COVID-19 Update – The Path to Reopening

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 Monday, April 27.

This is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties published on Sunday, April 26. Produced in collaboration with The Other Hudson Valley.

NEW YORK STATE
288,045 cases confirmed (5,902 new)
805,350 tests performed (27,782 new)
16,966 deaths (367 new)
57,103 hospitalizations (overall)
12,819 hospitalizations (current)
5,016 ICU admissions
Confirmed cases per 10,000 residents: 148
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065

In Sunday’s daily briefing, Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled details about how the reopening of New York’s economy could begin upstate, using the regions already defined by the Regional Economic Development Council that break up the state into 10 separate areas. Cuomo described a phased reopening: Phase One will be limited to construction and manufacturing activities that pose a low risk. Phase Two will involve difficult decisions by businesses and officials. Business managers will need to analyze their workplaces and come up with safer plans and protocols to reduce risk, Cuomo said.

Cuomo also said that the state wants to avoid driving increased traffic to newly opened areas, a goal that will have to be coordinated with New York’s bordering states. “One caveat is you can’t do anything in any region that would increase the number of visitors to that region,” he said.

The governor said that any regional loosening of economic restrictions would have to be closely monitored to see if hospitalization and infection rates, among other public-health measures, worsened. “We’re going to leave two weeks between phases so we can monitor the effect of what we just did. Take an action, monitor. Two weeks, that’s according to the experts the incubation period of the virus, so you can actually see if you had an effect where you increased the rate of infection, which you would then see in hospitalizations, testing, et cetera,” Cuomo said.

Not all antibody tests are created equal, and most of them are pretty bad. That’s the conclusion a team of more than 50 scientists has drawn from ongoing research on the accuracy, sensitivity, and specificity of antibody tests. In evaluating 14 tests, the researchers found only one that never delivered a single false positive, and even the best-performing tests often did not detect antibodies in people who had been infected. False positives are particularly worrisome for antibody tests, both because they can badly overestimate the incidence of the disease in the population and because they can give people a false sense of security about immunity that they do not actually possess.

After a bizarre Thursday evening briefing in which President Donald Trump suggested that people should inject themselves with disinfectants to fight off coronavirus, calls to New York City Poison Control for exposure to household chemicals spiked. Local public health departments are being criticized on Facebook for telling people not to ingest or inject disinfectants, which apparently in this day and age is a political statement.

Cuomo blasted Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell again Friday for opposing funding to states, for calling proposed state pandemic funding a “blue-state bailout,” and for his comments that states struggling to make budgetary ends meet should declare bankruptcy. “You’re not bailing out New York, New York has bailed you out every year,” Cuomo said. “Mitch McConnell is a taker, not a giver. New York is a state of givers. We put more money into the federal pot every year. We’re the number one state in donating to the federal pot. Number one. Kentucky is the number three state in taking from the federal pot. They take out more from the federal pot than they put in. Every year.”

The peak of the first wave of COVID-19 infections is passing, but with restrictions beginning to loosen nationwide, and New York State contemplating a phased reopening of the economy, the next wave will come. Are we ready for it? One industry that is trying to prepare: The business of death, according to a report on how crematoriums are coping by CHNI reporter Joe Mahoney. There is a “growing backlog” of corpses waiting to be processed at downstate crematoriums, Mahoney reports, and an industry association is working with the state on plans for transferring bodies to less-busy upstate facilities. “One very significant concern we have is what happens if there is a second wave from this pandemic, with a loss of life that is as great or even more than what has happened in the first wave?” asked David Fleming, legislative director for the New York State Association of Cemeteries.

Announced by New York State on Friday and over the weekend:

ROCKLAND COUNTY
11,256 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page

The county Health Department has issued 13 violations for social distancing and operating nonessential businesses since March. All were issued in Ramapo, and the majority were issued for Orthodox Jewish gatherings, including funerals and weddings. Four synagogues were issued violations. Yossi Gestetner, founder of the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council, posted a video on social media directed at county executive Ed Day after a residence was cited for allowing 12 people to gather to mourn a COVID-19 victim. The widow had been fined $2,000, Gestetner said. “From a legal and moral perspective it is insane to fine this.” All violations are from citizen complaints. About 62 percent of the complaints were for goings-on in Ramapo.

Advocates and local leaders are advocating for free, walkup testing sites in Haverstraw and Spring Valley, arguing clinics in low-income minority communities should be a priority. “Since the governor has said they are trying to get into black and brown communities where the virus is prevalent, that’s us,” Haverstraw village Mayor Michael Kohut said. Haverstraw has the highest concentration of cases in the county, according to its COVID-19 dashboard.

Volunteers from Rockland Community Against Hunger, the United Way of Rockland County, and other local organizations distributed thousands of pounds of food to a dozen food pantries and feeding programs throughout Rockland. The volunteers were joined by Day, who helped load food. Collectively, these pantries serve over 30,000 meals per month.

