This is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties for Tuesday, December 1 and Wednesday, December 2. Published in collaboration with The River Newsroom.
NEW YORK STATE
8,973 new cases yesterday
193,551 tests yesterday
Positive test rate: 4.64%
73 deaths yesterday
742 ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065
It hasn’t been approved for use in the US yet, but Pfizer’s ultracold COVID-19 vaccine is already moving. The first mass shipment of precious doses arrived from Brussels in Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on Friday, and New York State expects to receive enough doses of Pfizer’s vaccine to inoculate 170,000 people on Dec. 15, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a Wednesday briefing. The number of doses each state will receive in the first round is based on population; each state gets a share of the limited amount of vaccine that has already been manufactured. By the end of the month, New York expects to receive additional doses of the Moderna vaccine, which can be stored in an ordinary freezer, as well as more of Pfizer’s. “The goal line is in sight,” Cuomo said.
The first to be vaccinated in New York will be the most exposed frontline healthcare workers—including nursing home staff—and nursing home residents. “They have delineations of healthcare workers who are in the most imminent, dangerous situations—emergency rooms, etc. You then have nursing home residents and nursing home staff,” Cuomo said. Those groups alone total far more than 170,000. Responding to a reporter’s question in Wednesday’s briefing, Cuomo said that the state has about 85,000 nursing home residents and 130,000 nursing home staff.
An advisory committee to the CDC took a vote on Tuesday to recommend that frontline healthcare workers and nursing home staff and residents should be vaccinated first, a recommendation states are likely to follow. The panel’s guidance aligns with New York State’s priorities: In an October draft plan for the vaccine rollout, state officials placed the highest priority on vaccinating these groups in high-transmission areas.
How will New York State ensure its undocumented residents get vaccinated? Cuomo, a frequent critic of the federal government’s planning on vaccine rollout, said Wednesday that the federal plan involves collecting unique ID numbers, such as Social Security numbers and passport numbers, which then must be shared with other agencies based on a data-sharing agreement states are expected to sign. If the threat of deportation dissuades people from getting vaccinated, that’s a problem not just for undocumented communities, but for all of New York State, because only at high levels of vaccination can herd immunity be achieved.
Cuomo is also worried about vaccine uptake in Black communities and other minority communities with a history of being discriminated against by doctors and medical researchers. “If you don’t have the full participation of the Black, brown, and poor communities, you’re never going to hit the goal of 75 to 85 percent [vaccine uptake]. And that means the vaccination process will fail for all New Yorkers and all Americans,” he said.
While the vaccine offers a gleam of hope on the horizon, cases, deaths, and hospitalizations continue to climb higher and higher in New York State. Monday and Tuesday were the two highest single-day totals since late May: 142 people died of COVID-19 in New York. (There were 151 deaths in all of September.) And the upward slope of the statewide hospitalization graph is beginning to look downright geological. “That’s the bad news: We have another mountain to climb,” Cuomo said, hearkening back to the $185 foam sculpture he unveiled back in June as a symbol of the state’s great COVID-19 journey. “I know how much you like mountains. I’ve heard many of your comments about the mountains. I may make another mountain to symbolize the mountain, because I know you like it.” (Oh hell, we’re going to get another book too, aren’t we? —Ed.)
The governor also unveiled a new state public service announcement on Wednesday about “living room spread.” “It may feel safe because you’re with your family and friends, but over 70 percent of cases can be traced to your households and small gatherings,” a serious voice intones over footage of people hugging, toasting, and watching TV together. We’re not sure exactly what data that 70 percent figure is coming from, but it appears to be climbing: In Monday’s briefing, Cuomo said that 65 percent of cases were coming from small gatherings.
The CDC on Wednesday outlined two ways that Americans can effectively shorten the recommended quarantine period. Those without symptoms may end quarantine after seven days followed by a negative PCR or rapid test result, agency officials said, or 10 days without a test. Previously the agency had recommended a 14-day quarantine period following possible exposure to the virus. The adjusted guidelines follow new analysis that shows patients with COVID-19 tend to be at their most infectious for about seven days—two days before they first show symptoms and five days after. Despite that, the agency recommended that Americans not travel for the winter holidays. “The reality is, December and January and February are going to be rough times,’ said CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield in an address to the Chamber of Commerce Foundation. “I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.”
