Hudson Valley COVID-19 Update: Tuesday Night, 3/24

A sign outside the Columbia Memorial Health hospital in the city of Hudson.

This is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements for New York state and Hudson Valley and Catskill counties produced in collaboration with the River Newsroom. The following is for Tuesday night, March 24:

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. You can also listen to daily audio updates from “La Voz con Mariel Fiori” on Radio Kingston.

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. 

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.

RESOURCES

We’ve moved our list of resources to a page on our website, which will be updated regularly. The list is not comprehensive, but if you know anything you’d like us to add, please email us.—Phillip Pantuso

NEW YORK STATE

25,665 cases confirmed (4,790 new)

91,270 tests performed (12,981 new)

210 deaths (53 new)

3,234 hospitalized

New York State coronavirus page

New York State official pressroom

Hotline: (888) 364-3065

The mood of state and federal daily briefings got even more grim today, as it became clear that New York State’s numbers were not only bad, but worse than public health experts had expected.

Anthony Fauci, longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a leading national voice on coronavirus, estimates that 1 in 1,000 New York City residents has been infected, a rate roughly eight to 10 times the infection rate elsewhere, Buzzfeed reports.

New York may be leading the nation in access to coronavirus testing, but there’s one kind of test no state has full access to yet: serological testing. The method currently used for finding infections is called a “molecular” test, and it looks for the presence of the virus itself in bodily fluids. Once a person is no longer actively infected, a molecular test for coronavirus will not be able to detect the virus. When outbreak communities begin to shift into recovery mode, what they will increasingly need is serology testing, which can be performed long after infection is over, and looks for antibodies made by the immune system that indicate that a person has been sick and recovered from the virus.

There’s at least one place in the US where everybody who wants a serological test for COVID-19 can get one: San Miguel County, a tiny Colorado mountain county with a full-time population of 8,000 and fewer than three full-time county public health staffers. The San Miguel resort town of Telluride happens to be the part-time home of the couple who run United Biomedical, an international biotech company that has been working on serological testing for the novel coronavirus since January. United executives Mei Mei Hu and Lou Reese want to test everyone in the county, and the results might help epidemiologists study the true extent of the disease, how easily it is transmitted, and how likely it is to be fatal.

In a briefing today, President Donald Trump said he wanted the nation to get back to work by Easter. It’s not a suggestion experts—nor, for the most part, state governors—are taking seriously. Maryland governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, has expressed frustration with the White House’s “imaginary clock.” Still backing the White House is Texas lieutenant governor Dan Patrick, who said in a Fox News interview on Monday that senior citizens might be willing to die to preserve the economy for their grandchildren.

A public service announcement from Debbie Birx, the White House’s official coronavirus response coordinator: If you have left New York City for somewhere else in the last two weeks, you need to self-quarantine for 14 days from your departure, whether or not you are sick and no matter where you are. That might be a problem for New York State legislators, who are needed in Albany to finish the state budget.

The Gotham Gazette has a report on the peculiar status of the New York State legislature: With the state in emergency mode, the only real power they have at the moment is to oppose the governor by terminating his executive orders. So far, they haven’t been inclined to exercise it.

State Senator Jen Metzger introduced a bill Monday that would allow all state residents to vote by mail if the coronavirus pandemic continues through New York’s June 23 primaries, which cover all races except the presidency. “We need to make sure we have a backup plan in place that protects the health and safety of election workers and voters without sacrificing participation in these important elections,” Metzger said. Absentee voting currently requires a voter to contact the county Board of Elections, which Metzger called “cumbersome.” The bill would require the system to be set up by May 1 and it would be active if the state was under a state of emergency. The bill is in committee and has Senator Julia Salazar, a democratic socialist from New York City, as a co-sponsor.

Meanwhile, the state Elections Commissioners Association released a statement imploring New York to delay its April 28 presidential primaries. There are critical shortages of personnel because of stay-at-home orders, making it impossible to prepare in time, according to the statement. If setting up was even possible, traditional polling places might be closed to the public, according to the statement, which advocates for moving the primary to June 23. All primaries during a state of emergency should allow anyone to vote with an absentee ballot.

New York State Attorney General Tish James also called for the April presidential primaries to be delayed.

Senate Democrats appeared to be near a compromise with the White House on the nearly $2 trillion stimulus package that has been in legislative limbo for the past few days. According to The New York Times, Democrats convinced the Trump administration to add strict oversight over a $500 billion corporate aid fund that is part of the package. In a call with Senate Democrats, Senator Chuck Schumer said the deal contained $130 billion for hospitals and $150 billion for state and local governments, and would provide $1,200 direct payments to taxpayers and increase unemployment benefits.

Announced by New York State today:

-The highest point of the outbreak is two to three weeks away, and cases are accelerating. “We haven’t flattened the curve and the curve is actually increasing,” Cuomo said. “The apex is higher than we thought and the apex is sooner than we thought.”

