COVID-19 Update – Presidential Primaries Cancelled, Lower Hudson Valley Sees Improvements

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 Tuesday, April 28.

NEW YORK STATE
291,996 cases confirmed (3,951 new)
826,095 tests performed (20,745 new)
17,303 deaths (337 new)
57,103 hospitalizations (overall)
12,819 hospitalizations (current)
Confirmed cases per 10,000 residents: 150
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065

New York State’s Board of Elections has canceled the state presidential primary election that had been rescheduled for June 23, rousing the ire of Bernie Sanders supporters who hoped to pick up delegates in order to wield influence over the platform at the Democratic National Convention. The Sanders campaign is calling on the Democratic National Committee to overturn the decision, Politico reports. State election commissioners cited pandemic fears in their decision, a stance challenged by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a prominent Sanders supporter, who pointed out on Twitter that other New York State primary elections were still being held on June 23, and called for the decision to be reversed.

Could a vaccine be ready in 2020? Early on in the pandemic, that seemed like a pipe dream—and it still might be. But a research group in Oxford has pulled ahead of the pack of would-be vaccine developers, their progress speeded by safety trials that were conducted last year on similar vaccines, The New York Times reports. The Oxford vaccine is showing promising results in rhesus monkeys, and the team hopes that the first few million doses might be available in September. But even if this effort fails, the paper reports, the results will drive the emerging science of coronavirus vaccination forward.

The results from Phase II of New York State’s antibody study are in, and as of Monday, the study is estimating that roughly 14.9 percent of the state has antibodies to the novel coronavirus. The second round of testing, conducted five days after the first, registered a small increase in the percent of the population found with antibodies overall, although a few regions sampled in Phase II came in with lower percentages than in Phase I. The percentages vary widely among different regions: 24.7 percent in New York City, 15.1 percent in Westchester and Rockland, and 3.2 percent in the rest of the state.

Broken down by Regional Economic Development Council regions, which Governor Andrew Cuomo hopes to use as a guide for economic reopening in the state, the results show a 10.4 percent rate in the Hudson Valley overall, and rates in surrounding upstate regions (Capital Region, Mohawk Valley, and Southern Tier) hovering between two and three percent.

The antibody testing results show a slightly higher rate of infection among men than women—a factor that can’t be attributed to men being more likely to be hospitalized, since the antibody study has been sampling random people at grocery stores. In Monday’s briefing, Cuomo declined to speculate about it. “Men are still more likely to have the virus than women by a couple of points. Whatever that bespeaks, I care not to speculate,” he said.

The differences between the infection rates for men and women are small. Starker gender differences appear in who gets sickest, and who dies from the virus. Overall, in New York State, 59.6 percent of deaths in COVID-19 patients have been men. The New York Times reports that doctors on Long Island are trying a new tactic to save the lives of their sickest patients: treating men and post-menopausal women with estrogen. Another group, in Los Angeles, is investigating the effects of progesterone, acting on the observation that pregnant women tend to have mild courses of the disease even though pregnancy suppresses the immune response. It’s too soon to say whether treating men with sex hormones will help, and some researchers believe it’s not hormones but some other factor that’s ensuring that women survive at a higher rate.

A long read in this week’s New Yorker: “Seattle’s Leaders Let Scientists Take The Lead. New York’s Did Not.” In a story that goes deep on the decision-making surrounding the early days of the pandemic, The New Yorker’s Charles Duhigg debunks the idea that New York State and City acted swiftly and under the direction of public health experts. Duhigg writes: “The city’s epidemiologists were horrified by the comforting messages that de Blasio and Cuomo kept giving. Jeffrey Shaman, a disease modeller at Columbia, said, ‘All you had to do was look at the West Coast, and you knew it was coming for us. That’s why Seattle and San Francisco and Portland were shutting things down.’ But New York ‘dithered instead of telling people to stay home.’” Cuomo may have a national reputation for tough action on coronavirus, but the numbers tell a story: With initial outbreaks emerging roughly around the same time, New York has had a death rate roughly six times that of Washington State.

A new study from the University of Arizona estimates that widespread use of masks by the general public could drive down the New York State death rate by anywhere from 17 to 45 percent, Newsday reports. Even very weak masks help control the spread of the virus, researchers said. “Face mask use should be as nearly universal (i.e., nationwide) as possible and implemented without delay, even if most masks are homemade and of relatively low quality,” they wrote.

Are Americans getting sick of quarantine? Researchers tracking cell phone data found that since mid-April, people are venturing more widely from their homes—whether lured out by economic necessity, nicer weather, plain-old quarantine fatigue, or all of the above. “If we let up on those measures I think it’s almost inevitable we’re going to have resurgence of the virus,” University of Buffalo professor of infectious disease Thomas Russo told USA Today. “We’ll have a second wave now if we let all these things go.”

