This is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties for Tuesday, December 8 and Wednesday, December 9. Published in collaboration with The River Newsroom.
NEW YORK STATE
10,600 new cases yesterday
194,595 tests yesterday
Positive test rate: 5.45%
97 deaths yesterday
952 ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065
New York State is expecting a decision soon from the Food and Drug Administration on Pfizer’s vaccine, and officials are preparing to act. If the FDA issues an emergency use authorization—a decision scientists say is likely to happen within days—several things will happen in quick succession: A panel of state experts will review the decision, and issue their own approval. Military logistics teams will begin shipping the first doses of the 170,000 two-shot courses of vaccine that have been allocated to New York to staging points across the state. Once the vaccines are in place, the first New Yorkers will be vaccinated, starting with those at the very highest risk: frontline healthcare workers, and nursing home residents and staff.
The process could begin as soon as this weekend, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a Wednesday briefing. The state has identified 90 locations across the state with ultracold storage capacity that will serve as vaccination staging points. In the first shipment, Cuomo said, they will receive enough doses to give the first of the two-shot vaccination course to 90,000 frontline healthcare workers, about 40 percent of the state’s 225,000 patient-facing hospital workers. “By the end of Week Two, if all goes well and the federal government sticks to the schedule, we expect all high-risk staff will receive the vaccination,” Cuomo said.
Nursing home residents and staff will be vaccinated with help from a federal program that is contracting with private pharmacies to give the vaccines. New York State has opted into the program to take some of the burden of logistics off nursing home staff, Cuomo said Wednesday.
The governor’s latest briefing was held with reporters over Zoom, a step toward greater social distancing after nine months of in-person briefings in the Red Room. This week, Plexiglas dividers also appeared between Cuomo and state officials at the briefing table. The reporters of the Albany press corps who regularly show up to Cuomo’s briefings are worried about getting their questions in under the new Zoom protocol. In the first remote briefing, only four reporters were chosen from the press pool to question the governor.
Governor Cuomo claimed victory Wednesday in an ongoing dispute with federal health officials over how much personal information about vaccine recipients would be collected and shared with federal agencies. Governors and top health officials in many states are balking at federal data sharing agreements that could be used to gather information about undocumented people and turn it over to immigrations officials. On Wednesday, Cuomo said that federal officials at Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had agreed to the state’s demands. “The CDC specifically has agreed that the state will not send individual data identifying a person in a way that could be used to document citizenship or deportation,” Cuomo said. “If undocumented people don’t get vaccinated, it compromises their health and it compromises the whole program.”
Focus zones are out, hospitals are in: This week, New York State officials stopped including data on positivity rates in the focus zones in their regular press release updates on COVID-19 progress. In place of data on focus zones is new data on hospitalizations in the state’s 10 economic development regions: the number of hospitalized cases in each region, the percent of each region’s population that is hospitalized for COVID-19, the seven-day average of the percent of hospital beds that are still available in each region, and regional data on ICU availability. The new figures drive home some hard realities about health care in New York State. In the entire North Country region, as of Wednesday, there are only 73 ICU beds. Thirty-eight of them are already occupied.
On Friday, New Yorkers can expect a few more details on the state’s emerging winter plan to fight COVID-19, Cuomo said. State experts are currently analyzing the impact of Thanksgiving on the fall surge. “We’ve been blessed with international experts who have given us guidance, and are looking at our data and our situation, and actually recommend adding new factors to our plan, which I think is good advice,” Cuomo said. “We’re going to do that, and will announce a new plan on Friday.”
Also coming Friday: More details on the data coming in from state, county, and city contact-tracing efforts. Asked by USA Today’s Jon Campbell why the state hasn’t released any data on the settings where transmission is happening in New York, Cuomo said that he would make a “compilation” of data from contact tracing available on Friday.
