Sunday Night COVID-19 Update – Westchester Deaths Jump, Town Leaders Wants Kiryas Joel ‘Containment Zone’

This is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties co-produced with The River Newsroom. The following is from Sunday night, April 5.

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.

NEW YORK STATE
122,031 cases confirmed (8,327 new)
302,280 tests performed (18,659 new)
4,159 deaths (594 new)
28,092 hospitalizations (overall)
16,479 hospitalizations (current)
4,376 ICU admissions
Confirmed cases per 10,000 residents: 63
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065

On Friday, Governor Cuomo announced that the National Guard would be deployed to redistribute ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) from upstate to downstate hospitals. A clarification from his senior advisor suggested downstate ventilators would be distributed upstate when the wave of infections moves north. Hudson Valley lawmakers from both parties pushed back, including Congressman Antonio Delgado, pointing to the region’s limited healthcare infrastructure. It remains to be seen if equipment will be taken from Hudson Valley hospitals or from farther upstate. Ventilators will not be taken from hospitals in Rockland or Orange counties, and Nuvance Healthcare, which operates hospitals in Putnam and Dutchess counties, said they had not been contacted.

In Sunday’s daily briefing, Cuomo talked about the new coordinated statewide system to balance case load and equipment among all hospitals, emphasizing that it was a huge challenge to hospitals not used to working together. “When we’re talking about supply, hospitals are accustomed to dealing with a 60-day supply, 90-day supply,” Cuomo said. “We’re talking about two- or three- or four-day supply, which makes the entire hospital system uncomfortable, which I also understand because we’re literally going day-to-day with our supplies, with our staff, et cetera. Which is counter-intuitive and counter-operational for the entire healthcare system.”

The federal emergency stockpile of ventilators, PPE, and other medical equipment is nowhere near large enough to cover state needs, and distributions from it are being made to states unevenly, Vox reports. Governors and federal legislators are worried about favoritism being shown to states that are friendly to the Trump administration. Facing a vacuum of federal leadership on the issue, and forced to compete with one another for medical supplies in a ferocious private market, states are making their own plans and alliances. “The states are on their own, and that reality is starting to sink in,” Vox’s Adam Clark Estes writes.

In one of the strangest news developments on the PPE market, Massachusetts had an order for three million masks through BJ’s seized and confiscated in the Port of New York. Governor Scott Baker declined to say which agency seized the masks. The state then arranged for the New England Patriots’ private plane to fly to China to pick up another order.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio damaged his science credibility on Brian Lehrer’s WNYC radio news show Friday, when he insisted that he didn’t know before this week that people without symptoms could transmit coronavirus. “Only in the last really 48 hours or so do they feel they’ve seen evidence around the world, particularly a new study coming out of Singapore, that shows more evidence that this disease can be spread by asymptomatic people,” de Blasio said. While it is true that there is a lot we don’t know about the virus, and studies like the recent one from Singapore are shedding more light on how transmission works, public health officials and major media outlets have been warning of the risk of asymptomatic transmission since at least mid-March. CNN ran a story on March 14 quoting several infectious disease researchers who warned that people without symptoms, or with very mild symptoms, were clearly spreading the disease.

Over the weekend, New York State unveiled a new interactive dashboard for viewing state COVID-19 data. There is now a statewide map of case counts; clicking on individual counties reveals more details on how many tests have been performed and what percentage of tests in the county were positive. There is a wide range between counties, with a high of 56.9 percent of tests in hard-hit Queens coming back positive, to a low of just 1.3 percent of tests coming back positive in rural Yates County, in the Finger Lakes.

The new dashboard makes the state data easier to find and understand, but there is also now more data available. A new section breaks down statewide fatalities by age group, although there is no way to track that data within a county. Each county now has two fatality counts: one for “place of fatality” and one for “residence of individual,” a distinction that is especially relevant in counties with high proportions of second homeowners, or where people often travel out of the county to access healthcare.

Also new to the state’s statistics: Statewide and county breakdowns of cases by gender. According to the most recent data available from the state, updated on Saturday, roughly 55 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases are male. There is wide variation by county in gender breakdown, too: In Ulster County, male and female confirmed cases are roughly even, while in Westchester, 63 percent of cases are male. Many doctors and epidemiologists suspect that men with COVID-19 are more likely than women to become seriously ill or to die, The Washington Post reported Saturday. The reasons aren’t fully understood, but some researchers think that gender-based differences in immune system response might play a role.