-The Javits Center in New York City has received a large shipment of masks, gloves, and other personal protective equipment, and will be distributing some of it to Westchester County, Long Island, and other parts of the state. Hospital associations are working with the state to identify places where the equipment is most needed.

-Cuomo repeated today that he wants the state to pursue serological testing to identify people who have recovered from the virus and can go back to work, in addition to what the state is already doing. Measures in place statewide include an extensive shutdown of business activity, social distancing, reducing density in public places, ramped-up testing for active infections, experimenting with new drug therapies and injection of plasma from patients who have recovered, and a rapid increase in hospital capacity. It’s not enough, and hospitals in New York City are already starting to become overwhelmed.

-Cuomo is still advocating for the federal government to use the Defense Production Act to boost badly inadequate supplies of hospital equipment, but he also wants to deploy existing stockpiles of equipment and other resources to New York State first, while the state still has almost ten times as many confirmed cases as the next highest outbreak location—New Jersey, with 3,675, followed by Washington State, with 2,221. The governor is promising to help other states as the outbreak crests elsewhere. “We’ve procured about 7,000 ventilators. We need at a minimum an additional 30,000 ventilators. You cannot buy them. You cannot find them,” Cuomo said. “I will take personal responsibility for transporting the 20,000 ventilators anywhere in this country that they want, once we are past our apex. But don’t leave them sitting in a stockpile.”

-The governor has a message to communities elsewhere in the nation: “Where we are today, you will be in three weeks or four weeks or five weeks or six weeks. We are your future, and what we do here will chart the course for what we do in your city and in your community.”

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

3,891 cases confirmed (997 new)

County coronavirus page

County executive George Latimer released case numbers for every town in the county Tuesday, showing every municipality but the village of Buchanan has a confirmed case. New Rochelle had 225, Yonkers had 191, Mount Vernon had 81, and Greenburgh had 61.

How long after recovering must infected people stay quarantined? That’s becoming an issue in New Rochelle, where the outbreak is further along than most other places. For now, according to reporting from LoHud.com, the answer is until you test negative for the presence of the virus. That puts pressure on the system to make more tests available, but those are needed for detecting new infections. “The dilemma is they are wasting tests if they retest these people,” said assemblywoman Amy Paulin of Scarsdale. “But they are trapped.”

ROCKLAND COUNTY
671 cases confirmed (79 new)

County coronavirus page

Rockland County executive Ed Day blamed poor communication for his comments on the police response Sunday to an Orthodox Jewish wedding in Ramapo that turned out to be within the state’s guidelines. When police arrived, they found fewer than 50 people at the celebration. This was hours before Governor Cuomo’s emergency order restricting gatherings of any size. A second event across the street—which was not reported to the police—was the source of many of the cars people observed, but Day said he did not know this, leading him to post critical comments about the Ramapo Police Department on social media. People commenting on the various incarnations of Day’s post on social media said local officials were giving the Orthodox Jewish community leeway. When the police released a statement describing the wedding was legal, others fired back that the original commentors were anti-Semitic.

ORANGE COUNTY
498 cases confirmed (109 new)

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

Four residents and two staff members tested positive for COVID-19 at a nursing home in Montgomery. The Montgomery Nursing and Rehabilitation Center released a statement saying they had been following strict Centers for Disease Control and Health Department guidance for assisted care facilities during the pandemic. Seattle’s Kirkland Life Center became a haven for the coronavirus when the virus started infecting residents in mid-February, going on to kill 34 of them.

Leaders and community groups in Kiryas Joel issued a public statement asking a local doctor to stop making YouTube videos about the coronavirus in the Hasidic community. Dr. Vladimir Zelenko estimated 90 percent of Kiryas Joel’s residents were infected by the coronavirus, an assertion the Orange County health commissioner called irresponsible. The statement said the doctor was putting the community in a bad light. Fox News’ Sean Hannity read a cocktail of medications prescribed by Zelenko to COVID-19 patients that included hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug touted by President Trump as a possible medication for COVID-19, to Vice President Pence when he appeared on his show. Zelenko appeared on the show himself on Monday.

DUTCHESS COUNTY
124 cases confirmed (24 new)

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

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

The Highlands Current analyzed the number of hospital beds in the mid-Hudson Valley and estimated there were only 14 open ICU beds available for COVID-19 patients, assuming an 80 percent statewide current occupancy rate applies to the region. There are 72 total ICU beds at the five hospitals in Dutchess and Putnam counties plus Montefiore St. Luke’s Cornwall in Newburgh. Cuomo has mandated that bed capacity in state hospitals must be increased by 50 percent.

Dutchess Responds, an online portal with information about volunteering with the Medical Reserve Corps of Dutchess County, launched today. The also offers information about deliveries of food and prescriptions and acts as a clearinghouse for organizations offering relief service during the pandemic.

Dutchess County executive Marc Molinaro announced his next Facebook town hall, which will be streamed live on the county’s Facebook page on Wednesday at 2pm. Molinaro will provide updates on the county’s response and answer residents’ questions.

