COVID-19 Update – ‘Freedom Rally’ Planned in Newburgh, Cuomo Casts Confusion Over Phase 2 Reopenings

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 Friday, May 29.


366,733 cases confirmed (1,768 new)
1,876,789 tests performed (65,245 new)
23,722 deaths (79 new)
78,043 hospitalizations (overall
)4,010 hospitalizations (current)
1,219 ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065

When does Phase Two of reopening start? Apparently not yet—and vague remarks made by Governor Andrew Cuomo on the topic Thursday left a lot of room for uncertainty. The idea behind phased regional reopening, when Cuomo first proposed it, was for regions to “graduate” to the next phase after two weeks, if the case numbers stayed low enough. For regions that started Phase One on May 15—Southern Tier, Mohawk Valley, Finger Lakes, Central New York, and the North Country—this Friday is the two-week mark, and local officials and business owners have been laying plans for a move to Phase Two on that day. Those plans were cast into doubt Thursday when Cuomo said in a radio appearance on WAMC that the data from two weeks of Phase One in the first five regions would be given to experts, who would analyze it. “If they say we should move forward, we move forward,” Cuomo said.

Moving forward anyway: Chemung County, whose executive Chris Moss said in a public briefing that in the absence of any solid information from New York State, he was advising local business owners to go ahead and move to Phase Two. “Look, the governor can make that comment to someone on the radio, but we can’t get a call from the governor’s office?” Moss said. “You know what, we’re opening tomorrow.” Phase Two will allow more in-store retail, as well as hair cutting and styling, real estate, and a host of professional service business activity to resume, but detailed guidelines on what businesses are eligible and how it will work have not yet been posted on the state’s NY Forward website.

The state legislature is back in session this week, but it seems one bill is DOA: The legislation canceling rent for tenants facing hardship because of the pandemic. Introduced by Queens State Senator Mike Gianaris in March, the bill has 21 cosponsors in the Senate and 22 in the Assembly, but it’s not scheduled for a vote. Instead, a more modest form of tenant relief was passed Thursday afternoon after Assembly speaker Carl Heastie canceled a housing committee meeting this morning. The Rent Relief Act of 2020 provides up to $100 million in vouchers to landlords whose tenants earn below 80 percent of the area median income, and were paying more than 30 percent of their household income in rent before March 7. “I agree with anybody who says this bill is not nearly enough,” said State Senator Brian Kavanagh, who introduced the bill in the Senate.

The next coronavirus relief bill, which House Democrats passed earlier this month and which Senate Republicans have vowed not to take up, has a nice little giveaway for defense contractors. ProPublica spotted a section tucked deep into the nearly 2,000-page Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act that “will funnel money to defense and intelligence companies and their top executives.”

School board elections and budget votes are scheduled to be conducted by mail on June 9. What happens if a school budget fails? Schools don’t know, the Times Herald-Record reports. The school year ends on June 30, and the logistics of organizing mail-in elections have already been expensive and challenging for districts. If a budget fails, there may be neither time nor money to mount a second vote. ““As it stands right now, we don’t see any legal, practical way for districts to conduct a second vote this year,” Bob Lowry, deputy director of communications for the New York State Council of School Superintendents, told the paper. For their part, the state Education Department isn’t answering questions.

Who’s wearing masks in the state legislature has become something of a political litmus test, City & State reports. In debate over a bill that would repeal an 1845 state law banning mask-wearing, several Republicans spoke from the floor without masks on. One Republican senator, given the opportunity to speak anonymously, said that Republican lawmakers “would have taken major grief from the folks back home if they wore a mask.” A few Assembly Democrats flouted mask guidelines too, the outlet notes, “including Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry, who proceeds over the chamber with a booming voice that likely projects droplets all over the place.” Still, there’s a lot of pressure on Republicans from both party higher-ups and their own constituents to go mask-free, and they’re caving to it. “For GOP politicians, wearing a mask is a political statement that risks angering die-hard Trump supporters,” City & State writes.