More state data is good for epidemiologists and other researchers, who can use information on who is struck hardest by COVID-19 to guide public health policy and understand the spread of the outbreak. LoHud.com reported Friday that public health researchers wanted more data out of New York State, and with the new dashboard, some of that data is now available. Data on race is still unavailable in New York. Michigan’s COVID-19 demographic data are revealing that the disease has struck with special ferocity among Black residents.

On Wednesday, New York State ruled that real estate counted as “essential business,” and that showings of property could resume. After getting an earful from realtors, the state quickly reversed course. All showings now must be virtual, although home inspectors and appraisers are still allowed to tour properties in person, The Buffalo News reports.

State Senator Jim Seward, who tested positive for the coronavirus along with his wife last week, was on a ventilator and in a medically induced coma over the weekend, but is now improving, according to news reports. Early Saturday morning, Seward’s wife, Cindy, said in a Facebook post that his condition “deteriorated quite rapidly and became dire,” but by Saturday night, he was taken off the ventilator and is doing better.

Announced by New York State Friday through Sunday:

-The federal government is deploying about 1,000 medical personnel to New York, beginning with New York City public hospitals.

-The Joseph and Clara Tsai Foundation has donated 2,000 ventilators to the state in two shipments, along with one million N95 masks and 100,000 pairs of goggles. The State of Oregon, where the outbreak is not so fierce, has contributed another 140 ventilators, and the National Basketball Association donated one million surgical masks.

-Cuomo will issue an executive order allowing med students who are slated to graduate to begin practicing.

-There is no medical diagnosis for “cabin fever,” Cuomo said in Sunday’s briefing, but nevertheless, it’s real. “It is a feeling of isolation. It is often accompanied by radical mood swings, resentment of people around you to varying degrees, for no reason whatsoever. Just an upwelling of resentment, especially toward people who are in apparent positions of authority.” We know the feeling.

We are now representing case numbers visually instead of listing numbers for each county. State and county numbers are beginning to diverge widely from each other; we are working on a story about how counties are handling data. We will seek to be transparent about how we are using data, and provide links to both state and county data sources.

Below: A graph showing the number of cases per 10,000 residents in each county, drawn from New York State’s data. County populations vary widely in this region, and we feel that reporting numbers proportionally is a better way to make comparisons between counties than using the number of confirmed cases. But it is important to note that we do not know how much difference between counties is being driven by insufficient testing. The reporting of cases is lagging far behind actual infections, and sick people who cannot get tested are not being reported.

ROCKLAND COUNTY

County coronavirus page

Rockland has confirmed nearly 1,500 additional cases of COVID-19 since Thursday, for a total of 5,326. More than 163 people per 10,000 in the county have tested positive—the highest infection rate in the Hudson Valley and Catskills, surging past Westchester County. Schoharie County has the lowest rate, at 3.5 infections per 10,000 residents.

County executive Ed Day reacted with consternation to Governor Cuomo’s Saturday comments that his office had not heard of Rockland County’s request for a containment zone around the Town of Ramapo. Cuomo was asked by a reporter about the containment zone during his daily briefing and replied that “nobody’s asked me.” Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa said she would reach out to the county. Day said he was “dumbfounded” by the comment in a Facebook post. “If you are telling the truth then you need to have a serious conversation with office communications personnel…How in God’s name could you not know of this?” Day also posted the April 2 letter he sent to Cuomo. DeRosa said during the press conference that the restrictions placed on the whole state were now more stringent than the containment zone placed on New Rochelle, which has now been lifted.

A health department violation claiming a Satmar Hasidic School in Airmont continued to operate during the school closures was dropped Friday. Day had lambasted the school when the violation was filed, but the school—as well as the Ramapo Police Chief, Brad Weidel—said the only activity on campus was parents picking up learning materials and bagged lunches, which is legal under the state restrictions.

The Cuomo administration responded to Day’s request to make the statewide restrictions enforceable by saying they already were. The Governor’s spokeswoman said Cuomo’s March 27 Executive Order allowed counties to levy building code violations, and offenders could also be fined under the state Public Health Law. Day said the Governor was being “disingenuous” and asked for clear guidance on criminal enforcement.