Planning for a rainy day: Cuomo said he expects the federal government to deliver some of the local aid New York State will need to close its 20 percent budget hole, but probably not enough. Tax increases are probably in New York’s future even if local aid comes through. “I’m skeptical that Washington ever provides all the funding that they should provide. I think the distribution becomes more political than need-based. That’s what they’ve done thus far,” he said. “And if Washington doesn’t provide enough funding, I believe tax increases are going to happen.”
County executives repeated their pleas for federal aid to patch up their budgets and fund further efforts against the virus during a briefing Wednesday. Their frustration crested with Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus saying members of Congress “have the liberty of not being on the front lines,” and Rockland County Executive Ed Day calling out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for previously blocking stimulus bills with funding for state and local governments. “I’m asking him, as a human being: understand lives are at risk. Lives have been lost. People are sick,” Day said. Congressman Antonio Delgado said during a Wednesday night town hall that Congress had not accomplished “anything meaningful” since March and it was time to “stand up” and pass a stimulus bill. He urged bipartisanship in getting a bill passed with funding for state and local governments.
About that bill: After a week of reports teasing us that compromise on a $908 billion stimulus package may be reached, on Wednesday the tone out of Washington was decidedly less optimistic. “Stimulus talks sputter” reads the headline out of Politico. Democrats staunchly opposed a liability provision in the bill that would shield businesses from being sued if workers became sick with the coronavirus, while some Republicans think that the $160 billion in aid to states and localities is too rich. Politico reports that McConnell held a private party conference call urging Republicans to drop liability reform and state and local aid from the discussion, deeming them too contentious. The newsmagazine also wrote that “some Republicans are resisting approval of any money that would go to blue states.” House speaker Nancy Pelosi was more optimistic in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, saying “I think that we’re close.”
Hot scoop from the Times Union: A unit of the Capital District Psychiatric Center in Albany is on quarantine after an outbreak, and state officials won’t say how many infections there are among patients and staff, or whether anyone has died.
School districts large and small are scrambling to get ready for the testing New York State will require of them, if local numbers put them in a focus zone. The Times Union also reports this week on how schools in the Albany area are reacting to new guidance from the state Department of Health, which is forcing districts to reckon with huge testing requirements many do not have the capacity to carry out.
This week, federal health officials released a wealth of new data on how COVID-19 is affecting hospitals. NPR used that data to create a new tool that lets you look up local hospitals and see how your area is doing. Many rural counties, including several in our region, have no data available—in the case of Greene County, perhaps because the county has no hospitals at all.
Another tool to keep an eye on in the fast-paced news cycle: The New York Times’s vaccine tracker, which is getting frequent updates as dozens of vaccines move through the process of clinical trials and regulatory approval.
GOP leaders in the New York State Senate are calling on Governor Cuomo to put an emergency halt to planned minimum wage increases that are set to go into effect at the end of the year. “Our small businesses are hanging on by a thread and in order to help businesses stay open and keep all of their employees, we cannot add any additional financial hardship at this time,” Senate minority leader Robert Ortt said in a statement. “The Governor has the power to temporarily pause minimum wage increases and we urge him to do so until the end of the pandemic. We do not want our small businesses to make the difficult choice of laying off workers or closing their doors because this becomes the final straw during the financial fragility of the pandemic.”
Three bars in Yonkers had their liquor licenses suspended for what the governor’s office called “egregious violations of pandemic-related Executive Orders.” The bars in question are Margarita’s Restaurant and Lounge, Uptown Bar and Grill, and Sahara Café, all of which are located on South Broadway. That state detailed how each bar flouted COVID-19 rules in a press release.
On Tuesday, Westchester County had 575 new cases with 6.1 percent test positivity; Rockland County had 236 new cases with 6.6 percent test positivity; and Putnam had 61 new cases at 8.4 percent test positivity, according to the state regional dashboard. The test positivity rates in all three counties are in line with their rolling seven-day averages.
