COVID-19 Update – 14 Percent of NY Has Been Infected, Safety Sought for Nursing Homes

The COVID-19 test site at Mid-Hudson Regional Hospital in Poughkeepsie.

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 Friday, April 24.

NEW YORK STATE
263,460 cases confirmed (6,244 new)
695,920 tests performed (25,938 new)
15,740 deaths (438 new)
57,103 hospitalizations (overall)
15,021 hospitalizations (current)
5,016 ICU admissions
Confirmed cases per 10,000 residents: 135
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065

The New York State Department of Health has wrapped up the first phase of a lightning-strike effort to test random people in grocery stores for coronavirus antibodies, and estimated that 13.9 percent of the state may have had COVID-19 already. The results, announced in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Thursday press briefing, give a little insight into how hard the virus has hit different regions of the state: 21.2 percent of those tested in New York City had antibodies, by far the largest proportion in the study. Among Westchester and Rockland residents tested, 11.7 percent had antibodies; in Long Island, 16.7 percent; and in the rest of the state, 3.6 percent.

If the study truly is a good estimate of the scale of the pandemic, results suggest that there are about 10 times as many actual cases in New York State as there are confirmed cases, a result in line with rough calculations made by prominent epidemiologists. There’s reason not to lean too hard on the state’s preliminary results just yet; there have been questions about the accuracy of antibody tests in general, and some have been found to be wildly inaccurate. New York State health commissioner Howard Zucker vouched for the performance of the state’s test in an interview with The New York Times.

If accurate, the state’s results from the antibody survey also mean that COVID-19 may be less lethal than some previous estimates. “If the infection rate is 13.9 percent, then it changes the theories of what the death rate is if you get infected,” Cuomo said. “Thirteen percent of the population is about 2.7 million people who have been infected. If you look at what we have now as a death total, which is 15,500, that would be about 0.5 percent death rate”—though, as the governor noted, that death toll does not include thousands who died at home and had not been tested for COVID-19.

New York State officials, including both Cuomo and Zucker, have expressed hope that antibody tests can be used to screen people for immunity so they can return to work. There are a lot of scientists who think that’s premature: There’s a lot we still don’t understand about the relationship between antibodies and immunity for SARS-CoV-2, and if it behaves like the coronaviruses that cause the common cold, it might confer only fleeting immunity on those who have been sickened. Vox ran a long explainer Thursday on the current state of knowledge about antibodies and immunity, and how scientists are working fast to understand it better. “Serological testing is unlikely to be a wholesale solution to reopening the economy,” Vox writes. “Scientists are still uncertain about the robustness and duration of immunity that a COVID-19 infection confers, so a positive antibody test at this point doesn’t guarantee that one can safely end social distancing measures.”

The five-month-old daughter of a New York City firefighter has died of COVID-19, ABC News reports. According to state statistics, two children under age nine have died after testing positive for the virus in New York State.

A Cuomo administration policy that requires nursing homes to accept people who have tested positive for COVID-19 has come under fire from state legislators, CNHI’s Joe Mahoney reports. Several members of the New York State Assembly from both sides of the political aisle are calling for the policy’s reversal. Nursing homes are not hospitals and “should not be used as depositories for infected individuals,” wrote assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson (D-Newburgh) in a letter to state health commissioner Zucker.

On the national level, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Michael Bennet of Colorado are pressing for new legislation that would establish a “health force” of hundreds of thousands of public workers. In a press call, Gillibrand compared the program to the Works Progress Administration of the 1930s. “We must take the same kind of bold action now in the face of twin health and economic threats,” she said.

The House of Representatives cleared the $484 billion aid package by an overwhelming bipartisan vote, 388-5, two days after the Senate passed it. As we noted yesterday, the bill provides $310 billion to replenish the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, $75 billion for hospitals and healthcare providers to address pandemic expenses and lost revenue, and $25 billion to facilitate and expand testing. The only Democrat to vote against the bill was NYC representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who criticized the lack of commitment from leadership before and after the vote. The bill now heads to President Trump’s desk. Its passage came on the same day as reports that 4.4 million more Americans filed unemployment claims last week, bringing the five-week total to 26.5 million.

In Thursday’s briefing, Cuomo blasted Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, who recently said in a radio interview that states facing huge budget gaps because of the pandemic should declare bankruptcy. “This is one of the really dumb ideas of all time,” Cuomo said. “States should declare bankruptcy? That’s how you’re going to bring this national economy back, by states declaring bankruptcy? You want to see that market fall through the cellar?”