WESTCHESTER COUNTY
County coronavirus page
County press release page

Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa tweeted Saturday that 197 people had died of COVID-19 in Westchester County. County executive George Latimer seemed confused by the figure—he had put the toll at 67 during his Friday briefing and called the state number “shocking.” The additional deaths were probably people who died at nursing homes, Latimer said—those who “aren’t even getting to a hospital.” DeRosa’s county-by-county breakdown was more in line with numbers other counties had released. Some of her numbers were lower than the counties’ numbers, such as Ulster’s: the county had announced four deaths, while DeRosa only counted one.

Eastchester councilman Glenn Bellitto died Thursday after being diagnosed with COVID-19.

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

A group of town leaders in southern Orange County wrote the governor asking for a containment zone to be set up around the town of Palm Tree, better known as Kiryas Joel. Orange County executive Steve Neuhaus had asked for the same thing last week, but the request was denied. Palm Tree, a densely populated community of about 26,000 where the majority of residents belong to the Satmar Hasidic community, has 352 confirmed cases of COVID-19, by far the highest in the county. Several counties are now asking the state for “containment zones” around municipalities, although they seem to be asking for action that goes beyond the containment zone for New Rochelle early in the outbreak. New Rochelle’s containment zone did not prevent people from going in and out of the city, and the statewide New York on PAUSE executive order banning public gatherings and closing many businesses is stricter than the New Rochelle policy.

Eight residents and seven staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Valley View Center for Nursing Care and Rehabilitation, a county-owned nursing home. One of the residents is hospitalized and the other remains at Valley View. The coronavirus has infected residents at five Orange County nursing homes to date.

DUTCHESS COUNTY
County coronavirus page
Dutchess County COVID-19 hotline: (845) 486-3555
Dutchess County 24/7 mental health helpline: (845) 485-9700

As the pandemic rages in New York City, upstate communities are watching, learning, and coordinating with each other to prepare for a surge of cases that is expected to crest a week or two later than the high point downstate. Dutchess County executive Marc Molinaro told the Times Union that the county is working closely with neighboring Orange and Ulster. “We are all learning from each other,” he said. “We’re using that interaction to constantly evaluate our status and prepare for the next phase of the response.”

Rolando Aravena, 44, died from COVID-19 on April 29. His widow, Melody, told the Poughkeepsie Journal the government and healthcare system “failed us.” The New Windsor man developed symptoms 11 days before his death and visited urgent care clinics and emergency rooms, but was told to go home and self-quarantine. On the day of his death, already on an oxygen pump at his home, Aravena began having trouble breathing. According to Melody, a 9-1-1 dispatcher refused to send an ambulance, citing the need to avoid additional infections, so Melody drove her husband to Orange Regional Medical Center. She was not allowed to stay with him because of visitation restrictions due to COVID-19; she received a call about his death later that day. Melody received her husband’s positive COVID-19 test results two days later.

The nonprofit Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley, in collaboration with the Dutchess County government and the Dyson Foundation, announced $50,000 in grants for the first round of funding from the Dutchess Responds fund. The funds are shoring up feeding programs throughout the county, with a special emphasis on fresh produce and distribution, according to a release.

Lucas Simms, 8, has launched The Beacon Kids Times during his newfound free time. The newspaper, which is distributed free via email every Thursday, includes reviews of comic books and video games, the weather, and includes a riddle at the end. The first kid to email the newspaper back with the correct answer gets a pizza delivered to their porch. All the articles are written by Simms or his peers.

PUTNAM COUNTY
County coronavirus page

Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, now working from his Phillipstown home, is frustrated with the federal response to the pandemic. The Highlands Current ran an interview with the Congressman on Friday. “There should be a centralized, coordinated, forceful presidential command and control structure. It’s frustrating. What’s missing is leadership,” Maloney said.

County real estate agents reported people from New York City were flooding their phone lines to rent or buy houses, with one agent calling it “a panic.” Though agents had to stop showing houses March 22 due to Cuomo’s Executive Order mandating non-essential employees to work from home, the deluge has continued.

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

The county Department of Health is seeking medical professionals to volunteer in the local effort against COVID-19, part of a statewide effort to recruit additional medical workers. The county is specifically seeking “licensed medical and healthcare volunteers, including retired healthcare professionals.” Those interested can fill out a form at the Ulster County COVID-19 information page.

