COVID-19 Update – Cuomo to Mandate Mask-Wearing, Dutchess Economy Suffering

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 for Thursday, April 16.

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
213,779 cases confirmed (11,571 new)
526,012 tests performed (26,869 new)
11,586 deaths (752 new)
18,335 hospitalizations (current)
Confirmed cases per 10,000 residents: 110
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065

President Trump, never shy about taking credit for ideas or money that are not his, is making the IRS emblazon his signature onto the $1,200 checks being sent out as part of the CARES Act stimulus. Since Trump is not an authorized signer for disbursements by the US Treasury, his John Hancock can’t appear on the signatory line. Instead, it will be shoehorned on the “memo” line, as though he was the item being purchased. The Washington Post wrote Wednesday the IRS information technology team was only told of the plan Tuesday, and cited IRS sources asserting it would delay the arrival of the first batch of checks.

First-person accounts from the front lines of the pandemic are in short supply, both because doctors and nurses are busy treating patients and because many hospitals have forbidden staff to speak publicly. But in The New York Times this week is a long diary written by Helen Ouyang, a New York City ER doctor, that tracks the outbreak week to week, from the first week of March to the present day. It’s a gripping, terrifying read, with a palpable sense of acceleration as the entries get closer to the present.

The New York Times also ran an op-ed Tuesday by a father-daughter pair of epidemiologists, Britta and Nicholas Jewell, about the high cost of waiting to act. Former CDC head Tom Frieden has estimated that 50 to 80 percent of the deaths in New York could have been avoided if the state had acted a week or two earlier, and the Jewells agree with Frieden. “The point here is not to cast blame on mayors or governors for the timing of what were difficult decisions for both public health and the economy, but rather, to alert cities and states where full social distancing measures are not in place that hesitation can come at a very high cost,” they write.

New York State is under fire from patient advocates for refusing to release a public list of more than 300 nursing homes where residents have died from COVID-19 since last month, The Daily Star reports. State assemblyman Richard Gottfried, who chairs the Assembly Health Committee, wants legislation that would force the state to release more specific information about how the outbreak is impacting nursing homes. In Wednesday’s briefing, Cuomo said he would sign an executive order requiring nursing homes to inform the family members of residents of COVID-19 cases in their facilities.

Last week, a blockbuster report from Gothamist and WNYC raised the alarm about a “staggering surge” of people dying in their homes in New York City; the report pushed the city to release more information on deaths presumed to be from COVID-19 in people who have not been tested. This week, ProPublica dug into the data nationwide, and found that New York isn’t alone: Deaths at home have spiked in major metropolitan areas across the country. The reporting makes it clear that there’s a lot missing from official COVID-19 data.

Our current favorite Twitter account: @NoContextCuomo, whose anonymous author is posting screenshots from the Governor’s daily briefings. They’re hilarious, but they’re also oddly soothing. Each one is sort of a PowerPoint koan.

Announced by New York State on Wednesday:

  • Cuomo will issue an executive order requiring everyone in New York State to wear a mask, scarf, or other face covering in all public spaces. “If you’re going to be in public, and you cannot maintain social distancing, then have a mask and put the mask on when you’re not in socially distant places,” he said. Masks in public settings offer some protection to the wearer, but also protect others from any virus the mask-wearer might be breathing out. “You don’t have a right to infect me,” Cuomo said.
  • Statewide, demand on the hospital system has stabilized, Cuomo said. Downstate hospitals are coping with a huge wave of COVID-19 patients, but the wave has not exceeded available hospital bed capacity in the state. “The fears of overwhelming the healthcare system has not happened, thanks to the phenomenal front line workers.”
  • Current hospitalizations in the state are slightly down for the second day in a row. The three-day rolling average for the net change in hospitalizations went negative for the first time on Wednesday; Cuomo says it’s a good sign. “I wouldn’t bet the farm on any one day’s number, but a three-day average starts to be a little more accurate.”
  • New York State will soon begin reporting numbers on probable cases among people who died before they could be tested, under a directive from the CDC. New York City recently began releasing probable COVID-19 deaths along with data on confirmed cases. “We’re going to rationalize those new reporting requirements with local governments and get that information out as soon as we can,” Cuomo said.
  • In Wednesday’s briefing, Cuomo described a “blueprint” for reopening the economy in which every type of business is evaluated on two factors: how essential it is, and how well the business can adapt to low-risk working conditions. The most essential and safest workplaces would be given highest priority to reopen.
  • Reopening the economy will also depend heavily on having widespread testing available in the state, Cuomo said. To date, the state has done about 500,000 tests for active coronavirus infection. New York has also developed an antibody test to screen people for having had COVID-19 and recovered, and is beginning to roll those tests out, starting with frontline workers, with a target of 2,000 people a day. But in a state with 19 million people, even New York’s ramped-up testing infrastructure is inadequate to ensure that new cases can be found and stamped out quickly in a more open economy. “We cannot do it without federal support,” Cuomo said.
  • Early on in the outbreak, Cuomo promised to help other states once the apex had passed in New York. With hospitalization numbers in the state stabilizing, the governor is beginning to make good on his word, and is sending 100 ventilators to Michigan and 50 to Maryland.
  • In addition to the order requiring people to wear masks in all public settings, Cuomo will sign two more executive orders: one requiring nursing homes to inform residents’ family members of COVID-19 cases in their facilities, and one allowing any workers assisting with the response to stay in a New York State hotel for more than 28 days without becoming a tenant.

ROCKLAND COUNTY
8,474 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page

The county announced on its Facebook page on Wednesday that Rockland Lake, Nyack Beach, and Hook Mountain State Park are all closed until further notice. The closures come after Rockland County executive Ed Day requested Governor Cuomo close all state parks in Rockland on Tuesday.

Seven of Rockland County’s 25 zip codes have infection rates above two percent, and all but two of the county’s zip codes have rates above one percent: Sloatsburg and Bear Mountain State Park, which has its own zip code. The location with the highest rate of confirmed cases was West Haverstraw, where one out of every 34 residents have tested positive, LoHud.com reports.

WESTCHESTER COUNTY
20,947 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page
County press release page

County executive George Latimer has announced a new initiative, “Westchester Forward, Phase 1,” which is intended to reduce spending in the county’s 2020 County Budget by $21 million to account for the pandemic’s economic impact. “Depending on factors beyond our control, we may lose between $90 million to $160 million in revenue, a huge impact to our $2.1 billion budget,” Latimer said. “Even the smaller estimate will be devastating; the larger loss estimate will be beyond catastrophic. The plan reallocates $10 million set aside for the county’s reserve fund to the deficit. Other measures of the plan will be to bond an estimated $6 million to $8 million for tax certiorari payments and to borrow an estimated $5 million in pension costs.

A bar in Harrison had its liquor license suspended by the state liquor authority after police officers reported they found 15 people imbibing at the establishment, which had its interior lights dimmed to avoid detection. The liquor authority charged Uncle Henry’s Bar and Grill with two violations for failure to comply with the governor’s executive order.

Of the 640 deaths from COVID-19 reported by the county, between 35 and 40 percent have been in nursing homes, Latimer said during his virtual town hall Wednesday..

ORANGE COUNTY
5,716 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page
Orange County Department of Health: (845) 291-2330

Former state Senate majority leader Dean Skelos has tested positive for the coronavirus, and will be released from prison for home confinement. The 72-year-old Skelos has been symptom-free since April 8, the Associated Press reports. No word on whether other elderly inmates with COVID-19 at Otisville, or elsewhere in the state prison system, will also be allowed compassionate release.

DUTCHESS COUNTY
2,048 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page
Dutchess County COVID-19 hotline: (845) 486-3555
Dutchess County 24/7 mental health helpline: (845) 485-9700

Half of the businesses in the county estimate they will lose between 75 and 100 percent of their revenue while measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 are in place, according to county executive Marc Molinaro, who spoke during a remote Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting. The county’s sales tax revenue, which accounts for 41 percent of its budget, is expected to be cut in half.

In Poughkeepsie, city administrator Marc Nelson released data estimating a $5.5 million budget shortfall, a major challenge for a city with no fund balance. Mayor Rob Rolison has told department heads to cut 15 percent from their budgets, and the city froze hiring early on in the crisis. The revenue shortfall comes from a reduction of the number of building permits, less parking and traffic fines, a loss of parking meter revenue, and a plunge in sales tax revenue.

