This is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties published Monday, March 8, in collaboration with The River.
NEW YORK STATE
7-day average positive test rate: 3.2%
516 deaths past 7 days
4,830 hospitalizations (1,005 in ICUs)
Share of population fully vaccinated: 9.4%
Share of population given 1 dose: 18.8%
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
The River’s COVID-19 vaccine guide
Since the first COVID-19 vaccines emerged on the American stage, we here at The Other Hudson Valley, along with many public health experts and even more frayed and exhausted ordinary citizens, have hoped that they would soon begin to restore the damage done over the past year to our lives, our work, and our social relationships. How soon that will happen depends, in part, on how good the vaccines are at stopping disease and transmission—and on that front, hope is beginning to turn into concrete evidence. On Monday, the CDC issued new guidance for fully vaccinated people that says it is safe for them to socialize indoors and mask-free with each other, and to hold small indoor gatherings with households of unvaccinated people who are at low risk of serious illness or death if they contract COVID-19. It’s not exactly a green light for mosh pits or sold-out Broadway musicals, but it’s a taste of the world we used to take for granted.
Governor Andrew Cuomo is losing the pandemic superpowers that have made him the powerful author of a sweeping array of coronavirus-related policies in New York State for a full year—or most of them, anyway. On Friday, both Democrat-controlled chambers of the state legislature voted to strip Cuomo’s emergency powers. The resolution allows the governor’s existing orders to remain in the interest of public health, but prevents him from issuing new ones, gives the legislature greater oversight over policy going forward, and declares that the legislature, not the governor, shall decide when the state of emergency is over. Republicans say the resolution does not go far enough, and want to see more of Cuomo’s business restrictions rescinded. Cuomo signed the bill into law on Monday.
The governor may have further to fall soon. Already under fire for revelations that his top aides altered a state health department report on nursing home deaths last summer—a situation eerily similar to the scandal that erupted last fall over Trump administration officials editing and interfering with the CDC’s scientific reports—Cuomo is now facing a widening scandal over allegations of sexual harassment, bullying, and encouragement of a toxic workplace culture in which the problems don’t stop at gender bias.
Among the voices calling on Cuomo to resign: State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Times Union editorial board, and Northwestern University journalism professor Steven Thrasher, who argued in Scientific American recently that the governor’s pandemic policy failures warrant his resignation. “The COVID pandemic has proven that he does not respect nor perhaps even understand scientific knowledge enough to avoid needlessly letting thousands of New Yorkers die—and he should resign immediately,” Thrasher writes, pointing to the nursing home data coverup, early dithering over lockdowns, cuts to Medicaid, and the state’s exclusion of farmworkers from vaccine eligibility among the governor’s major missteps.
A divided United States Senate on Saturday passed President Joe Biden’s $1.9 billion COVID stimulus package. The vote, which was along party lines, came after a day of negotiations for Democrats to convince Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia to get on board, a full-court press that included “a direct call from President Biden, a meeting with [Senate majority leader Chuck] Schumer and significant concessions,” according to Politico. (The episode baffled many, including Manchin’s West Virginia counterpart across the aisle, Shelley Moore Capito, who noted that the state’s governor had urged Congress to go bigger, not smaller. “I have no idea what he’s doing, to be quite frank,” she told Politico.) The main concession was lowering weekly unemployment benefits from $400 to $300, though the benefits will now run an extra week, until September 6. Other changes from the House version of the bill include dropping a proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour; lowering the caps for direct checks to $80,000 for individuals, $120,000 for single parents, and $160,000 for couples; and adding a provision to exempt student loan forgiveness from income taxes through 2025. The House is expected to vote on the bill on Tuesday. The New York Times has a helpful explainer about everything included in the legislation.
New York State is preparing to launch 10 new mass vaccination sites in the weeks to come, including two in the Hudson Valley: one at SUNY Orange, and another at the Ulster County Fairgrounds. The state has not yet released details on when appointments will begin at the sites, but a list of locations is posted in a press release on the governor’s website.
Four other mass vaccination sites run jointly by New York State and FEMA launched last week in Yonkers, Albany, Buffalo, and Rochester. The sites are initially restricted to residents of the surrounding area, and will open up to all New York State residents at some point. The state also opened three short-term sites in Poughkeepsie, Batavia, and Olean last week to dispense doses of the newly-available Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
About 19 percent of New Yorkers have gotten at least one dose of vaccine, according to the latest state data. There’s a wide range of vaccine progress in the Hudson Valley and Catskills: Orange County is on the low end, with 14.1 percent of residents at least partially vaccinated, and Columbia County on the high end with 21.6 percent.
Governor Cuomo’s last act as chief pandemic policy architect was to open restaurants to 75 percent capacity everywhere in the state except New York City, starting March 19. The governors of Massachusetts and Connecticut have gone farther, ordering the reopening of restaurants statewide at full capacity. Meanwhile, top federal coronavirus health expert Dr. Anthony Fauci warned on Friday that with cases still at a high level nationwide, and new more-contagious variants gaining ground, the US is at risk of another spike in COVID-19 cases. “Now is not the time to relax restrictions,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky at a recent White House briefing, but the message is falling on deaf ears in both Republican and Democrat-led states.
County health departments are getting weekly supplies of vaccine from New York State, though not remotely enough to keep up with demand. Recently, as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine became available and the federal vaccine supply increased, counties around the region have reported that their supply from the state is also going up fast. Ulster County reports that the state gave the county a 400 percent increase in doses last week, and Dutchess County officials said in a Thursday press release that their allocation had gotten a “significant increase.”
