COVID-19 Update – ‘Tracing Army’ Planned, Hudson Highlands Largely Shut

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 23.

NEW YORK STATE
257,216 cases confirmed (5,526 new)
669,982 tests performed (20,657 new)
15,302 deaths (474 new)
57,103 hospitalizations (overall)
15,599 hospitalizations (current)
5,016 ICU admissions
Confirmed cases per 10,000 residents: 132
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065

With just 225 New York State contact tracers and another few hundred employed by New York City and surrounding counties, the work of tracking down COVID-19 contacts has been swamped by the number of cases in outbreak hot zones. The disease detectives are about to get a bunch of new recruits: New York State is building an “army” of contact tracers, at a scale never before attempted in the US, with help from former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg and in coordination with neighboring New Jersey and Connecticut. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the new program Wednesday. “There has never been a contact tracing program implemented at this scale either in New York or anywhere in the United States. The program will launch immediately,” a release stated.

The National Governors Association, chaired by Maryland Republican Larry Hogan and vice-chaired by our own Andrew Cuomo, has issued a report describing a road map for safely reopening the economy. Spoiler: We’re not ready for it, even if a few Southern states have decided to charge ahead.

The FDA issued its first approval for an at-home test for COVID-19 on Tuesday. The test, from a company called LabCorp, is designed to be self-administered and mailed to a lab; the company says it will cost $119, and it will give priority to healthcare workers and first responders.

The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision released data on infections in state prisons on Tuesday. A list posted on the department’s website shows positive cases, numbers of deceased and recovered, and pending and negative tests among inmates at each facility. As of Wednesday, DOCCS reported that 844 staff members as well as 239 inmates had tested positive, but is not revealing the facilities where infected staffers work “for security reasons.” It is unclear what criteria are being used to decide whether an inmate gets tested, and the higher number of positives among staff members may reflect greater access to testing.

Late on Tuesday evening, the US Senate passed another $484 billion emergency stimulus bill, primarily to help small businesses. A majority of the funds—$310 billion—will replenish the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, which ran out of money last week. The bill also provides $75 billion for hospitals and healthcare providers to address pandemic expenses and lost revenue, and $25 billion to facilitate and expand testing. The House is expected to vote on it Thursday.

An agreement has been reached in Congress that will allow farmers to apply for emergency loans and grants from the Small Business Association, Congressman Antonio Delgado announced Wednesday evening. Previously, the SBA had issued guidance on the CARES act that indicated farmers could participate in the Paycheck Protection Program, but not the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. Delgado applauded the inclusion of farmers in the upcoming legislation, as well as more funding for small businesses, hospitals, and increased testing, but took a gentle potshot at the lack of funding for local government: “There is more work ahead, including funding for state and local governments, particularly for counties and municipalities in rural areas like NY-19.” Delgado is hosting a telephone town hall at 4:30pm on Friday, April 24.

Are Sean Hannity viewers more likely to spread coronavirus? Incredibly, there’s a study on that: A team of economists compared areas where Hannity’s show was popular among Fox News viewers to areas where Fox-watchers preferred Tucker Carlson, and found that the more Hannity-watching areas had higher local rates of infection and death than the more Carlson-watching ones. Vox wrote about it at length, checking with a researcher in the field to give it a sniff test. “It’s a good paper; they took pains to control for many alternative explanations,” Zeynep Tufecki, a professor at the University of North Carolina who studies technology and research methods, said. “This really looks like a causal effect of misinformation [leading] to deaths.”

Announced by the NYC Department of Environmental Protection last week: Opening day for recreational boating on several New York City-owned reservoirs, typically May 1, has been postponed to at least Memorial Day weekend, possibly longer.

Announced by New York State on Wednesday:

  • In addition to the contact tracing program, New York State is seeking to double the amount of daily diagnostic tests for COVID-19, from around 20,000 to around 40,000, which Cuomo said Wednesday is about the maximum capacity of all the laboratory machines in the state.
  • Cuomo said that President Donald Trump has agreed to waive the usual 25 percent state cost sharing for FEMA responding to the disaster. “That’s a very big deal. That’s hundreds of millions of the dollars to the State of New York,” he said.
  • The New York State Department of Financial Services will direct health insurers to pay outstanding hospital claims immediately and work with the neediest hospitals on additional financial assistance. DFS will also suspend preauthorization requirements for all hospital services, and prohibit retrospective review of hospital claims.
  • In Wednesday’s briefing, Cuomo said he’s getting a lot of pressure from local officials to open the economy back up, especially upstate; a few of them were featured in a Press-Republican story on Wednesday, including Schoharie assemblyman Chris Tague. Cuomo said again that he’s considering taking a regional approach within New York State to reopening the economy, but he doesn’t want to cave to political pressure. “I get the pressure, but we can’t make a bad decision. Frankly, this is no time to act stupidly, period,” Cuomo said. “I’m not going to have the obituary of this period be, ‘Well, they felt political pressure, so they got nervous and they acted imprudently.’ That’s not who we are.” Cuomo encouraged local officials under pressure from their own constituents to blame him.
  • Cuomo hasn’t made a firm decision yet about whether to cancel school for the rest of the academic year, a stance that’s frustrating some school officials and local governments.
  • A small crew of protestors took to the streets of Albany on Wednesday to demand that New York open up again. Cuomo told them to get a job. “You want to go to work? Go take a job as an essential worker. Do it tomorrow,” he said, in response to a reporter’s question about what he would say to people who are running out of money. “How can the cure be worse than the illness if the illness is potential death?”