On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of Senators announced a new stimulus plan that may signal an end to Congress’s months-long impasse over further federal coronavirus relief. (May.) The proposal amounts to $908 billion, and includes an additional $300 per week in unemployment benefits for four months; $160 billion for state and local governments; and $288 billion for small businesses, including a reinfusion of the Paycheck Protection Program. Smaller chunks would go to transportation agencies ($45 billion), education ($82 billion) for education, nutrition assistance programs ($26 billion), and healthcare initiatives, including coronavirus testing and tracing, and vaccine distribution ($16 billion). A second $1,200 stimulus payment to every American is not expected to be part of the effort. Several centrist senators led discussions on the proposal, though House Republicans are also circulating a slimmer plan that stands no chance of passage, and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell also has a bill in the works. “We just don’t have time to waste time,” McConnell said. House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer sidelined other Democratic proposals on Wednesday evening, saying that the bipartisan compromise package should be a starting point for new talks. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement that the “$908 billion proposal has not been a topic of discussion” in the executive branch.
ProPublica’s David Armstrong reports on how the patchwork of pandemic restrictions across the county is fueling spread, traveling between states with lax restrictions and those with tougher restrictions. For example: residents of Spokane, Washington often drive to Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, a city with no mask mandate where large outdoor events were held all summer. Some residents have brought the virus back with them. The situation is replicated in border towns between Illinois and Iowa, and Minnesota and South Dakota.
US Representative Antonio Delgado will answer community questions during a Facebook live town hall next Wednesday, December 9, beginning at 7pm. The town hall will be broadcast from the representative’s Facebook page, where constituents can also submit questions in advance.
Cuomo announced on Wednesday that he will be doing regular COVID-19 briefings on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday going forward, a frequency that agrees nicely with The River’s roundup schedule. Thanks, guv.
Microcluster Focus Zone Update
New York State’s current strategy for curbing infection assigns neighborhoods with outbreaks to “microcluster focus zones” that are coded red, orange, or yellow depending on severity. The NY Forward website has a guide to the restrictions on business, schools, worship, and gatherings, plus high-resolution maps of focus zones in the microclusters.
No changes have been made to New York State’s focus zones since our Monday roundup. The state currently has 26 microcluster focus zones, located in Erie, Niagara, Monroe, Onondaga, Rockland, Chemung, Tioga, Orange, Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester counties, as well as in Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Staten Island. The positivity rate across New York State’s focus zones in Tuesday’s data was 5.88 percent. The positivity rate statewide with the focus zones excluded was 4.21 percent. Detailed information on recent positivity rates in each of the state’s focus zones is available in a press release on the state website.
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 rolling seven-day average test positivity rates in three Westchester communities are the highest among the state’s list of 29 microclusters. The village of Ossining is at 10.03 percent, Peekskill is at 9.55 percent, and Port Chester is at 8.54 percent, according to state data. Port Chester is in an orange zone, while most of Ossining and Peekskill are in a yellow zone. The rolling seven-day average for the entire county of Westchester hit an even 5 percent on Wednesday.
The situation is not much better elsewhere in the lower Hudson Valley. In Putnam County, 8.6 percent of those tested on Tuesday were positive for COVID-19; the county’s seven-day average positivity rate is 6.7 percent, which remains one of the highest countywide rates in the state. Six percent of people tested in Rockland County on Tuesday were positive, boosting the county’s rolling seven-day average to 4.9 percent.
Putnam County released its weekly case update three days later than usual, without accounting for that lapsed time. As such, Tuesday’s update only includes data through November 27. This latest public breakdown of cases using now-outdated data has us scratching our heads. As reporter Lissa Harris said, “it’s like getting light from a dead star.”