Ossining Union Free School District students and families can get free COVID-19 tests on Thursday from 9am to 2pm at Star of Bethlehem Baptist Church (304 Spring Street). Registration is encouraged, but only a photo ID is required upon testing. No insurance is needed.
Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, one of the representatives for New York counties during the vaccine rollout, gave a general timeline of the first three stages of vaccine distribution in the state during his briefing Wednesday. The first round of 170,000 doses, which should be received in New York on December 15, will go to frontline medical workers, then nursing home residents and staff. Hospitals will act as distribution “hubs” in this round. The second round, which should be received sometime in January, will go to “first responders and emergency care providers,” Molinaro said, though he added that counties are pushing for people with developmental disabilities— who are often immunocompromised—and people who work with them to be put on the list. The third round, which would be delivered “sometime late in the spring” would be more broadly available to the public.
Molinaro also said the number of people being hospitalized for COVID-19 in Dutchess County is rising at an “alarming” rate that is “not sustainable.” Ninety-three people are hospitalized with the virus, just below the peak of 108 seen last spring, Molinaro said, and the number would reach 200 within two or three weeks at the current rate.
The Other Hudson Valley reached out to Columbia County Health Commissioner Jack Mabb after the Columbia County Board of Supervisors issued a press release about a COVID-19 cluster at a county business. On Tuesday, three more cases were reported, bringing the cluster’s total to 11, county health director Jack Mabb said. Mabb would not identify the business, saying that releasing the names of businesses undergoing outbreaks was under the purview of the county Board of Supervisors, led by Chairman Matt Murell, and the board had decided to not identify where the outbreak had occurred. The cluster was spread between two of the businesses’ three offices—one in the northern part of the county and one in the southern part—which are now closed. Mabb said the company had been conducting its transactions with clients at arm’s length and no customers had yet tested positive. The business “was very lax with social distancing and mask-wearing,” according to Mabb. The Register-Star reported that more than 100 people will have to quarantine due to the cluster.
Hudson Valley One spoke to Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan and hospital officials as part of an article about COVID-19 this winter. Michael Doyle, executive director and chief medical officer of HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley, said its hospitals had plans in place to increase hospital capacity by 50 percent, as was mandated in the spring, and had stockpiled PPE.
Molly Nicol, the interim director of the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley, told Mid-Hudson News that the organization has delivered 53 percent more food this year, and that she expects needs to remain high through 2021. The organization, which serves Ulster, Dutchess, Putnam, Sullivan, Rockland, and Orange counties, also delivered 66 percent more meals to children through its backpack program.
Ulster County added 94 cases to its active caseload Monday and 83 on Tuesday.
Eleven more staff members in the Kingston City School District tested positive for COVID-19, the district announced late Tuesday, including four at Bailey Middle School. Kingston schools went remote on December 4, though staff still work from the building. They are scheduled to reopen Monday, December 14.
In a Wednesday video briefing, Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus fielded a question from a constituent who wanted to know if they could donate movies to local nursing homes to cheer up residents. “I checked, and at least one of them said yes,” Neuhaus said. “If you have extra DVDs—not, like, Dude, Where’s My Car, but maybe some classics—that would be well-received,” he said. If you have movies to donate, you can find Neuhaus on Facebook.
A Resorts World Catskills employee tested positive for COVID-19, the Sullivan County health department confirmed on Tuesday. The employee was working at the Monticello casino from 9am to 5pm on November 30, December 1, and December 2. Health officials wrote in a press release that “there is currently no indication that the employee contracted the virus at the casino or impacted anyone else.”
Forget about waiting for hours at the local DMV: Pandemic backups now have people waiting weeks for appointments. The Sullivan County Democrat reports that the typical wait time for a license or registration is four weeks, and the wait for a permit is three months; county officials are doing their best. “DMV remains extremely busy, the transactions are relentless,” said county clerk Russell Reeves.
On-the-ground local reporting and analysis has never been more important, and that’s what The River aims to provide. But we need your help to continue the work we’re doing. Will you support our journalism today?
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.