Calls Grow to Strip Cuomo of Emergency Powers

cuomo emergency powersThis is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties published Monday, January 22, in collaboration with The River.

NEW YORK STATE

7-day average positive test rate: 3.5%
720 deaths past 7 days
5,804 hospitalizations (1,148 in ICUs)
Share of population fully vaccinated: 6.3%
Share of population given 1 dose: 12.4%
New York State coronavirus page
New York State vaccine page
New York State official pressroom
COVID-19 hotline: (888) 364-3065
Vaccine appointment hotline: (833) 697-4829

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo is in the hot seat right now for his administration’s handling of nursing homes early on in the pandemic, and even more so for his attempts to delay and cover up data that paint his policy in an unflattering light. Last week, the governor’s public and private attacks on Assemblyman Ron Kim, a Queens Democrat who has been critical of Cuomo on nursing homes, added fresh fuel to an already flaming scandal. But the governor has long had a reputation for being aggressive with fellow elected officials and underlings alike: In a story on Monday, The New York Times paints a picture of Cuomo as a yeller and a bully—to some observers, the vengeful head of a toxic workplace, to others, just a classic specimen of New York-style politics.

As for Ron Kim, he’s calling for Cuomo’s impeachment in a recent Newsweek editorial. Impeachment seems a long shot, but there is support among both Republicans and some Democrats for rescinding the emergency powers that have granted Cuomo wide latitude to make pandemic policy in the state, and legislators are debating possible paths for curtailing the governor’s powers.

How many additional nursing home deaths did Cuomo’s short-lived policy cause? It’s a tricky question to answer, but the Empire Center’s Bill Hammond took a stab at it last week. Hammond analyzed data from the New York State Department of Health for correlations between admissions of COVID-19-positive residents between late March and early May and increased deaths at nursing homes. There is plenty of uncertainty in the analysis, but Hammond’s best guess is that the policy did have a human cost: He estimates between several hundred and just over 1,000 additional deaths may have been driven by nursing homes admitting COVID-19 positive residents, out of more than 13,000 nursing home deaths in the state overall.

The New York State legislature has taken up a package of legislation aimed at boosting oversight and improving care in the state’s nursing homes. The 11-bill package was expected to pass in the state Senate, and must also pass in the Assembly before heading to Governor Cuomo’s desk.

New nursing home visitation rules go into effect in New York State on Friday, February 26. In a call with reporters on Monday, state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said that the rules for visitation will depend on the infection rate of the surrounding county. In counties where the positivity rate is between 5 and 10 percent, all visitors will be required to test negative on either a rapid test or a PCR test within 72 hours of the visit, or else must be fully vaccinated. In counties with a positivity rate below 5 percent, testing will be encouraged but not required. In counties where the positivity rate is above 10 percent, only “compassionate care” visits will be allowed. Before the new guidelines were developed, New York State required all nursing homes to be COVID-19-free for at least 14 days before allowing any visits.

School districts in New York State will soon be required to report data on the vaccination of teachers to the state, Cuomo said in a Monday call with reporters.

New York State’s vaccine data page got an upgrade last week: The state is now releasing data on the percentage of county residents that have been vaccinated so far. There’s a wide range in the numbers, from Hamilton County, where 39 percent of residents have received at least one dose, to Alleghany County, where just 7.5 percent have. Overall, as of Monday, 12.2 percent of New York State residents have received at least one vaccine dose. New York City was the farthest behind of the state’s ten regions, with 10.2 percent of residents at least partially vaccinated.

Federal vaccine shipments to New York State recently have been subject to widespread delays because of winter weather. As of Friday, no appointments were rescheduled at state-run mass vaccination sites, Cuomo said, and state officials said that anyone who had an appointment rescheduled because of the delays would be contacted.

Movie theaters across much of New York State reopened in October at reduced capacity, but remained closed in New York City and some counties where microcluster focus zones were in effect. On Monday, Cuomo announced that theaters can reopen across the state as of March 5, with a maximum of 25 percent capacity and no more than 50 people per screening.

Billiard and pool halls can also reopen statewide, at 35 percent capacity in New York City and 50 percent capacity elsewhere in the state, Cuomo announced Monday. The decision followed on the heels of a lawsuit in which 16 billiard halls prevailed against the State of New York, Cuomo said.

On Sunday, Cuomo announced that the first case of B.1.351, the “South African variant” of COVID-19, was found in a resident of New York State, in Nassau County. Last week, a case was also found in a Connecticut resident who was hospitalized in New York City. Fifty-four more New York State cases of B.1.1.7, the so-called “UK variant,” were also reported over the weekend; the total known count of B.1.1.7 cases in the state is now up to 136, with cases found in 16 counties as well as New York City.