The field hospital at Dutchess County Community College will not be activated this week because existing local hospitals will be able to handle the number of patients, according to the county. Dubbed “The Recovery Center,” the 176-room dorm can take patients with three days’ warning; local hospital capacity is analyzed daily to ascertain if the center will need to open. The center will be staffed by 50 Dutchess County Medical Reserve Corps volunteers, who will treat recovering or less severe COVID-19 patients who do not need critical medical care. Molinaro thanked the volunteers and toured the facility in a video posted on YouTube.

PUTNAM COUNTY
571 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page

County executive MaryEllen Odell defended her response to COVID-19 in a letter to the editor in the Highlands Current on Wednesday, responding to a cantankerous letter by Philipstown supervisor Richard Shea eviscerating Odell for her leadership during the crisis. Odell said she and her staff were “laser-focused” on protecting residents. She mentioned the county health department’s mobile testing site as evidence of her competency, though it seldom has enough tests to operate for more than one day at a time. Odell also cited her request to the legislature for money for personal protective equipment and the county’s work with food donors.

SULLIVAN COUNTY
424 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page

Legislature chairman Robert Doherty announced Wednesday that legislature vice chair Mike Brooks, county manager Josh Potosek, and public health director Nancy McGraw will answer questions during another Facebook Q&A session on Thursday, April 16, at 1pm. A video from chief medical officer Dr. Bruce Ellsweig on the topic of COVID-19 testing will be shown during the Q&A session.

The Sullivan County legislature will hold an executive committee meeting followed by its regular monthly meeting on Thursday, April 16 at 9am. Since the Government Center is closed to the public, the meetings will be broadcast via livestream.

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

Longtime readers of The River’s coronavirus newsletter may remember Carol and Ed Lundergan of New Paltz. The couple were among the first confirmed cases in Ulster County, battling COVID-19 starting in mid-March. But they’d been feeling better for over a week, so they went to donate blood to help other patients fight off the virus—where, to their surprise, they tested positive again. “To think that this virus is still prevalent enough in our bodies to present another positive result is very troubling, humbling and, honestly, scary,” Carol Lundergan told Hudson Valley One. The Lundergans aren’t alone: on Monday, South Korea announced that 116 patients who appeared to be cleared of a COVID-19 infection had tested positive again. China and Japan have also reported second positives. So what’s going on? One explanation is that people are getting reinfected, but Quartz talked to molecular biologists and immunologists who suspect testing issues and/or “virus litter”—inactive debris of viral cells—are a more likely explanation than a full-blown reinfection.

Federal stimulus funding needs to be made available to smaller counties, Ulster County executive Pat Ryan argued, in an op-ed that ran in the Albany Times Union this week. The CARES Act, last month’s federal coronavirus stimulus bill, only made assistance available to governments in municipalities over 500,000 in population, Ryan writes—a cutoff only Westchester County, in The River’s 11-county Hudson Valley and Catskills coverage zone, would clear.

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

An eleventh person has died from COVID-19 in the county, which is now confirming 100 cases, though 42 of those people have recovered.r

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

There were no major updates out of Delaware County today. To read yesterday’s news, click here.

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

The county received a donation of 25 COVID-19 test kits from Ulster County after it ran out over the weekend while trying to get a handle on the outbreak at The Pines at Catskill Center Nursing and Rehabilitation, where 17 residents and nine staff members tested positive for COVID-19 last week.

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

The town of Cobleskill is feeling the financial pinch, and considering furloughing two or three employees until the pandemic “blows over,” the Times-Journal reports. “This is going to be very interesting in 2021 when we have to put together that budget,” said town supervisor Leo McAllister.

The Middleburgh Library is collecting memoirs, creative works, and other contributions from the public that “articulate the challenges faced by our community, and how we are overcoming them, in this unprecedented time.” Submissions can be emailed to mid@mvls.info, or mailed to the Middleburgh Library, 323 Main Street, P.O. Box 670, Middleburgh, NY 12122.

OF INTEREST?

The River has a guide on where, how, and when to get tested for the coronavirus in each county in the Hudson Valley and Catskills. You can read it here.

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