This is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties for Thursday, November 12 and Friday, November 13. Published in collaboration with The River Newsroom
Note: On November 19, we’re hosting a Zoom conversation with panel guests from the public health, local business, and community service worlds, and will answer audience questions about the pandemic—from its effects to what it’s like to cover it. Click here to learn more, and to register.
NEW YORK STATE
5,401 new cases yesterday
203,721 tests yesterday
Positive test rate: 2.65%
24 deaths yesterday
331 ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065
On Friday afternoon, President Donald Trump broke a weeklong public silence to hold a press conference in the Rose Garden, where he threatened to withhold a coronavirus vaccine from the state of New York. Trump’s comments were aimed at Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has been a vocal critic of the White House’s plans for vaccine distribution, as well as the administration’s efforts to interfere with decision making at the FDA, the agency that regulates all vaccines and pharmaceuticals. “As soon as April, the vaccine will be available to the entire general population, with the exception of places like New York State, where for political reasons the governor decided to say—and I don’t think it’s good politically, I think it’s very bad from a health standpoint—but he wants to take his time on the vaccine,” Trump said. Cuomo promptly fired back on CNN with Wolf Blitzer and MSNBC Live with Katy Tur, accusing the president of wildly misrepresenting his stance on the vaccine effort, while New York State Attorney General Letitia James vowed to sue the Trump administration if New York sees a delay in vaccine access. Worth noting in all this: Trump will not be president in April, barring the overturning of the US system of government as we know it.
The New York Times took an in-depth look this week at Pfizer’s plans to distribute the vaccine. Federal distribution plans for the vaccine have been a key target of Cuomo’s recent attacks; the governor has said that the White House plan will leave low-income communities of color behind. The fact that the Pfizer vaccine is currently the front runner complicates the picture: The company refused to take federal money from Operation Warp Speed to develop the vaccine, leaving it in a more independent position than other vaccine makers. Pfizer intends to take charge of much of its own complicated distribution, although they plan to work closely with OWS and with state and local governments to get the vaccine to the general population.
In late October, New York State quietly put out a report on its pandemic rent relief program, intended to prevent evictions and help low-income renters who are struggling to stay afloat through the pandemic. It took awhile, but the report is now making headlines. Curbed writes that the program was a bust, reaching only 15,000 people and putting only $40 million of the state’s $100 million program funding toward rent relief. The problem is that eligibility restrictions were so tight that most of the 94,000 people who applied to the state for relief were turned away. “The result was a program that provided help for an excruciatingly small slice of New Yorkers—more than 1.3 million statewide are at risk of eviction—when the true need is staggering,” Curbed writes. The City, a New York City-based digital news outlet, is looking to get in touch with people who sought help from the program.
“Dinner parties and casual game nights” are currently driving much of the US’s COVID-19 transmission, The Washington Post reports. Contact tracers are now tracing cases back to small private gatherings, as larger ones have been scaled back. COVID-19 is increasingly being driven by a form of spread that is almost impossible to detect or enforce against. “The kitchen table is a place of risk,” said Nirav Shah, director of Maine’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Tonight, New York State’s new prohibition on multi-household gatherings of more than 10 people in a home goes into effect, joining neighboring states that have already instituted such bans.
New York City schools are on the brink of shutting down again, as the city’s positivity rate nears a 3 percent threshold for closure set by city officials this summer after intense negotiation with teachers’ unions. Epidemiologists increasingly agree: School is not as dangerous a setting as, for instance, indoor dining. Some public health experts are asking why we are closing schools and keeping indoor dining open. The answer might make sense, from one angle—restaurant workers don’t get paid when restaurants close, while teachers can still work remotely—but it isn’t being driven by science.
The governors of six northeastern states—New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Vermont—will meet over the weekend to attempt to coordinate their response to the pandemic’s second wave. The governors will discuss expanding restrictions on businesses and gatherings, as well as possibly coordinating on travel restrictions, Governor Cuomo said Friday.