Encouraging news out of Israel: A new study found that Pfizer’s vaccine blocks most COVID-19 transmission, not just symptomatic disease. The study has yet to go through peer review, but if the results hold up, they hold out hope that vaccines will be more broadly protective of communities and herd immunity might be achieved faster.

More good news for vaccine supply: Several recent studies lend evidence to the idea that people who have already been infected with COVID-19 might need only one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, not two. If the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that previously infected people only need one dose, that could dramatically increase vaccine availability in the US.

Some vaccine doses given at the state-run Jones Beach site in Long Island on February 15 were ineffective because they were kept at the wrong temperature, state health officials said Monday. The state is rescheduling appointments for anyone who was affected.

What’s next for the shape of our lives? The Atlantic’s Joe Pinsker predicts that over the course of the next year, the pandemic may get a little better through the summer, then a little worse in the fall, and then a lot better by the time 2022 begins to warm up. By next summer, COVID-19 will probably still be with us, but “Americans should be able to do most, if not all, of the things that they missed so much in 2020 and 2021, mask- and worry-free,” he writes. In the meantime, we can look forward to smaller reprieves: the gradual reopening of mass gatherings, the return of travel, and safer socialization among the vaccinated.

When can children under 16 be vaccinated? Studies on how effective the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are in teenagers 12 and up are already underway, but younger children will need to wait longer. Pfizer expects to have vaccine data for teenagers sometime early in the year, and top federal COVID-19 expert Anthony Fauci predicts that the vaccine might be available to younger children by September, although others are less optimistic about the timing of vaccine availability for elementary schoolers.

Starting on Wednesday, the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which has provided funding for businesses to stay afloat during the pandemic, will start a two-week period in which new applications will only be open to businesses with fewer than 20 employees, a measure aimed at giving the smallest businesses a boost.

The official death toll of COVID-19 in the US has surpassed half a million.

LOWER HUDSON VALLEY

County coronavirus pages: Rockland, Westchester, Putnam
County vaccine pages: Putnam

Yonkers officials have gotten their wish: This week, the state will open a mass vaccination clinic in the city, the fourth-largest city in New York and largest in the Hudson Valley. The clinic will operate out of the National Guard Armory in southwest Yonkers at 2 Quincy Place, and will administer 1,000 shots per day. It will serve the hardest-hit communities first: Beginning this Wednesday, registration will open exclusively to people living in Yonkers zip codes 10701, 10705, 10703, and 10704, and Mount Vernon zip codes 10553, 10550, and 10552, before opening to all county residents on March 3.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, whose district includes Yonkers, said that the other mass vaccination site in the county, at the Westchester County Center, has not been accessible to seniors and those who depend on public transportation. “So getting this site in my district will be life-saving,” Stewart-Cousins said. Appointments can be made through the New York State vaccine website or the vaccine hotline at (833) NYS-4-VAX (833-697-4829).

One new case of the more-transmissible B.1.1.7 variant of the coronavirus—popularly known as the “UK variant”—was confirmed in Westchester County, Governor Cuomo said on Friday. There have now been five confirmed cases of the UK variant in the county. Samples of the virus are genetically tested for variants at the state Wadsworth Laboratory in Albany, which is only able to test a fraction of new cases reported each day.

But overall, the data is trending in a positive direction in Westchester County. Monday’s dashboard update listed 6,019 active cases, more than 1,000 lower than late last week. “That continues what amounts to about a month-long diminution in active cases,” County Executive George Latimer said in his Monday coronavirus press briefing. Hospitalizations have also declined by about one-third since the start of the month. More than 2 million tests have been administered in the county over the course of the pandemic.

In Rockland County, active cases have declined from 1,743 in last week’s roundup to 1,372 as of Monday’s county dashboard update. But in Putnam County, active cases have more or less remained steady: 540 last week to 524 as of Monday, according to state data analyzed by The Examiner.

Second-dose vaccine clinics scheduled for this past weekend by the Rockland County Department of Health were postponed one week to Saturday, February 27 through Monday, March 1, due to a delay in the shipment of vaccine, according to a press release. No new appointments will be made available, and everyone who registered for the clinics should come at the same time as the original appointment. The shipping delay was caused by extreme cold-weather conditions throughout the country.

Westchester County released vaccination figures for fire, EMS, and police in every municipality throughout the county. In all but two municipalities in the county (Pound Ridge and Briarcliff Manor), the majority of police have been vaccinated—in most cases, the vast majority. As a percentage, fewer firefighters and EMTs have been vaccinated, though in most cases a majority of crews have gotten both shots. Still, there are some notable laggards, including the Yonkers Fire Department, where only 110 of 335 members who requested the vaccine have gotten it so far.