School districts in New York State are anxiously awaiting updated guidance from the state Department of Health on reopening. County and state officials say that the state promised updated guidance in February, but it has not been issued yet, and the lack of clarity is causing confusion about the rules as well as about who has the authority to reopen schools that have been closed for outbreaks, the Auburn Citizen reports.
The Cuomo administration is launching a state grant program to reimburse essential workers and first responders for childcare, transportation, lodging, and other expenses incurred so they could keep working during the pandemic. Grants of up to $1,000 per household will be made from a $29 million fund amassed through private donations from individuals, charitable trusts, and businesses, according to a Saturday press release.
LOWER HUDSON VALLEY
After rising slightly last week, active cases in Rockland County were up again this past week by nearly 20 percent, to 1,745 according to the county’s coronavirus dashboard. As of last Monday’s roundup, there were 1,457 active cases in the county. There has been no explanation yet as to the source of the increase.
With the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine and increased supply of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines from the federal government, counties across the nation have received more doses of vaccine this week than in previous weeks. According to a press release, 2,920 COVID-19 vaccines were scheduled to be delivered to Rockland County this week, the largest allocation received to date. Of those, 1,700 are Moderna vaccines (700 for Phase 1B essential workers, 500 for those with comorbidities, and 500 for those 65 and up), 500 are Johnson & Johnson vaccines, and 720 are Pfizer vaccines (all reserved for the elderly).
Westchester County received 1,000 doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week, all of which are reserved for seniors, County Executive George Latimer said in his Monday coronavirus briefing. Latimer also said that active cases in the county are at their lowest point since November 30, prior to the holiday spikes. As of Sunday’s dashboard update, the county had 5,527 active cases, about half as many as it did two months ago. The severity of cases continues to decline, as well, as hospitalizations have dropped 25 percent over the past two weeks.
Latimer also shared that he got his first dose of the Moderna vaccine on Friday, and yes, there’s video. “It didn’t hurt at all,” Latimer said.
Fans can attend high school and recreational sporting events in Westchester County as of Monday, in limited capacities. County Executive Latimer announced last week that up to two spectators per athlete can attend games, with a cap of 50 percent venue capacity, and provided that social distancing can be maintained and masks are worn.
Two state-run mass vaccination hubs are coming to the mid-Hudson Valley: One to SUNY Orange in Middletown, and one to the Ulster County Fairgrounds in New Paltz. The hubs, which Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus said would open in the next few weeks, will be the first state-run hubs between Albany and Westchester County, and come after Neuhaus and Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney demanded a hub in Orange County, which has the second-lowest vaccination rate in the state.
More than 4,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine were given out in Orange County last week after the county unexpectedly got a large shipment, according to Neuhaus, who also said the county might get a similarly large shipment of the single-dose vaccine later this week. Neuhaus said he didn’t expect more Johnson & Johnson doses until April, and only slight upticks in the number of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines before summer. He also reminded residents they could not choose what vaccine they would receive. “What we get is a crapshoot. It’s whatever the state allocates to us.”
A case of B.1.1.7, the “UK variant,” was found in Columbia County, Health Director Jack Mabb announced Friday. The variant was found in a Chatham woman; Mabb reported five other COVID-19 cases were found connected to her, all of which are being genetically sequenced in the state Wadsworth Laboratory in Albany to see if they carry the more communicable variant. About 140 cases of B.1.1.7 have been found in New York, according to the CDC, but this most likely represents a small slice of total cases with the variant, as only a fraction of all COVID-19 samples are genetically sequenced.
Demonstrators gathered in Kingston and Hudson in support of a bill that would create a fund to aid workers left unemployed by the pandemic who could not receive traditional unemployment benefits. The fund would offer $3,300 a month to people who were excluded from Unemployment and the CARES Act, or people excluded from these programs that were released from incarceration after October 1, 2020. Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson attended one of the rallies.
Active cases in Dutchess County have fallen again after rising in the second half of February. There were 971 cases as of Saturday, significantly lower than in the beginning of the month, but still higher than the 713 cases on February 15, the lowest count so far this year.
Ziel, an activewear company with a factory in Newburgh, pivoted to manufacturing high-quality masks for the duration of the pandemic, according to the Highlands Current, and now is seeking N95 certification from the FDA so the company can sell its products to hospitals. Now called Hudson Valley Mask, the company is selling its products commercially while awaiting approval, and plans to expand to 20 workers. The company was one of many in the Hudson Valley to manufacture masks during severe shortages last spring.
The Columbia County Clerk’s Office, which also houses the county DMV, will be closed until Wednesday morning due to a COVID-19 exposure.
Active cases in Delaware have gone up dramatically in the past week, while declining throughout much of the rest of the region. On Monday, March 1, the county had 98 current known active cases; on March 8, the count stood at 124.
The construction of Delaware County’s new Behavioral Medicine building in Walton has been halted because of a COVID-19 exposure on site, according to a county press release issued Friday. Two contractors have tested positive, and several coworkers are quarantining. The site will be closed down until March 15.
Rural vaccine access—or the lack thereof—is a pressing issue for local elected officials on both sides of the aisle. The Schoharie Times-Journal reports that state Senator Peter Oberacker, a Republican, is pressuring Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to set up a vaccine site in Schoharie County. Meanwhile, Congressman Antonio Delgado, a Democrat representing the rural 19th district, told constituents in a recent town hall that he has been pressing the state to set up sites in rural areas.
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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.