COVID-19 Update – Columbia Co. Accuses Nursing Home of Misrepresenting Deaths, Vaccine Trial Questioned

The entrance to the COVID-19 testing site in the Town of Ulster. Photo Courtesy Rod Bicknell

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, May 21.

NEW YORK STATE

354,370 cases confirmed (1,525 new)
1,505,836 tests performed (38,097 new)
22,976 deaths (133 new)
76,410 hospitalizations (overall)
5,570 hospitalizations (current)
1,836 ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065

This week’s hottest document: A 60-page report from the Centers for Disease Control laying out a roadmap for reopening, released about a week after CNN reported that a draft of detailed CDC reopening guidelines had been shelved by the White House. The CDC’s officially released guidelines cut a few things from the draft, mainly specifics on guidance for religious services, but are otherwise similar, CNN reports. With all 50 states now moving toward reopening, the horse may be already headed out of the barn, but at least local and state officials can look to the CDC for detailed advice on how to get back to work and life safely.

The medical news site STAT ran an article examining Moderna’s much-publicized clinical trial on its COVID-19 vaccine candidate, and the devil certainly seems to be in the details. The site noted the trial’s results were not published in a medical journal, and all information about the supposed success of the trial was from a press release that didn’t contain all the trial’s data. The article also pointed out there was no way of knowing the antibodies produced by the vaccine were viable for more than a couple weeks, and noted the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases—Dr. Fauci’s agency, which actually ran the trial—has stayed mum about the results. Moderna’s stock, which shot to a record high of $80 Monday after the company announced the news, fell after the STAT article came out. The stock has still risen 270 percent so far this year, despite it not having a single product on the market.

Announced by New York State on Wednesday:

  • More state antibody test results are in. The latest round, conducted in partnership with places of worship in predominantly minority communities in New York City, found that about 27 percent of people in those communities had antibodies to COVID-19, dramatically higher than the overall New York City rate of about 19 percent. Hospitalization rates in areas with low incomes and communities of color have also been much higher; in some zip codes, double the city average. The next step, Cuomo said in Wednesday’s briefing, is to take action: increased testing, making masks and hand sanitizer widely available, and doing outreach on social distancing efforts. “We did the research, we have the data, we know what’s happening, now what do we do about it? That’s always step two, and we’re going to develop targeted strategies to these highly impacted communities,” Cuomo said.
  • Five finalists for Cuomo’s mask ad competition have been chosen. The boyfriend doesn’t appear to be one of them. New Yorkers can vote through Memorial Day on their favorite at WearAMask.ny.gov.
  • More than $10 billion in unemployment benefits has been given out in response to more than two million applications, the state Department of Labor announced Wednesday. Still waiting: A backlog of pending applications from 7,580 New Yorkers that are missing some critical information, another 20,801 that need federally mandated weekly certification before they can be paid, and 15,831 that haven’t made it through review yet.
  • In response to a spike in domestic violence reports, secretary to the governor Melissa DeRosa and the New York State Council on Women and Girls announced the creation of a task force to investigate new ways to respond to household violence. The task force will make recommendations to Cuomo on May 28. “Unfortunately, the reality is that we are still seeing an increase in the number of reported cases of domestic violence across NY as this pandemic continues—we need to do more to help women who are stuck in dangerous situations,” DeRosa said in a statement. According to a 2014 US Department of Justice report, 24 percent of domestic violence victims are men.
  • Religious gatherings of up to 10 will be allowed statewide as of Thursday, as will drive-in and parking lot services. The state is convening an interfaith advisory council to discuss ways to bring back religious services. “We know from New Rochelle, Westchester the first hotspot, that religious ceremonies can be very dangerous,” Cuomo said. “So, we all want to do the same thing; the question is how do we do it, and how do we do it smartly and efficiently.”

Rate of active cases per 10,000 residents, drawn from the latest county data. Active case data unavailable for Rockland and Orange counties.

LOWER HUDSON VALLEY

County coronavirus pages: Rockland, Westchester, Putnam

Westchester Medical Center has thrown open its antibody testing to the public. The hospital has administered 8,000 tests in the first two weeks of the program, when it was limited to first responders and the hospital’s patients and employees. Those interested should call (914) 326-2060 Monday through Saturday between 8:30am and 6pm for screening and to make an appointment.