Nurses at Montefiore New Rochelle Hospital were on strike Tuesday and Wednesday amid a conflict over its union’s contract with the hospital. Nurses are calling for better pay and benefits and more staffing to reduce the number of patients per nurse. Montefiore leadership says it has offered a 7 percent pay increase spread out over three years, medical expenses for retired nurses, tuition reimbursement, health insurance with no employee contribution, and funding for the union’s pension plan. But the hospital has not addressed the nurses’ complaints of staff shortages. With the virus surging in the region, nurses say they want to return to work on Thursday, according to LoHud.com.
County coronavirus pages: Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia
University coronavirus page: Bard, Vassar, Marist, SUNY New Paltz, SUNY Ulster, Columbia-Greene Community College, SUNY Orange
The number of people in New Paltz currently diagnosed with COVID-19 is greater than the total number of residents who have recovered or died from the virus in the last nine months, according to the Ulster County COVID-19 dashboard. More than 2 percent of residents are actively afflicted. New Paltz Town Supervisor Neil Bettez has been updating graphs with daily COVID-19 information for the town since the pandemic began to observe trends, he told The River. One tracks the rate of increase in cumulative cases and shows the spread of the current wave matching the pace of the spring wave until November 18, when the virus began spreading twice as fast as during the spring. Bettez says he is frustrated with people being less stringent than during the slower-spreading spring wave. Warm conditions allowed people to act more freely, and people let their guard down, but winter made the virus worse, and “we don’t have a free pass anymore,” Bettez says. “We have not built up any credit. Every day is a new day.”
The Poughkeepsie Journal reports contact tracing in Dutchess County schools is undertaken by school staff instead of health department workers to expedite the process. It often takes the state two days to notify the county of positive test results, county officials told the paper, so school officials were tasked with doing the contact tracing since they often learned of cases before this. Staff have been given the power to issue commissioner’s orders to isolate by the county.
Health workers at Livingston Nursing and Rehabilitation in Columbia County are demanding their employer continue their current healthcare plan during the pandemic. Jeffery Vegh threatened to switch employees’ plans in the midst of lengthy contract negotiations, according to a spokeswoman for their union. The Register Star was at a “vigil” held in front of the nursing home by the employees, one of whom told the paper their former plan was free of deductibles and copays, but the proposed plan would cost her $300 a month in premiums. “That’s almost a whole paycheck for some people, and that’s not counting the deductible that goes along with it,” a CNA at the vigil told the paper. Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson was at the vigil, and Assemblywoman Didi Barrett voiced her support.
The number of active positive cases in Ulster County rose 127 percent in the last two weeks, leading to a sobering pronouncement from County Executive Pat Ryan during Tuesday’s COVID-19 briefing: “This is me sounding the alarm bell that we are now definitely going to have a worse second wave than the first wave.” Ryan said it was “frustrating” to see how laxly people were responding to the second wave compared to the first, and warned residents it would be many months before a vaccine could be widely distributed. “I don’t want us to rest on the fact that the vaccine will get us through this wave, because it won’t,” he said.
“I’m certainly not attempting to frighten anyone,” Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro said during his COVID-19 briefing, “but our hospital system is currently stressed.” There are now 64 people hospitalized in the county, less than the peak of 108 reached in the spring, but the situation is different this time, Molinaro said, due to two changes in state policy. Elective surgeries have not been canceled like in the spring, and hospitalized nursing home residents are staying in the hospital longer because they often don’t want to be discharged for fear of getting others sick. Molinaro did not mention the since-rescinded state order that forced nursing homes to accept recovering residents and other COVID-19 patients. The increasing number of hospitalizations “is not something the system can sustain for a long time,” he said, but did note that field hospitals would not be prepared like in the spring.
Orange County reported more than 200 new cases Tuesday, the first time that threshold has been crossed since April 24. Its positivity rate reached 5.9 percent on the seven-day rolling average, according to the state. Dutchess County’s rolling average was 3.6 percent, Ulster County’s was 3.5 percent, and Columbia County’s was 2.2 percent.