The Westchester County Department of Health also provided its vaccine allotment for this week, broken down by distribution point.

MID-HUDSON VALLEY

County coronavirus pages: Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia
County vaccine pages: Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia

The second and third cases of the more-contagious B.1.1.7 “UK” variant have been found in the mid-Hudson region. Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro released a statement on Facebook on Saturday saying he had just learned of one local infection from the state Department of Health; a case was also discovered in Ulster County, according to LoHud, the county’s second. No cases have been found in Orange County, and health officials in Columbia County said they were unaware of any B.1.1.7 cases there despite two new infections being reported in Albany County over the weekend. There have been 82 cases of the variant found in New York. Samples of the virus are genetically tested for variants at the state Wadsworth Laboratory in Albany, which is only able to test a fraction of new cases reported each day.

The Columbia County Department of Health was unable to give out any vaccinations last week due to national weather conditions. Two second-dose vaccine hubs scheduled for last Thursday and Friday were postponed because of “weather conditions in the Kentucky area,” Health Director Jack Mabb announced Wednesday. The severe winter storm that hit the south delayed vaccine shipments for the whole state, forcing the county to go without vaccines over the weekend. The county received 900 doses on Monday, 700 of which are earmarked as second doses and will be given to residents whose appointments were canceled last week.

The Times Herald Record posted a report on Monday about the backlash over the New Paltz Board of Education’s decision to opt out of the spring football season despite the state permitting high-contact sports. A curt but otherwise non-threatening letter directed at school board president Glenn Lapolt and school district consulting doctor Malek Balutowski was widely circulated in the county, but the publicity it brought to the situation resulted in the two men being inundated with emails and phone calls. Lapolt wrote the letter resulted in “nefarious groups from around the state” harassing and insulting him, and that his young daughter feared for her safety. New Paltz and Saugerties’ football teams will be some of the few in their division sidelined this spring.

Cases in Dutchess County saw a sustained rise over the last week, according to the county’s COVID-19 dashboard. The number of active cases hit a nadir at 713 on January 15, but has risen every day since then and sat at 1,156 on Saturday, the last available day of data. However, hospitalizations have continued to fall and the positivity rate has continued to hover between 4 and 5 percent. Seven residents died of COVID-19 last week.

State Senator Sue Serino has been diagnosed with COVID-19, she announced in a tweet on Monday. The Dutchess County Republican was tested after experiencing flu-like symptoms, according to the Highlands Current.

Cases continue to slowly trend down in Orange County, with 1,469 active cases Monday, according to County Executive Steve Neuhaus. Three deaths were reported in the county over the weekend.

The Empire Center for Public Policy, an Albany-based think tank, will hold a virtual forum Friday at 9am called “How Not To Go Viral: Preparing New York for the Next Pandemic.” The panel includes Dutchess County Health Commissioner Dr. Anil Vaidian and will broadcast on Zoom. Interested parties can register on the Empire Center’s website.

CATSKILLS

County coronavirus pages: Sullivan, Delaware, Greene, Schoharie
County vaccine pages: Sullivan, Delaware, Greene, Schoharie

Younger people with comorbidities who are eligible for vaccine in New York State don’t have a lot of options. Pharmacies have been instructed by the state to focus on the elderly, and many hospitals are still focused on vaccinating healthcare workers. That leaves mainly vaccination sites run by the state and by county health departments—and in Delaware County, the doses being made available from the state are so limited that Public Health is currently focused on vaccinating people who are both elderly and afflicted with comorbidities, along with eligible essential workers. Public Health may open up county-run clinics to younger people with medical conditions if it gets more vaccine supply from the state, program manager Heather Warner told The Other Hudson Valley. “We’re doing the best we can,” she said. The county is currently receiving 100 or 200 doses a week from New York State.

The Cobleskill-Richmondville Central School District is grappling with soaring failure rates among students this year, the Times-Journal reports. The school district is planning “beefed-up” summer school sessions this year to help disengaged students get back on track.

The Sullivan County Democrat reported this week on a partnership between the town of Liberty and the Medicine Shoppe, an independent pharmacy in town, to give about 200 vaccines at the town’s Senior Center. For those who got appointments, it was a palpable relief, supervisor Frank DeMayo told the paper. “I got a sense that a lot of these seniors may have not even been out for an extended period of time due to COVID,” he said.

Sullivan County is encouraging anyone who is interested in volunteering for the county’s vaccination clinic to sign up through the state’s ServNY system, and has put together a helpful guide to the process for first-time volunteers unfamiliar with the process.

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?

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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.

To read more of our coronavirus coverage, visit our coronavirus page.

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