The Westchester Examiner talked to students and college advisors about the Fall 2020 semester and how uncertainty might affect enrollment. The possibility of courses being held online could turn students away from private colleges, according to Alan Shepin, owner of Shepin Tutoring Group in Chappaqua. “If I’m a parent and I’m sending my kid to a private college, just for starters $27,000 for five online classes, I could send my kid to Westchester Community College and do it for $5,000,” he said. Most colleges have delayed when deposits for the semester are due, so whether enrollment is even will not be known at least until early June.

MID-HUDSON VALLEY

County coronavirus pages: Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia

Columbia County health director Jack Mabb told the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that a nursing home with the biggest COVID-19 outbreak in the Twin Counties had been using evasive tactics to minimize its reported death toll. These included transferring residents who were near death to hospitals (the state only counts nursing home residents who died at the home) and giving EMS squad personnel the home addresses of residents instead of saying they lived at Barnwell. County health officials say 13 Barnwell residents had died, but the nursing home only reported one death to the county as of Friday. The state lists six deaths at Barnwell. More than half of Barnwell’s population—121 people—tested positive as of May 15, according to the county health department.

The reopening criteria for the Mid-Hudson Region (which includes both our “Lower Hudson Valley and “Mid-Hudson Valley” regions, just to confuse you) have been changed by the Mid-Hudson Regional Control Room, according to a press release from Dutchess County. The required number of contact tracers for Phase One is now based on infection rate instead of population, which nearly triples to 350 the number of contact tracers Dutchess County must retain. Some tracers are being hired by the state, and some by the county. Those interested should send their name, email address, and cell phone number to dcpersonnel@dutchessny.gov. Hospital deaths in the region also need to decline further before Phase One can begin.

The burgeoning Hudson Valley film industry has been put on hold by the coronavirus, The New York Times writes. State tax credits for films shot north of the Lower Hudson Valley led to a slew of film productions in recent years, and the region took in $7.5 million in the first three months of 2020 from film shoots. A 104,000-square-foot film studio planned by Mary Stuart Masterson, the actress and founder of Upriver Studios, had to be halted because of the epidemic, and several planned film shoots are indefinitely delayed.

With the weather warming up and many parks now open, the Columbia County Department of Health posted camping guidelines on Tuesday. The department is asking all campers to provide information at check-in so campground managers can complete the CCDOH COVID-19 information form, among other rules.

Opus 40, the sculpture park in Saugerties, will soon reopen with new guidelines for visitors. A test run last weekend assured executive director Caroline Crumpacker the park could be enjoyed safely. Though a date has not been set, Crumbpacker told Hudson Valley One only 30 people would be allowed in the park at a time, and they would have to sign up online to attend.

In a conference call with Orange County leaders on Monday, SUNY Orange president Kristine Young said the university is considering emergency options in the event of a drastic cut in state funding, including giving up buildings and campus space, according to the Times Herald-Record. Young said that school leaders are currently planning for a worst-case cut of up to 50 percent, which would cleave more than 10 percent out of SUNY Orange’s budget. Orange County executive Steven Neuhaus said that a cut that big could force SUNY Orange to cede all or part of OCCC’s Newburgh satellite campus and portions of its Middletown main campus.

CATSKILLS

County coronavirus pages: Sullivan, Delaware, Greene, Schoharie

The Schoharie County Department of Health announced on Wednesday that three new cases had been found in the county, a large number for a tiny county that hasn’t had a new positive case since May 14. The county appears to have stopped posting releases on their official website, and is only posting updates on the Department of Health Facebook page.

The Margaretville Cauliflower Festival, planned for September 26, has been canceled, according to a post on the festival Facebook page, due to an abundance of caution in case “we would not be able to provide the same experience we all enjoy with the restrictions we must now endure.”

So far, customers at a few of Delaware County’s small businesses are behaving themselves in the first week of Phase One reopening, the Walton Reporter reports. Well, mostly. “We had lots of people call in advance to see if we were open. People waited outside and everyone wore masks, except for a few people,” said Chris Mignier of the Green Thumb in Delhi.

Four of the 10 jobs in the Sullivan County Clerk’s Office that were cut have been reinstated, the Sullivan County Democrat reported Monday. “This changes the functionality of the Clerk’s Office from impossible to possible, and will allow us to at least be able to function with scaled back services,” county clerk Russell Reeves told the paper.

OF INTEREST?

The River and The Other Hudson Valley are is 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.

SOURCES FOR ACTIVE CASES
Rockland: county data dashboard
Westchester: county briefing
Putnam: county press release
Orange: county data dashboard
Dutchess: county data dashboard
Ulster: county data dashboard
Columbia: county coronavirus page
Greene: county coronavirus page
Sullivan: county coronavirus page
Delaware: county press release
Schoharie: county press release

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