WESTCHESTER COUNTY
27,664 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page
County press release page

Four people have died of COVID-19 at a Catholic missionary community in Ossining. Eight other priests are suspected to have died of the coronavirus, but were not able to receive tests, according to Bob Ambrose, a leader in the Maryknoll community. “We can no longer gather as a group, even a small group, together to pray together,” Sister Antoinette Gutzler, the president of Maryknoll Sisters, said. “With the sisters, you know, who have died…it’s like they’re in isolation. We can’t be at their bedside and pray for them.”

Westchester County executive George Latimer, along with representatives from Westchester Medical Center and White Plains Hospital, received a donation of PPE for Westchester County’s frontline workers from the American Chinese United Care Alliance. The donation included protective gowns, masks, and gloves, along with a monetary donation to the two hospitals to aid in their fight against COVID-19.

ORANGE COUNTY
8,106 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page
Orange County Department of Health: (845) 291-2330

The Newburgh Enlarged City School district—the Mid-Hudson Valley’s largest, with more than 11,000 students—would be financially “crippled” by threatened state aid cuts, since more than half of its budget comes from this source, superintendent Roberto Padilla said. The district has proposed cuts to its budget in anticipation, including cutting staff through attrition, but if Governor Cuomo’s proposed 20 percent reduction happens, cuts would have to be far deeper. Cuomo cited the 20 percent figure when discussing what would happen if the federal government did not provide funding to states as part of the next coronavirus stimulus. Superintendents interviewed by the Times Herald-Record said this was a worst-case scenario.

Progress on bringing the Heritage Trail northwest to the city of Middletown has been delayed by the pandemic. Orange County and Middletown had hoped to open the East Main Street connection to the walking and biking trail that currently stretches from Harriman to Goshen by Labor Day, but now expect the project to reach completion by the end of the year.

State Senator James Skoufis is ill with the coronavirus, his spokeswoman announced Friday. He began feeling symptoms Tuesday night and received positive test results Friday. He has been isolating at his home, where his symptoms have worsened.

DUTCHESS COUNTY
2,729 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page
Dutchess County COVID-19 hotline: (845) 486-3555
Dutchess County 24/7 mental health helpline: (845) 485-9700

The Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases out of all the state’s prisons, leading to calls for early releases and greater protections to prevent a major outbreak. As of Wednesday, the state Department of Correction and Community Supervision reported 61 cases of the coronavirus among inmates at the facility, just about four percent of the prison’s 1,500 prisoners.

Is the pandemic driving a spike in overdoses? Oneida County issued an alert on April 7 for a sudden uptick in numbers—20 overdoses, including two fatalities in 14 days. It then issued a second alert last Sunday with 15 overdoses, five of them fatal, within only seven days. In Dutchess, the number of overdoses has remained steady, while the number of overdose deaths has climbed in recent weeks, the Poughkeepsie Journal reports. With tensions high, resources stretched thin, routines disrupted, new ways of providing services introduced, and some people without access to prevention tools, it’s easy to see how the pandemic could exacerbate the existing drug epidemic, local professionals said. “It’s important for people to remember we were already dealing with an epidemic level of substance abuse and overdose…we’ve dropped a pandemic on top of that,” said Jeremy Klemanski, president and CEO of the Syracuse-based Helio Health, which runs a few treatment programs in Oneida County.

Pulse-MD Urgent Care in Poughkeepsie announced it will begin offering COVID-19 antibody testing starting Monday, April 27. Those interested must schedule a virtual visit prior to being tested on Pulse-MD’s website. Only those who have had no exposure to COVID-19 in the past 14 days, have had no symptoms for 14 days, and are currently asymptomatic will qualify for antibody testing.

State Senator Sue Serino and county executive Marc Molinaro announced plans on Friday for a donation drive to support those caring for the children of first responders, healthcare providers, and essential workers as part of an expansion of the county’s ongoing “Dutchess Responds” initiative. Donated items such as paper towels, disinfecting wipes, and masks will be delivered to area childcare providers during the pandemic. The county government has been assisting local childcare providers with emergency supply needs through its Central Services Division; however, there continues to be a need for these and other supplies at local centers.

PUTNAM COUNTY
904 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page

The county Department of Health is planning a drive-thru diagnostic testing clinic this Tuesday, April 28 from 11am to 1:30pm. Those interested must be Putnam County residents with COVID-19 symptoms and complete a pre-screening survey. Healthcare workers will be prioritized.

Philipstown supervisor Richard Shea continued his online feud with county executive MaryEllen Odell via the Highlands Current letters section. The latest letter, published Saturday, lists complaints of county leadership amid the ongoing pandemic, most notably the lack of supplies and assistance given to towns from Odell. “It has been left to the towns to come up with plans and disseminate the information and supplies,” Shea writes. “To date, Philipstown has not received a single item from Putnam County.” Shea also mentioned a lack of information sharing between county officials, who he claims are not relaying important information to individual towns. “I got more information in a 10-minute phone call with Nuvance Health than I did in three weeks of attending these morning calls. The commissioner of health, Dr. Michael Nesheiwat, didn’t even know that there was a testing site at Dutchess Stadium. He should be fired tomorrow.”