ROCKLAND COUNTY
9,699 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page

Monsey shoe wholesaler Chaim Lebovitz is leading a massive Orthodox plasma donation effort inspired by Johns Hopkins associate professor Shmuel Shoham, who told Lebovitz that the hard-hit Orthodox community could be a good source for plasma. “I had no idea that he would drop everything and completely immerse himself in this and do something that to me is so lifesaving, and is giving his community members a chance to do something, now that they have this power in their body to make a difference,” Shoham told the Forward. So far, Lebovits said, more than 3,000 people have donated plasma at blood banks around the region, and 6,000 more were being tested on Wednesday to see if they have the right antibodies. Lebovits said that he hopes to organize more than 45,000 people from the Orthodox community around New York City to donate plasma. Dr. David Reich, president and chief operating officer of the Mount Sinai hospital system, said that more than half of the donors to their plasma collection efforts have been Orthodox.

Some Rockland residents are wondering why the county, which has been one of the hardest hit by coronavirus, is not included in a new task force formed by Governor Cuomo to get New York ready to reopen in the coming weeks. Cuomo announced the Reimagine New York task force, which includes New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and county executives from Long Island and Westchester, on Monday. Rockland County executive Ed Day isn’t taking the exclusion to heart, though. “Whatever I can do to help the state, I will do that. I won’t be mired into petty little concerns as to who’s playing what position on the field,” said Day.

WESTCHESTER COUNTY
25,276 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page
County press release page

The Associated Press was granted access to the emergency room at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Yonkers. The hospital, which sits near the Bronx border and serves one of the poorest sections of Westchester County’s largest city, has been overwhelmed by the coronavirus. “It’s been a nightmare. We have a volume of sick people like you can’t believe. In one shift, I pronounced six people dead,” said Anthony Leno, the hospital’s director for emergency medicine. Officials at the hospital knew the pandemic was going to crush them, since COVID-19 has proved particularly punishing for the largely minority population that makes up a significant portion of southwest Yonkers. At Saint Joseph’s, coronavirus-related symptoms accounted for more than 85 percent of all admissions between March 20 and April 19.

ORANGE COUNTY
6,690 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page
Orange County Department of Health: (845) 291-2330

County executive Steve Neuhaus and Office for the Aging director AnnMarie Maglione accepted 10,000 pounds of food from Milmar Food Group on Wednesday to benefit the county’s Senior Meals Program.

DUTCHESS COUNTY
2,391 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page
Dutchess County COVID-19 hotline: (845) 486-3555
Dutchess County 24/7 mental health helpline: (845) 485-9700

County leaders and business owners took umbrage at being grouped together with counties farther downstate in Governor Cuomo’s regional reopening approach, arguing they should not be put with counties that have been hit harder by COVID-19. The groupings are the same as the Regional Economic Development Councils, which count Dutchess to be part of the Mid-Hudson Region, along with Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Ulster, Sullivan, and Orange counties. Cuomo will arguably start reopening less-impacted regions first, leaving Dutchess toward the end, as it is dragged down by its more highly infected southern neighbors.

PUTNAM COUNTY
611 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page

The state has closed a large chunk of the Hudson Highlands due to coronavirus concerns. All trails leading to Breakneck Ridge and Bull Hill are closed. Hikers were unable to practice social distancing on the trails, nor on the narrow roads leading to them, according to a statement from state parks.

SULLIVAN COUNTY
561 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page

Legislature chairman Robert Doherty announced Wednesday another Facebook Live Q&A session for Thursday, April 23 at 1pm. Among those answering county residents’ questions will be Legislature vice chair Mike Brooks, county manager Josh Potosek, Public Health director Nancy McGraw, RISE program manager Debbie O’Malley, and Fearless! executive director Kellyann Kostyal-Larrier.

COVID-19 testing is now available at Middletown Medical’s location at 653 Harris Road in Ferndale. Those wishing to be tested must get an appointment through their physician. Appointments are on Tuesday and Fridays, 9am to 3pm.

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

Ulster County Community College has instituted a hiring freeze to prepare for the economic fallout from the coronavirus. The college enrollment is expected to drop 10 percent next semester, according to college president Alan Roberts. Such a drop would decrease both revenue from tuition and matching funding from the state; the state is also expected to cut overall funding. There are no current plans to cut classes, Roberts said. The county legislature votes on the college’s budget in June.

With eight days until Kingston’s biannual property tax deadline, the city has still not heard back from the Governor’s Office about whether the date can be pushed back. Mayor Steve Noble said he contacted the office April 3 to request the deadline be moved from April 30 to May 21.