The governor went on to eviscerate the idea of the Republican-controlled Senate withholding help from the primarily Democratic-leaning states that have been hardest hit by the pandemic. “How ugly a thought—I mean just think of what he’s saying. ‘People died, 15,000 people died in New York, but they were predominantly Democrats, so why should we help them?’” Cuomo said. “This is not the time or the place or the situation to start your divisive politics. It is just not.”

The internet has apparently discovered that Chris Cuomo’s wife, Cristina, who also tested positive for COVID-19 after her husband was struck with it, is really into health woo. Twitter was abuzz Thursday with people sharing a post on her personal wellness blog, The Purist, describing an allegedly anti-coronaviral routine that reads like a parody of Goop-style luxury quackery. “I added 1/2 cup of Clorox to my bathwater to combat the radiation and metals in my system and oxygenate it,” Cristina wrote. She also used a machine called a “body charger”: “It sent electrical frequencies through my body to oxygenate my blood and stimulate the healthy production of blood cells to fortify my immune system.” Unproven home cures for COVID-19 have been running rampant on social media, some more dangerous than others; we’ll just note here that bathing in bleach doesn’t cure coronavirus.

Announced by New York State on Thursday:

  • The state Department of Health and Attorney General’s office are teaming up to investigate nursing homes to make sure they’re following regulations. A new state directive compels nursing homes to “immediately report to DOH the actions they have taken to comply with all DOH and CDC laws, regulations, directives and guidance.” Facilities that fail to comply with state guidance face potential $10,000 fines per violation, or the loss of their operating license.
  • A new initiative was announced Thursday to ramp up testing in African American and Latino communities, where the virus has hit especially hard, by using places of worship as potential testing sites.
  • Expanded testing at NYCHA public housing buildings, which is being conducted in partnership with Ready Responders and was announced on Monday, has begun.
  • New York State will use $30 million in federal CARES Act funds to provide childcare scholarships to essential workers on the front lines. “Essential workers include first responders such as healthcare providers, pharmaceutical staff, law enforcement, firefighters, food delivery workers, grocery store employees, and others who are needed to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic,” a release stated. CARES Act funds will also be used to purchase supplies for childcare facilities that remain open.

ROCKLAND COUNTY
9,828 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page

One interesting result of the state’s antibody testing results: New York City, which has consistently had a much lower infection rate than Rockland and Westchester County in the daily count, had almost double the rate of people testing positive for antibodies. What that means is that people in Rockland and Westchester are more likely to have been tested if they got sick than New York City residents. The antibody study may be pointing toward issues with testing access, and the stark difference in the results highlights just how flawed and limited the data is that’s coming out of diagnostic tests, both in New York State and beyond.

Nice weather made Piermont a social-distancing nightmare Sunday as out-of-towners looking for a place to stretch their legs invaded the small village on bicycles and by car. Residents complained that many visitors weren’t observing social-distancing rules, weren’t wearing masks, and were clogging local roads to epic levels. In response, village officials took emergency steps to limit the number of visitors at a time to the community by imposing new parking rules on a number of lots and streets. “The rationale for restricting parking is to make sure there is unimpeded access for emergency vehicles, and to ensure EMS and fire equipment are not delayed in a medical emergency during a public health crisis,” said Piermont mayor Bruce Tucker.

WESTCHESTER COUNTY
25,959 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page
County press release page

The number of active COVID-19 cases continued to fall Thursday, dipping below 9,000; there had been more than 10,000 cases as recently as Monday. The county’s hospital capacity continues to handle the number of coronavirus patients, though 990 people remained hospitalized.

County executive George Latimer announced that Westchester County Airport will close on Monday to accelerate construction that had been planned for later in the year. Repaving the airport’s 6,500-foot runway was supposed to take four months, with work taking place from midnight to 6am. Once the airport closes on Monday, the work will be done during the day and is expected to take only about a month. A shorter runway used by light aircraft is scheduled to be out of service for a week. The closure means some airplane owners will have to move their aircraft to nearby airports if they want to keep flying.

Latimer and Chief of Fire Training of the Department of Emergency Services (DES), Luci Labriola-Cuffe, took a behind-the-scenes tour of the DES Warehouse Building to show how the county is distributing personal protective equipment to aid its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. DES is responsible for ordering life-sustaining materials for the county and its departments in case of an emergency.