SULLIVAN COUNTY
724 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page

There were no major updates out of Sullivan County over the weekend. To read Thursday’s news, click here.

ULSTER COUNTY
1,190 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page
Community resources page
Ulster County COVID-19 hotline: (845) 443-8888

Officials clarified that an appointment is required for the COVID-19 testing site in midtown Kingston, which is set to open Monday. During a coronavirus briefing Thursday, Ulster County executive Pat Ryan suggested that an appointment was not necessary. Ryan and Kingston mayor Steve Noble said over the weekend that while a doctor’s order was not needed, people still needed to call the site at (845) 303 2730 before going there.

The county’s Democratic state representatives reacted with caution to last week’s demand by GOP state senators that Governor Cuomo release data about which regions of New York meet the federal standards for reopening. Republican senators are mostly from upstate New York, where the coronavirus has caused less chaos, and their districts would be more likely to meet the standards. Senators James Skoufis and Jen Metzger supported a phased reopening, but said it had to be gradual and based on data. Assemblyman Kevin Cahill was more cautious still, saying that while less-populated areas had been less impacted, this may only mean the full brunt of the virus has not reached them. “Decisions surrounding what and where to ease precautions should be determined by medical experts and not as a response to demonstrations,” he said.

Hudson Valley One published an interview with Alanna Badgley, a 28-year-old former New Paltz Rescue Squad EMT whose portrait was featured on the cover of the April 9 Time magazine. A journalist rode along with her for a day as she tended to coronavirus victims as a paramedic in New Rochelle.

Visitors to the Walkway Over the Hudson, which stretches over the Hudson River from Ulster County to Poughkeepsie, are being asked to wear masks. “Even if a patron is making every reasonable attempt to remain six feet apart, others may not be so careful. By wearing a face covering, guests protect both themselves and their fellow park users, and their responsible actions will help keep the Walkway open and accessible for all to enjoy at this time,” a statement on the park’s website noted.

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

The county is considering setting up a COVID-19 testing site with a tentative opening in early May using two shipments of tests, each with a thousand kits, it has ordered from commercial vendors. The first was ordered two weeks ago from Italy and has been held up in customs, according to county health department director Jack Mabb. The second was ordered while the first was held up. Mabb said during a City of Hudson virtual town hall Friday that both shipments are expected to arrive this week. The county has been working with smaller batches of tests sent by the state or sending residents elsewhere; the 1,049 county residents who had been tested as of Friday went to 30 different testing sites, according to Mabb. Calls to a Health Department spokeswoman looking for details on the potential test site were not immediately returned.

County Board of Supervisors chairman Matt Murell announced Saturday that the county would seek permission from the state to close all summer camps. The county is seeking an emergency order, but all emergency orders must be okayed by the New York State Department of Health before taking effect. The NYSDOH has rejected local other emergency orders during the pandemic, including one by the town of Fallsburg that sought to suspend certificate of occupancy for all bungalow colonies and camps.

Following a trend around the Hudson Valley, the City of Hudson has seen a decrease in crime since stay-at-home orders were issued—with a disturbing, if not unexpected, caveat. Hudson police have seen a 15 percent drop in calls since the week the orders were issued, with a 15 percent drop in arrests, according to chief Ed Moore. However, there has been a 10 percent increase in calls for domestic disputes.

Art Omi hit back at a Register-Star article claiming social distancing was not being followed at the 300-acre Ghent sculpture park. In a subsequent article, executive director Ruth Adams said Art Omi was doing everything it could to encourage social distancing, including posting signs, but it was almost unneeded, as visitors were being diligent about maintaining their distance. To defend itself against assumptions the park was being flooded by downstaters, Art Omi emailed us the results of a survey about the makeup of the park’s fanbase. Ninety-three percent of respondents reported they were from Columbia County or adjacent counties. Only one percent reported being from New York City.

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

Delaware County Emergency Services has received a supply of cloth face masks and is distributing them to towns to give to the general public, according to a post on the Delaware County Government Facebook page. So far, mask giveaways have been announced in Bovina, Davenport, Delhi, Hancock, and Meredith.

As of Saturday, according to a county press release, there are now twice as many recovered cases in the county (36) as people either hospitalized (two) or recovering at home (16).

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

The county updated its number of confirmed positive cases to 118 on Sunday, 45 of which are currently active.

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

Like other small towns in Schoharie County, Cobleskill hasn’t seen a lot of COVID-19 cases. But is it in danger of losing its soul to COVID-19? Times Union columnist Chris Churchill takes a glance at the town’s empty Main Street and the full Wal-Mart parking lot, and ponders the question. “The pandemic is favoring the big over the small—and the online over the local. It’s threatening to exacerbate trends toward consolidation and, well, bigness that have been underway for decades now,” Churchill writes. “I fear the pandemic could leave Cobleskill and towns like it with less of what gives them character. Cobleskill may keep the places you find anywhere but lose the places you find nowhere else.”

The Mountain Eagle’s Week in Review Sunday podcast is out, with a roundup of news from around Schoharie County and the state.

OF INTEREST?

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 Other Hudson Valley and The River 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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