Coronavirus Roundup: Columbia County Nursing Home Dumped Dying Residents At Hospitals | Health | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

This is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties published on Tuesday, August 11 and Wednesday, August 12. 

422,703 cases confirmed (700 new)
6,728,481 tests performed (87,776 new)
Positive test rate: 0.79%
25,218 deaths (7 new)
558 current hospitalizations
123 current ICU admissions
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A Columbia County nursing home sent residents sick with COVID-19 to hospitals to die so they wouldn’t show up on the nursing home’s death count, a blockbuster ProPublica story claimed this week. Columbia County health director Jack Mabb told the news outlet that the Grand Rehabilitation and Nursing at Barnwell in Valatie sent 18 residents to local hospitals within five weeks, all with orders saying that no extraordinary measures should be taken to keep them alive. “There are very few legitimate reasons for a nursing home to send seriously ill residents with do-not-resuscitate orders to a hospital unless there is a real chance that their conditions could be improved,” Mabb told ProPublica. Governor Andrew Cuomo and top New York State health officials have not released any data on how many nursing home residents have died in hospitals, and Cuomo has dismissed criticism of the state’s handling of nursing homes in the pandemic as partisan politics—a charge that is a little tougher to credibly stick ProPublica with than the New York Post, whose reporters have been following the nursing home issue with dogged persistence.

The pandemic is going to cost New York State hospitals billions of dollars in lost revenue from elective procedure cancellations and patients wary of receiving care, hospital leaders said at a Wednesday hearing in the New York State legislature.  

State Department of Health commissioner Howard Zucker, who skipped a Monday legislative hearing on nursing homes, showed up to Wednesday’s hospital hearing to testify. Zucker deflected legislators’ questions about how many New York State nursing home residents died in hospitals, and denied reports that New York hospitals were desperately short of personal protective equipment at the height of the pandemic, when photos of nurses wearing garbage bags for gowns were going viral on social media. Also testifying on Wednesday: Ken Raske, president of the Greater New York Hospital Association, who defended his organization’s role in crafting legislation that shields hospitals and nursing homes from liability for actions taken during the pandemic. “We lobbied extensively for the immunity law, and I’m proud to have done it,” Raske said.

State legislators also got an earful this week about election problems during the June primary, in a hearing aimed at ensuring that the problems that plagued New York elections this summer don’t happen again on a larger scale in November. “Administrators are looking at a logistical nightmare unfolding at the feet of a notoriously antiquated and byzantine elections system, which typically conducts 95 percent of voting in person, during a pandemic and with the anticipation of record-breaking turnout,” the Gotham Gazette writes. What could go wrong?

The Gotham Gazette also has a handy guide to various election reform efforts that are working their way through the New York State legislative process, awaiting action by Gov. Cuomo, or both. 

That $400-a-week emergency unemployment benefit President Donald Trump is promising out-of-work Americans via a recent executive order might be only $300 by the time it takes effect: States largely aren’t prepared to take on funding a quarter of the payments, and they’re not required to, the Washington Post reports. 

If re-elected, Trump is seeking to enshrine his recent pandemic emergency executive order in law and put a permanent end to the payroll tax that funds Social Security, a move that has even members of his own party worried. “It creates a public relations problem,” Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa told The Hill. “Social Security people think we're raiding the Social Security fund. And we are raiding it, but we have always put in general fund revenue in it so it is made whole.” 

Months into the pandemic, New York State farm workers still aren’t getting the protection they need to stay safe, workers and advocates said in a Tuesday news conference. Several large COVID-19 outbreaks in upstate New York have occurred in agricultural and food processing workplaces. 

Rotten eggs: New York State Attorney General Letitia James is suing egg producer Hillandale for price gouging during the pandemic. According to a release from James’ office, Hillandale’s egg prices this spring peaked at almost five times their January level. 

Wall Street donations are pouring into Cuomo’s reelection campaign and the state Democratic Party, the TMI newsletter reports. So far, the governor has blocked efforts by Democratic legislators to enact new taxes on New York’s wealthiest residents as a measure to prevent massive cuts to services like healthcare and education. “In blocking his party’s push for new taxes on stock trades, capital gains and carried interest, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is protecting the financial industry that has delivered millions to his campaign and political operation,” reporter Matthew Cunningham-Cook writes. 