Local domestic violence advocates are worried about victims in lockdown, the Daily Freeman reports. So far, local law enforcement officials say they haven’t seen an uptick in domestic violence calls.

Mental health hotlines in the county are seeing an increase in calls from people feeling anxious, with Family of Woodstock reporting an uptick in calls about suicidal ideation. Ulster County Mobile Mental Health has begun to offer virtual services. Those in need can call (888) 750-2266 and hit option 2. Therapists are available 24/7.

On Thursday, Ulster County executive Pat Ryan announced that more than 13,000 meals had been distributed to people in need by Ulster County Project Resilience. Sixteen local teams are in operation, with 128 restaurants in support, serving 22 municipalities.

SULLIVAN COUNTY
County coronavirus page

Sullivan County had its third remote town hall on Friday. In the Q&A session, county manager Josh Potosek answered a question about why Sullivan—unlike some neighboring counties—is not releasing a town-by-town breakdown of cases. Potosek said that reporting cases on the town level leads to a “false sense of security” among residents whose towns do not yet have reported cases. “A large number of cases in one town or no cases in one town doesn’t mean the virus isn’t in that town with no cases,” he said. “Because the cases are being reported by residents, it doesn’t speak to where the person came into contact with and was exposed to the virus.”

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

Seventeen residents of Pine Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Philmont have been diagnosed with COVID-19, six more than on Saturday, according to Columbia County Department of Health director Jack Mabb. The infections, first limited to a single wing of the nursing home, are now found throughout the facility. Two residents have died.

A third person in the county died of COVID-19, the health department announced Saturday. No additional information was given.

Twenty-five more people in the county contacted social services about being homeless, a significant rise for the county’s system, which usually helps between 100 and 200 people with homelessness at a time. Many of the people seeking services are the “invisible homeless,” Social Services commissioner Bob Gibson said. “They may have been sleeping at a family member’s home, but now are unable to do so owing to social-distancing guidelines. The street is nowhere for them at any point, and particularly now.”

Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson will hold a town hall live on Facebook on Friday, April 10. The town hall will include Columbia County Board of Supervisors chairman Matt Murell, County Department of Health director Jack Mabb, and Hudson Common Council president Tom DePietro.

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

There are 32 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Delaware County, according to a press release issued Sunday. One person has died.

“My greatest fear is not of dying. It’s of dying alone.” Margaretville resident Gail Lennstrom wrote an op-ed that ran in the Friday edition of the Albany Times Union, calling on hospice services and hospitals to plan for palliative care for patients who are not expected to survive, perhaps in converted dormitories or hotels. Lennstrom is a hospice volunteer and retired physical therapist, and wrote the op-ed with Diana Mason, a nurse and health policy expert who hosts the “HealthCetera” radio show on Roxbury’s WIOX.

Delaware County sheriff Craig DuMond warned local residents to be wary of scammers using the pandemic as an opportunity. DuMond urged residents not to click on links in surprise emails that appear to be from the IRS, or give any personal information to anyone claiming to represent the agency. “History has shown that criminals take advantage of every opportunity to prey on unsuspecting victims, especially when a group of people is vulnerable or in a state of need. While you are waiting to receive your economic impact payment (a/k/a Coronavirus Stimulus Check) from the IRS, criminals are working every angle they can think of so they can get their hands on it,” he said.

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

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has announced the closing of Kaaterskill Falls, the viewing platform, and connected trails, effective Monday, April 6. The DEC is also closing parking lots in the area and blocking off roads into North-South Lake Campground. The Kaaterskill Wild Forest will remain open.

SCHOHARIE COUNTY
County coronavirus page
Bassett triage line: (607) 547-5555

The Schoharie County Department of Health is currently monitoring 36 people in isolation or quarantine, while another 58 people have completed their quarantine period, according to a press release issued Friday. There have still been no confirmed fatalities from COVID-19 in the county.

OF INTEREST?

On Saturday, The River published a feature story looking at how some restaurant and bar workers in the Hudson Valley are adjusting to life during the pandemic. Alexander Reed Kelly spoke with five workers, all of whom have lost wages, about the precarious position they find themselves in.

And on Sunday, Roger Hannigan Gilson of The Other Hudson Valley published a story attempting to answer an increasingly urgent question: Will Hudson Valley Ventilators Be Taken Downstate?

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