We need to look beyond “beds”: Healthcare workers are burning out as the nation’s third wave of cases overwhelms hospitals in many places, The Atlantic’s Ed Yong reports in a sobering feature story. “The most precious resource the U.S. health-care system has in the struggle against COVID-19 isn’t some miracle drug. It’s the expertise of its health-care workers—and they are exhausted,” Yong writes.
Public health policy expert Diana Mason, a Catskills resident who hosts a health-themed radio show on Roxbury’s public radio station, WIOX, writes for the Journal of the American Medical Association that with cases on the rise, it is time for the medical profession to grapple with tough decisions about rationing care.
The state’s chief administrative judge called off the convening of all new juries and grand juries starting this Monday. Juries and grand juries on pending cases will continue to meet.
More than 130 Secret Service members are currently infected with COVID-19 or quarantining due to exposure at various Trump campaign events, The Washington Post reported Friday. “The virus is having a dramatic impact on the Secret Service’s presidential security unit at the same time that growing numbers of prominent Trump campaign allies and White House officials have fallen ill in the wake of campaign events, where many attendees did not wear masks,” the paper writes.
The state’s new limits on household gatherings, restaurants, and gym hours go into effect at 10pm tonight. For more on the restrictions, read Wednesday’s news roundup.
Beginning Saturday, you will no longer see tollbooth workers on the Thruway, but that’s not because of the pandemic. Rather, the state has completed a three-year, $355-million project to transition the superhighway system from toll booths to an entirely cashless payment system. The completion date of the switchover had been thrown up in the air by the state’s budget deficit this year due to the pandemic.
At least 5 million fewer people will travel this Thanksgiving in the US, according to AAA. The number of travelers on the road is expected to drop more than 4 percent, the number flying is expected to drop more than 47 percent, and the number traveling by other means, such as train or cruise ship, is expected to drop more than 76 percent, from 1.5 million last Thanksgiving season to about 350,000 this year.
Microcluster Focus Zone Update
Better: Rockland County’s focus zone is improving, Cuomo said Friday; the orange zone will become a yellow zone, and the yellow buffer zone will be removed. As of Friday evening, the Rockland focus zone map on the NY Forward site still showed the orange zone, but a new map should be forthcoming from the state soon.
No change: Focus zones in Orange, Broome, Chemung, Westchester, Erie, Monroe, Onondaga, and Tioga counties, as well as Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island, remain unchanged from our Wednesday roundup. Maps of all current focus zones are available on NY Forward. Positivity rate across all state focus zones on Thursday testing was 4.58 percent; the positivity rate for the rest of New York State without the focus zones was 2.29 percent.
LOWER HUDSON VALLEY
County coronavirus pages: Rockland, Westchester, Putnam
University coronavirus pages: Sarah Lawrence, Iona, SUNY Purchase, Manhattanville, Westchester Community College, Rockland Community College, Dominican, Mercy
The Rockland County cluster enforcement zone centered on Monsey and Spring Valley was downgraded to a yellow zone on Friday, one week after Governor Cuomo had switched it from red to orange. Yellow zone rules allow all businesses to operate, with restrictions that include capping public gatherings at 25 and a four-person max per table at restaurants. Schools must randomly test 20 percent of all people on campus weekly. “We are happy that the governor has again recognized our strong progress and we will continue to all work together so that we can soon be out of the yellow zone as well,” Ramapo Supervisor Michael Specht said Friday.
A total of seven violations have been issued under the face covering order issued one month ago by Rockland health commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel. All of the violations witnessed occurred at Orthodox schools in Monsey, Suffern, and Spring Valley. On Thursday, LoHud.com reported that Congregation Shaarei Chesed, in Ramapo, has not yet to pay a $4,000 penalty from an April 9 safety violation during the county’s crackdown in the pandemic’s early days.