ORANGE COUNTY
6,816 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page
Orange County Department of Health: (845) 291-2330

The Orange County Human Rights Commission and the Newburgh Healthy Black and Latinx Commission will cohost a three-part virtual forum on community resources during COVID-19 on April 28, 29, and May 4 through Zoom. Each session will start at 3:30pm, and Session Two will be presented in Spanish. The forums will offer information about food insecurity, housing rights, financial assistance, domestic-violence services, mental-health needs, health insurance, and community support.

DUTCHESS COUNTY
2,460 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page
Dutchess County COVID-19 hotline: (845) 486-3555
Dutchess County 24/7 mental health helpline: (845) 485-9700

Dutchess County executive Marc Molinaro and State Senator Sue Serino delivered 100 masks to the Child Care Council of Dutchess and Putnam on Thursday. The donated masks were handmade and donated by local businesses and residents around the county.

Serino also introduced legislation today meant to protect nursing home residents in the time of COVID-19. The bill would give facilities more flexibility when deciding to admit people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases, and create a 24/7 hotline so residents can report unsafe conditions, such a lack of facial coverings. The latter is a response to family members not being able to visit nursing homes due to a March 13 state directive. Though the directive helped protect residents from the coronavirus, it left family members in the dark about how their loved ones were doing. Additionally, state ombudsmen—senior citizens who normally visit nursing homes and advocate for residents—are unable to tour facilities during the pandemic. The bill would also give nursing homes greater access to the 100,000 healthcare workers who’ve volunteered during the crisis.

PUTNAM COUNTY
615 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page

Putnam County’s Mental Health Association launched a new online workshop series this week, dubbed Tools2Thrive. The interactive workshop sessions run on Wednesdays, from 10 to 11:30am, and are aimed at “anyone seeking to reduce their own stress while effectively navigating the more challenging relationships in their lives,” said MHA’s Megan Castellano in a county press release. “The unfortunate truth for 2020 is that Mental Health Month will become Mental Health Year,” the release says; it’s only April, but we can’t argue with that.

SULLIVAN COUNTY
580 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page

Sullivan County announced a Special Meeting of the County Legislature on Monday, April 27, 2020 at 10am. The purpose of the meeting, which will be streamed live on the county’s Facebook page, is to correct the list of layoffs per retreat rights and seniority, and address any other business that may come before the Legislature.

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

County executive Pat Ryan announced during today’s Facebook Live COVID-19 update that an Ulster County Recovery Task Force will be created. Its primary goal is to ensure a coordinated and compassionate response to the devastating socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic on county residents. “As we continue to address the day-to-day public-health challenges of COVID-19, we must simultaneously prepare for and respond to the longer-term economic and social ramifications of the pandemic,” Ryan said. The task force will begin its work with a detailed analysis of existing and emerging needs in the community and compare those needs to available resources from the county government. It will then develop new programs and services to fill identified gaps and make sure all residents are served equitably.

The new testing site in midtown Kingston, slated to open Monday, will not require a doctor’s order or an appointment, Ryan announced today. People wishing to be tested should contact (845) 303 2730. The testing site can be accessed by car or on foot.

Kingston mayor Steve Noble will officiate weddings remotely to continue the ceremonies during the coronavirus shutdown. Noble, who has presided over 200 weddings since taking office in January 2017, said life should go on in the community and allowing marriages “would be a bright spot in a difficult time.”

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

Some Ghent residents are questioning why Art Omi’s sculpture park remains open despite the statewide closure of public gathering spaces, but the town says it will not close the private park. The Columbia County Health Department sent employees to the park and determined that social-distancing requirements are being met, Ghent town supervisor David Benvenuto said. Art Omi’s benches and sculptures could be contaminated by visitors, causing the virus to spread in the community, said Lorraine Rizzi, who lives nearby in Ghent. “There is nobody monitoring the park or disinfecting the benches.”

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

The Walton Reporter has a list of local food pantries providing assistance to anyone who needs food in Delaware County, along with hours and contact information. Some food pantries have begun offering home delivery.

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

Arrests are down in the region because of the pandemic, but domestic dispute calls are up, sheriffs in Greene and Columbia counties told the Register-Star. Domestic dispute calls to the Greene County Sheriff’s Office went from five in February to 16 in March, Sheriff Peter Kusminksy told the paper. “What was noticeable was that nine of the 16 were during the week of March 21,” the sheriff said—the first week of New York State on PAUSE.

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

The Schoharie County Board of Supervisors will hold a meeting at 3:00pm via Facebook Live on Friday, April 24.

TAKE NOTE

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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