The county legislature is putting off approving contracts because of concerns over Ulster’s predicted $34 million budget shortfall. Contracts with 15 different nonprofits and companies have already been budgeted for, but the approval of four contracts was pushed back by legislative committees over the last two weeks, including a contract with the Ulster Performing Arts Center.

A “COVID-19 Tenant Protection Unit” is being launched by the county to assure tenants are not evicted during the state’s ban on the practice. Governor Cuomo banned evictions for 90 days as part of a March 20 executive order. The unit will draw its ranks from the Public Defender’s Office, which will investigate any evictions and act as advocates for the tenants. Though Cuomo has said his 90-day moratorium took care of the rent issue, advocates and state legislators are saying it will simply lead to mass evictions at its terminus without additional protections. Ulster County executive Pat Ryan called for a rent freeze earlier this month after landlords took advantage of the pandemic to jack up rents. To make a complaint to the unit, call (845) 303-5503 or visit the Ulster County COVID-19 Virtual Center online.

Albany Medical Center released a statement Wednesday stating new information suggests many coronavirus patients who have recovered from the virus could still test positive. “We have found that in people who had COVID-19 infection whose symptoms completely resolved 14-27 days prior, approximately 70 percent will be COVID-19 positive on a repeat nasopharyngeal swab. It is suspected that the nasopharyngeal swab is picking up dead virus and that these individuals may not be contagious with active COVID-19. However, since we still know so little about COVID-19, we cannot be sure that this is the case,” the statement said. The statement comes in response to reports last week of a New Paltz county couple testing positive for the virus while trying to donate blood plasma for antibody treatment in COVID-19 patients, even after waiting until their mandatory quarantine was lifted and they were 72-hours symptom free. This new information has caused some patients to be turned away from plasma donation sites.

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

Twelve residents of the Pine Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Philmont have now died of COVID-19, amounting to 10 percent of its pre-coronavirus population. The Other Hudson Valley looks into one of the deaths, a restaurateur and sailor who entered the facility for physical rehabilitation, but caught the virus and died a month and a half after arriving.

Overdoses in the county during the pandemic are dramatically higher than the same period last year. There have been 19 recorded overdoses and one fatality since March 1, compared to three overdoses and one fatality last year. Greener Pathways Program Director Carl Quinn blamed the spike on people with addictions going to new dealers because of disrupted supply chains and a lack of in-person recovery meetings. The county Department of Health also blamed the pandemic and related shutdown: “This incredible reduction in physical contact that is saving the public’s health is also putting those in active addiction and those in recovery at risk.”

The 125 employees furloughed by Columbia Memorial Health yesterday are mostly from departments that have seen a sharp decrease in patients, such as physician’s offices, diagnostic testing and the ER, according to The Register Star. Though the hospital has seen increasing numbers of coronavirus patients over the last few weeks, its revenue was cut in half due to less people coming to the hospital—a combination of the state canceling all elective surgeries and people avoiding the hospital due to COVID-19 fears.

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

The Delaware County Board of Supervisors met on Wednesday, April 22 via teleconference. As of Wednesday evening, a recording and transcript had not yet been posted on the county website.

After several days of no new confirmed cases, Delaware County Public Health reported receiving three new case reports on Wednesday, two of which were transferred to other county health departments.

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

State senator George Amedore called on Governor Cuomo to begin reopening the New York economy in counties outside the MTA region (which stretches from Long Island to the Hudson Valley), on May 1, with a goal of having the economy fully reopened when Cuomo’s current New York on PAUSE order expires May 15. Amedore said that while many counties continue to see an increase in the number of positive cases of COVID-19, he believes the governor could begin to deem more businesses “essential,” particularly in the more rural upstate counties where there have not been many cases. “This is a measured approach that would allow more businesses to get up and running sooner while still protecting the public health,” Amedore wrote in a letter to Cuomo dated April 19.

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

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Schoharie County’s public health director, Amy Gildemeister, has declined to release locations of confirmed COVID-19 cases, arguing that in such a rural area, releasing town information would lead to intense community speculation and the public identification of patients’ identities. But at a county board of supervisors’ meeting on Friday, Gildemeister revealed a list of seven communities where confirmed cases have been found, and 19 more where people were under quarantine or isolation. The number of cases (now up to 27) is now high enough, Gildemeister told the supervisors, that revealing some information will not threaten privacy; the Times-Journal reports that Schoharie County Public Health has also been under pressure to release town information from a lawyer representing several local residents.

Cobleskill Regional Hospital, which shut down many of its clinics and patient services in response to the pandemic, is working on plans to begin re-opening to non-COVID-19 patients.

OF INTEREST?

The Other Hudson Valley released a story today memorializing one of the 12 people who died in a single rural nursing home in Columbia County. The virus was brought into the facility March 20 by “Patient Zero” and has since spread throughout, infecting nearly 30 people and killing 10 percent of its pre-coronavirus population.

The River has a guide on where, how, and when to get tested for the coronavirus in the Hudson Valley and Catskills. We also have a regularly updated list of resources on our website. To read more of our daily news roundups, visit our coronavirus page.

The River and The Other Hudson Valley are 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.

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.

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