Announced by New York State on Thursday:

  • Cuomo has issued an executive order allowing businesses to deny entry to customers who refuse to wear masks or other face coverings. “When we’re talking about reopening stores and places of business, we’re giving the store owners the right to say, ‘if you’re not wearing a mask, you can’t come in.’ That store owner has a right to protect themselves. That store owner has a right to protect the other patrons in that store,” Cuomo said.
  • The state distributed one million masks in New York City’s hardest-hit neighborhoods on Thursday.
  • The MTA will run a pilot project on the effectiveness of using ultraviolet light to disinfect subway cars and crew facilities.
  • Chris Rock and Rosie Perez joined Cuomo on Thursday’s daily briefing to talk up the importance of getting tested and wearing masks. “The numbers in our communities are staggering. This is not a joke. This is not a hoax. This is real. This is real-deal Holyfield. So please, love each other, love yourselves. Get tested, wear a mask,” Perez said.

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


County coronavirus pages: Rockland, Westchester, Putnam

Metro-North parking lots, where commuters pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year for spaces, have been almost empty since mid-March as train ridership has plummeted 95 percent. spoke to Krissy Gillian, who said the 2,000-space Croton-Harmon Metro-North lot she oversees has had 100 cars or less in recent weeks. However, with Tuesday’s reopening of the Mid-Hudson region, the MTA is expecting Metro-North ridership to increase, and added additional trains from Croton-Harmon and Poughkeepsie on Wednesday. Stations and cars are being disinfected at least once a day. Riders are still required to wear face coverings.

Putnam County was down to only 21 active COVID-19 cases Wednesday, half the number from Friday. There have been 1,405 confirmed cases in the county, and 58 residents have died.

Continuing his live discussions with various county leaders, Westchester County executive George Latimer spoke with deputy parks commissioner Peter Tartaglia on Thursday about how Westchester parks will handle safety during reopening. You can watch the entire 30-minute conversation on YouTube.

County coronavirus pages: Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia

A Newburgh tattoo parlor is planning to reopen May 30 in defiance of New York State on PAUSE. Casa Di Dolore is calling the reopening a “NY Freedom Rally,” according to a Facebook post, which called the action “a display of defiance against a tyrannical dictator, and a reminder that our rights will not be infringed.” The post also urges law enforcement to back the opening and “uphold the oath they took to the constitution.”

The economic downturn was further quantified Wednesday as the state Department of Labor released unemployment rates for all New York counties. In the Hudson Valley, unemployment rates were highest in Orange County, at 15.6 percent, and lowest in Columbia County, at 10.9 percent. Both counties had unemployment rates of less than four percent this time last year, according to the labor department.

Dr. Carol Smith, the Ulster County health commissioner, said social distancing and other measures had saved the county from impacts predicted early on in the pandemic. However, what was done could be undone, and she urged vigilance, warning of a second wave of the coronavirus if residents slacked off.

The Poughkeepsie Galleria started offering curbside pickup Thursday, though the Poughkeepsie Journal reported local businesses were not in a rush to reopen, and there was still significant confusion in the Hudson Valley over the specifics of what was allowed in Phase One of reopening.

The Town of Saugerties will use a biocide—an environmentally friendly disinfectant—to clean its playgrounds, according to Hudson Valley One. The playgrounds were in the process of being disinfected a third time last week, and the Building and Grounds Department will test surfaces for COVID-19 in three and four weeks to see if the biocide remains effective.

County coronavirus pages: Sullivan, Delaware, Greene, Schoharie

The village of Catskill may turn Main Street into a pedestrian mall so residents and shoppers can safely navigate the village while social distancing. Mayor Vincent Seely framed the proposal as a way to stimulate the village’s economy. Many of the shops on Main Street are small, and social-distancing and reduced-occupancy requirements harm business; allowing shops and restaurants to expand into the street may ameliorate the problem by allowing businesses to maintain safety protocols without losing customer capacity. Emergency vehicles would still be able to pass under the proposal. Village police chief Dave Darling released a statement saying the proposal would involve cutting off multiple roads, which would create major traffic problems, and would also eliminate 140 parking spaces in the village. The concept is still in its early stages.

Delaware County government offices are expected to open to the public again on June 8, the Daily Star reports. In its meeting on Wednesday, May 27, the county board of supervisors said there will be an in-person public hearing held Wednesday, June 24, on a proposed microgrant program to help small businesses and farmers, using $300,000 of Community Development Block Grant funding. The May 27 meeting can be watched on the Delaware County Government Facebook page.

Cobleskill is looking into an alternate location for its Fourth of July fireworks that would allow people to see them without clustering together, the Times-Journal reports.

Cumulative cases per 10,000 residents in each county, drawn from New York State’s data of cases found the previous day.


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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