Announced by New York State on Monday:

  • Cuomo has had enough of milk dumping. The state is launching a new effort to get farm products to food banks in the state. “This is just a total waste to me. We have people downstate who need food. We have farmers upstate who can’t sell their product. We have to put those two things together,” Cuomo said in Monday’s briefing. The effort, dubbed Nourish New York, will buy $25 million worth of dairy products, in coordination with the state’s major dairy producers, and distribute them to food banks across the state. Dairy farmers in New York and beyond have been forced to dump milk, not simply because of reduced demand for dairy products, but because the complex logistical chains that connect farm-fresh milk to processors and consumers have been disrupted.
  • The state is conducting an antibody survey of New York City police officers, firefighters, health care workers, and transit workers to estimate the spread of the pandemic on the front lines.
  • Five new drive-through testing sites are being opened in Monroe, Erie, Broome, Niagara, and Oneida Counties.
  • Temporary medical centers at the Javits Center, Westchester County Center, SUNY Old Westbury, and SUNY Stonybrook will be put on hold for the fall flu season. “We could potentially now be dealing with COVID cases on top of flu cases. You have to test for both and possibly have hospital capacity for both,” Cuomo said.
  • In Monday’s briefing, Cuomo described the pandemic as an opportunity to create a more equitable society, citing past disasters that sparked important social reforms and led to better safety standards. “‘Reimagine New York’ means don’t replace what was, build it back better, and we have done that in the past,” he said.
  • Cuomo closed out Monday’s briefing with another potshot at Mitch McConnell, in the form of a thank you to Kentucky governor Andy Beshear for opposing the Senate majority leader’s call to block state and local pandemic funding. “It is hard for a governor, especially Andy, who is a relatively new governor, to stand up to a senior official and speak truth to power. That is hard. Takes guts. Takes courage. And you don’t get that from a typical politician. So, it warms my heart to see an elected official who is not a typical politician. Thank you, Governor,” Cuomo said.

ROCKLAND COUNTY
11,366 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page

A second round of antibody tests administered by the state in Rockland and Westchester counties showed 15.1 percent of those tested had coronavirus antibodies, suggesting they had the virus at some point. The results, released during Governor Cuomo’s briefing Monday, were higher than those of the first round, released last Wednesday, which showed 11.7 percent of the population with antibodies. However, the short time between the two sets of tests suggests the different results were not the results of a dramatic spike, but in differences between how the two sets of results were obtained. Just over three percent of residents in the rest of upstate New York tested positive for antibodies.

Rockland could face as much as a $57.7 million deficit in its budget of $730 million due to shortfalls in revenue from sales, hotel, and mortgage taxes. The deficit dwarfs last year’s surplus of $32.2 million, which may be eaten up in an attempt to fill the gap, county executive Ed Day suggested.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 continues to fall in Rockland, Day said Monday, but he told residents that “now is not the time to ease up.”

WESTCHESTER COUNTY
28,007 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page
County press release page

Westchester County executive George Latimer said there had been significant improvement  since last month in the fight against the coronavirus. Active cases in the county have dropped to their lowest level since March 29, and the number of people hospitalized has dropped 27 percent in the last two weeks. The Westchester County Center, which was outfitted by the county and the US Army Corps of Engineers into a field hospital, will not be needed.

Latimer signed a law Monday authorizing towns to reduce penalties for late payment of property taxes by up to 80 percent. This comes after the state allowed Westchester to waive late fees for those who can demonstrate financial hardship; the new law has no such requirement, and Latimer and county legislators said the two allowances would act in concert to take pressure off county taxpayers. The state is also allowing Westchester municipalities to turn in less than 60 percent of their property taxes due May 25, as long as the municipalities waive late fees for their taxpayers until July 15.

Latimer and Westchester County Board legislator Nancy Barr delivered thousands of reusable masks to the Village of Port Chester on behalf of Hanesbrands Inc. on Monday. The masks will be distributed to municipalities throughout the county.

ORANGE COUNTY
8,238 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page
Orange County Department of Health: (845) 291-2330

The coronavirus’s hold over Valley View Center for Nursing Care and Rehabilitation, where 25 residents died of COVID-19, is slackening. The county-owned facility reported Monday that there have been no new infections in a week. Forty-eight COVID-19 patients have left isolation at the facility after showing no symptoms for two weeks. Laurence LaDue, the nursing home’s administrator, said data on nursing home deaths by the state told an incomplete story. The data, which shows Valley View as having the most deaths from COVID-19 north of Westchester, does not list the size of the facility (for the record, Valley View has 360 beds), nor how many of the deaths were from patients who were infected elsewhere, then were admitted to the facilities after leaving hospital. Facilities must accept these patients, which has led to incredible controversy.