Putnam County issued three health alerts on Thursday and Friday. Anyone who was at:
- Red Mills Pub (575 Route 6N, Mahopac Falls) on Saturday, November 7 from 4:30pm to 6:30pm;
- Harlan Check Cashing & Financial Services (1515 Route 22, Brewster) during business hours from Monday, November 2 through Saturday, November 7;
- World Gym (1620 Route 22, Brewster) on Saturday, November 7 from 11am to 1pm or Sunday, November 8 from 10am to 1pm;
May have been exposed to the coronavirus and should monitor for symptoms. Testing information is available at the county health department’s website. Cases are increasing substantially in the county, and as of Thursday, its seven-day average positivity rate was 4.2 percent.
The Westchester County Department of Health is offering increased swab testing at Open Door Port Chester (5 Grace Church Street) through 2pm this Saturday. Appointments are required. To schedule one, call (914) 995-7425 or go to the state health department’s website.
County coronavirus pages: Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia
University coronavirus page: Bard, Vassar, Marist, SUNY New Paltz, SUNY Ulster, Columbia-Greene Community College, SUNY Orange
State Senator James Skoufis addressed the new state mandates in a Facebook post Friday, saying the limit on private gatherings of more than 10 people was “largely unenforceable” and assuring residents The Man would not be going door-to-door Thanksgiving night, but urging residents to take the precautions seriously. As for the limits on late-night businesses, Skoufis said he’s spoken to countless New Yorkers who have lost loved ones in the pandemic. “I’m sure most if not all of them are OK with sacrificing a half-hour at their local watering hole if it means protecting their neighbors.”
Absentee ballot counting had to be paused in Columbia County after an employee at the Board of Elections was exposed to COVID-19. The employee’s husband and child are sick with the virus, and she is currently undergoing testing. The county building closed Thursday for a deep clean, and was expected to reopen Friday.
Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan will convene municipal and county leaders for a special COVID-19 update this Saturday at 1:30pm. In a Facebook live briefing on Thursday, Ryan reiterated his warning from earlier in the week about the county nearing a “make or break” moment. “It is clear now from looking at the data that we are at the beginning of a second wave of COVID-19,” he said. He referenced the distribution of the virus, concentrated in the county’s south and in the Kingston-Saugerties corridor, saying it was the same pattern as the county saw at the beginning of the first wave. There are currently 358 active cases in the county, the most since mid-June.
Columbia Memorial hospital in Hudson started banning most visitors Friday as COVID-19 cases rose in its environs. Special consideration will be made for pediatric patients, women giving birth, patients who are medically allowed to have a support person, and patients who are receiving end-of-life care. Those coming to the hospital for surgery can have someone with them during intake only. The hospital had similar restrictions in place this spring.
An outbreak at Pine Bush High School that has infected at least 21 students has been traced to several events, including a gathering at a school board member’s house over Halloween weekend. Board member Matthew Watkins pushed back on claims as many as 50 students were at his home, saying the gathering was smaller. The outbreak delayed the beginning of hybrid learning from November 10 to December 1 for 7th-12th graders in the district.
The Delaware County Board of Supervisors reached a milestone during its meeting Tuesday: every supervisor wore a mask for the first time since reconvening in June, observed The Daily Star. During the meeting, county health director Amanda Walsh said her office had seen “large trends” of cases stemming from in-person dining and workplaces. On Wednesday, the county hit an all-time high of 74 known active cases, a little under 1 in 500 county residents. Active cases dipped to 69 on Friday, although seven new cases were found and 4.4 percent of the county’s tests came back positive for the day. Eleven are hospitalized.
Schoharie County Public Health Director Amy Gildemeister posted a Facebook update on cases in the county on Thursday. The county has 23 active cases, she said, but health officials are too overwhelmed with work to give precise figures on the total number of cases in the pandemic so far, or on how many county residents are currently hospitalized. “If we can find a moment when our nurses aren’t on the phone, we’ll try to nail down an actual number for that,” she wrote.
An employee at Casi’s Family Diner in Liberty tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, and the Sullivan County Department of Health advised that customers might have been exposed at the following times:
- Friday, November 6, between 6am and 1pm
- Saturday, November 7, between 6am and 1pm
- Sunday, November 8, between 6am and 1pm
- Thursday, November 12, between 9am and 3:30pm
- Friday, November 13, between 6am and 1pm
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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.