“You might need more than coffee to listen to this,” said Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus before launching into his regular weekday COVID-19 video briefing on Wednesday, in which he delivered the latest sobering data on the relentless increase in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in the county. Neuhaus’s Facebook video briefings, typically delivered in a tone of deadpan exasperation from his desk, have become regular viewing for many local residents, who write to Neuhaus with questions that he answers on camera.
Orange County’s numbers are worsening to the point that much or all of the county may be in a focus zone soon, Neuhaus said Wednesday. “The numbers are looking like the entire county, if not the majority of it, would be an orange zone right now. If those numbers keep trending, we’ll see what happens.” In order to meet the criteria for a state-imposed focus zone, local numbers have to remain above the threshold for at least 10 days. Cuomo has also said in recent briefings that local hospitalization data will be added to the microcluster strategy, which may change how the state decides where focus zones should be placed.
Columbia County reported 22 new cases Wednesday, raising the number of active cases to 65. The number of active cases had been falling since they peaked in mid-November.
The Orange County Health Department advised residents Wednesday that any workers and patrons who were at Chili’s at 33 Crystal Run Crossing in the Town of Wallkill on November 27 may have been exposed to the coronavirus.
The Dutchess County health department is advising residents of a COVID-19 exposure at the Rhinebeck Transfer Station at 376 Stone Church Road. An employee has tested positive, and anyone who visited the transfer station on November 28 should monitor for symptoms and seek testing if they develop, according to a health department press release. The transfer station has been disinfected and contact tracing is underway.
Sullivan County health officials issued two potential exposure alerts at local restaurants this week: one for the Liberty Diner, where a patron tested positive, and another for the Cellaio restaurant at Resorts World Catskills in Monticello, where an employee tested positive. Dates and times of potential exposure for the Liberty Diner:
- November 21, 7-8am
- November 22, 7-8am
- November 23, 7-8am
- November 24, 7-8am
- November 25, 7-8am
Dates and times of potential exposure for Cellaio:
- November 26, 1:50-9:50pm
- November 27, 1:50-10pm
- November 28, 1:50- 5:45pm
The state’s “microcluster” strategy of battling outbreaks will soon shift to focus more on hospitalization data. Here at The River, we have been wondering how that will play out in rural areas, where people often travel out of county for medical care. In an interview Wednesday, Sullivan County health director Nancy McGraw told The River that the county’s daily hospitalization numbers, which are posted on the county dashboard, are counting people who are hospitalized in the county, not Sullivan County residents who are hospitalized anywhere in the state. “If we know of a positive case, we will follow up, and sometimes that’s how we find out they’re in hospital in another county,” she said.
Delaware County hit a new record for active cases on Wednesday, with 76 cases being tracked by county health officials. Eight new cases were reported in the county Wednesday.
Delaware County health officials warned in a Facebook post on Wednesday that indoor dining is risky, encouraging people to order takeout instead. “Eating indoors at a restaurant provides COVID-19 the perfect chance to catch you in its grip,” they wrote. In an even more dramatic messaging move for the county, Board of Supervisors chair Tina Molé, the county’s highest-ranking official, appeared on Tuesday in the county’s “Mask Up DelCo” campaign featuring local leaders in masks. Molé has kept a low profile throughout the pandemic, and presided over unmasked board meetings throughout the summer.
On Wednesday, Schoharie County health officials issued a possible exposure alert for the Red Barn Clubhouse in Cobleskill. Dates and times of potential exposure: November 23, 11 am-8 pm; November 25, 11am-8 pm; November 27, 5-8pm; and November 28, 5-8 pm. “The Red Barn Clubhouse has elected to close for the remainder of the 2020 season. We appreciate the assistance and cooperation of the management and staff,” county health officials wrote in a Facebook post.
Schoharie County has 24 known active cases as of Wednesday, county health director Amy Gildemeister told The River.
On Tuesday, Greene County reported that another county resident died of COVID-19, the 23rd pandemic fatality in the county so far. As of Tuesday, there were 43 active cases in the county, and still a single case at Greene Correctional Facility. The county did not update its daily case numbers on Wednesday.
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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.