A three-part online forum meant to help county families understand and access community resources during the pandemic begins Tuesday. The forum, hosted by the county Human Rights Commission and the Newburgh Healthy Black & Latinx Coalition, will help families needing help with “food insecurity, housing rights, financial assistance, domestic violence services, mental health needs, health insurance, community support, and more,” according to the press release. The event is free and open to the public. Register by going to the City of Newburgh’s website.

DUTCHESS COUNTY
2,793 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page
Dutchess County COVID-19 hotline: (845) 486-3555
Dutchess County 24/7 mental health helpline: (845) 485-9700

County executive Marc Molinaro said it wouldn’t be logical for students to return to school this academic year based on current coronavirus data. The county closed schools March 13, shortly before Governor Cuomo ordered all schools in the state closed. Cuomo has said certain upstate regions could begin to reopen May 15, but has not mentioned schools opening then.

Molinaro will hold another coronavirus Facebook Live town hall on Wednesday, April 29, at 5:30pm. He’ll give the latest updates on the pandemic’s impact on the community and the #DutchessResponds relief effort, and will answer viewers’ questions.

Vassar Brothers Medical Center will open a blood donation center to collect antibody-rich plasma from people who’ve recovered from COVID-19. Nuvance Health, which operates Vassar Brothers, will use the plasma to treat patients at its hospitals. Those wishing to help in the fight against the coronavirus are encouraged to visit nuvancehealth.org/plasmadonorcenters.

PUTNAM COUNTY
925 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page

Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley announced Monday that it has distributed $1 million in grants over the last month to help communities address the pandemic. The funds were distributed through the Putnam COVID-19 Response Fund, as well as Dutchess Responds and Ulster County’s Project Resilience. The majority of funds went to immediate needs like shoring up feeding programs, emergency housing, and increasing access to medical and mental health services, according to a press release.

SULLIVAN COUNTY
748 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page

Farmers’ market season is around the corner, and markets across the state are looking for ways to adapt to the new reality. George Billard, the treasurer of the Barryville Farmers Market, had a bright idea: offering prepacked “Victory Garden” bags to customers for pickup at the Barryville United Methodist Church parking lot without leaving their cars. “It was a stroke of genius on George’s part,″ the market manager told the Times Herald-Record. “Last week, we sold out—189 bags—within 18 minutes of the website opening for orders. There’s a big want and a big ‘I don’t want to go to a grocery store.’”

Four more residents died of COVID-19 since Friday, according to the county. The number of confirmed cases and hospitalizations continued their upward trend in the county, even as cases and hospitalizations in the lower Hudson Valley dropped. There have been 740 cases in the county, with 299 still active.

ULSTER COUNTY
1,219 cases confirmed
County coronavirus page
Community resources page
Ulster County COVID-19 hotline: (845) 443-8888

County executive Pat Ryan announced Monday that Ulster County’s third COVID-19 testing site, located in midtown Kingston, is now open. It will be open five days a week and is located on Grand Street, just off Broadway near the YMCA. The site will accommodate both walk-ins and drive-through testing with an appointment.

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

There were no major updates out of Columbia County today. To read the news from the weekend, click here.

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

Delaware County Emergency Services 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—with more announced Monday in Franklin, Colchester, Walton, and Middletown.

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

The Greene County Economic Development Corporation launched a survey of businesses to hear what reopening the economy would be like for them. County Chamber of Commerce president Jeff Friedman encouraged businesses to be prepared. “It’s likely to be a slow opening, it’s likely to be phased,” he said. “If you’re looking for a map as to how that might happen, look at how it was closed down and flip it in reverse. I caution people who think it’s going to happen quickly. Folks need to plan for well beyond May 15.”

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

During a Schoharie County Board of Supervisors meeting Monday afternoon, supervisors decided in a close vote to temporarily lay off up to 95 county employees to address an expected several million dollar budget shortfall. In addition to the layoffs, the board approved measures like instituting a hiring freeze and updating the budget to accommodate for the shortfall. Because supervisors have weighted votes, the eight county board members who favored layoffs were able to approve the measure despite an equal number of their colleagues voting in opposition. The board also approved a motion that guaranteed any temporary layoffs would end no later than August 1 while committing to continue to pay for the county’s portion of furloughed employees’ healthcare coverage.

OF INTEREST?

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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