An Employee at a ShopRite in Lagrangeville tested positive for COVID-19. The store did not say if the customer had been in contact with customers, and said it would not be releasing where in the store they worked. The employee stopped working after testing positive, and some of the employee’s co-workers are in self-quarantine, according to ShopRite.

Rhinebeck shut down its Thompson-Mazzarella Park due to the continuing pandemic. The Town Board began hiring staff for the park’s summer program, though Town supervisor Elizabeth Spinzia said the program may not happen.

PUTNAM COUNTY
67 cases confirmed (22 new)

County coronavirus page

As of 4pm, Putnam County announced, there were 36 new positive cases on Tuesday, bringing the countywide total to 82.

ULSTER COUNTY
47 cases confirmed (12 new)

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

There are 25 ventilators in Ulster County, a number county executive Pat Ryan said was not enough to meet the expected deluge of COVID-19 cases. In an interview with the Daily Freeman, Ryan said the county’s hospitals were pushing to meet or exceed the governor’s mandated 50 percent increase in patient capacity, but there were shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE). The Bruderhof community and SUNY New Paltz’s 3-D printing program were working to make PPE, Ryan said. Of the 59 people sickened in the county, two are at hospitals, one of whom is on a ventilator.

Reporters for The River were told by multiple people on Tuesday that Ulster Publishing would be shutting down its local papers and no longer publishing much content online, apart from some ongoing COVID-19 coverage. Writers John Burdick and Frances Marion Platt also announced the news on Facebook. Founded by local legend Geddy Sveikauskas in 1972, the Woodstock Times family expanded over the years to include the Kingston Times, New Paltz Times, Saugerties Times, and the Ulster Publishing Almanac. Local news is already a struggling industry, and in the wake of the outbreak, many news outlets across the country have made layoffs or canceled print runs. As readers of, and occasionally writers for, Sveikauskas’s stable of papers, we wish them a full recovery.

SULLIVAN COUNTY
30 cases confirmed (7 new)

County coronavirus page

Sullivan County reported 10 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 35. Public Health Director Nancy McGraw said to assume community transmission was widespread everywhere in the county.

The county’s Government Center in Monticello is now closed to the public. County executive Josh Potosek said there would still be access to the Board of Elections by appointment only.

COLUMBIA COUNTY
11 cases confirmed (1 new)
County coronavirus page
Columbia Memorial Health COVID-19 hotline: (518) 828-8249

Columbia County Department of Health director Jack Mabb said the county was planning to be overwhelmed by coronavirus cases. The county confirmed no new cases today (the state added one to its total, identified by the county yesterday), but Mabb blamed this on a lack of test kits, saying he expected a shipment of kits Monday but hadn’t gotten any by Tuesday. Requests for personal protective equipment (PPE) from emergency services in the county, but they were only partially filled. The county was identifying large buildings to serve as temporary hospitals for up to 1,000 additional patients and additional housing for quarantined individuals was being sought.

Columbia Memorial Hospital administrators have been working on a plan for increasing capacity, and were slated to send their plan to state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker on Tuesday night. As of Tuesday, there were no cases hospitalized at Columbia Memorial, the Daily Mail reports.

GREENE COUNTY
4 cases (0 new)

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

On Tuesday, the Town of Hunter asked both residents and visitors alike not to use trails or public parks, or try to access mountain peaks within the town. The fire department has been directed to respond only to high-level medical calls because of a shortage of personal protective equipment. Ambulance crews will continue to respond to all calls, a town news release stated.

DELAWARE COUNTY
3 cases confirmed (0 new)

County coronavirus page

County alerts and announcements page
Bassett Healthcare Network hotline: (607) 547-5555

Arkville’s community food pantry, serving the town of Middletown, has shifted to 100 percent home delivery with help from a crew of volunteers, and is open to all. To schedule a delivery, call (845) 586-2233.

Delaware County Public Health Services announced Tuesday that they had received a new report of a confirmed case. A new graph on the department’s website has detailed statistics on how many tests have been done in the county, how many are currently awaiting results, how many are under mandatory quarantine, and more. No data on hospitalization is currently available on the county website.

SCHOHARIE COUNTY
1 cases confirmed (0 new)

County coronavirus page

Bassett triage line: (607) 547-5555

Schoharie County Emergency Services is taking donations of home-sewn masks, using a pattern created by Bassett Healthcare Network, and organized by SALT.

According to a Facebook post Tuesday from the Schoharie County Department of Health, Cobleskill-Richmondville Central Schools superintendent Carl Mummenthey has announced that someone associated with Cobleskill-Richmondville High School has tested positive for the virus.

OF INTEREST?

The River is publishing a weekly Sunday roundup of some of the best longform reporting, analysis, and feature writing on the coronavirus pandemic. Check out our second edition here.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the number of cases in Dutchess County.

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