoe and County Attorney Mike West both spoke about the importance of not taking steps so drastic they kill the local economy, Dr. Gildemeister—attending the meeting via speaker phone because she’s had contact with someone she now believes has COVID-19—said the time for thinking like that has passed. ‘I think you’re misunderstanding the severity,” Dr. Gildemeister said. ‘If we wait until we have cases, it will be catastrophic.’”

COLUMBIA COUNTY
0 cases confirmed
County health department website
Columbia Memorial Health COVID-19 hotline: (518) 828-8249

As of Thursday, Columbia was the only county in the scope of our 11-county Hudson Valley/Catskills news roundups that had not yet had a confirmed case of coronavirus. The Columbia County Department of Health announced it had received 74 negative COVID-19 test results and zero positive results. There were nine people under mandatory quarantine in the county and 37 people under precautionary quarantine.

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