Congressman Antonio Delgado, a Democrat who represents the rural 19th district in the Hudson Valley and Catskills, is sponsoring legislation with North Country Republican Elise Stefanik on an issue dear to locals on both sides of the aisle: Rural access to hospitals. On Tuesday, the two New York Congressional representatives introduced the Protecting Rural Access to Care Act, which seeks to maintain “critical access hospital” designation for rural upstate hospitals that would lose this designation under an administrative rule change. Nine of New York State’s critical access hospitals are currently slated to lose the designation, including Ellenville Regional Hospital, Margaretville Hospital, and Cobleskill Regional Hospital. Critical access hospitals have increased access to federal grant funding and higher federal reimbursement, and losing the designation could make it harder for them to stay open. 

A New York State judge has extended the state’s eviction ban until October 1, giving renters facing eviction a little more breathing room. Last week, an executive order signed by Gov. Cuomo extended the ban until September 4. 

A federal judge has overturned a Cuomo executive order that limits weddings to 50 people, saying in a ruling that there isn’t a substantial difference between a restaurant operating at half capacity and a wedding venue operating at half capacity. A state spokesperson called the judge’s decision “irresponsible,” and said that the administration will appeal the ruling.  

The medical science outlet STAT News warns: Winter is coming, and that means America’s window of opportunity to beat down the pandemic before it becomes vastly more difficult is closing. “Unless Americans use the dwindling weeks between now and the onset of ‘indoor weather’ to tamp down transmission in the country, this winter could be Dickensianly bleak, public health experts warn,” writes STAT’s Helen Branswell.

Announced by New York State on Tuesday and Wednesday: 

  • The list of quarantine states for travelers entering New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut was updated on Tuesday. Hawaii, South Dakota, and the US Virgin Islands were added to the quarantine list; Alaska, New Mexico, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Washington State were dropped. The full list of states and territories from which incoming travelers must quarantine is: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Virgin Islands, and Wisconsin.
  • Thirty-eight bars in New York City and Long Island have had their liquor licenses suspended for pandemic guideline violations over the past week, according to a Tuesday state press release. In total, 132 bars and restaurants have had their liquor licenses suspended, and 707 have been cited for violations. 

Rate of active cases per 10,000 residents, drawn from the latest county data. Active case data unavailable for Rockland and Orange counties.

Since mid-May, The River has been collecting and charting data on the number of active COVID-19 cases by county in the Hudson Valley and Catskills. Below is a Flourish animation we have compiled that shows the rate of active cases per 10,000 residents for each county over time, from May 12 through the present date.

County coronavirus pages: Rockland, Westchester, Putnam

A Westchester County school reopening workgroup has released a guide for local school districts to help them address health and safety issues with reopening. A link to the guide is posted on the county website. 

The Suffern Central School District in Rockland County has announced that they will start the school year with remote learning. Suffern is one of the first districts in the region to go all-remote, reports. The district plans to keep an eye on others in the region, and reopen in a hybrid model at the end of September if all goes well. 

County coronavirus pages: Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia

Columbia County has received a New York State grant for $266,867 dedicated for staffing related to the COVID-19 pandemic, a county press release stated. The county also reported two new private donations to their fund for coronavirus test kits; so far, Columbia County has raised $41,875 in private donations for the effort. 

Local legislators expressed worries about mail-in voting in Tuesday’s hearing on primary elections, the Daily Freeman reports. Democrat Jen Metzger of the 42nd State Senate district aired concerns about safe voting, and spoke in support of expanding access to labor-saving electronic ballot scanners as well as a legislative effort afoot to create secure dropboxes for ballots. Republican Chris Tague of the 102nd Assembly district called the move to expand mail-in voting in the primary an “unfunded mandate,” and raised concerns about the integrity of elections and increased strain on local election boards.

County coronavirus pages: Sullivan, Delaware, Greene, Schoharie

Another Catskills Orthodox Jewish camp is facing enforcement action from local (and possibly state) officials: News10 reports that The Zone, a pair of boys’ and girls’ summer camps run by Oorah in the Schoharie County towns of Jefferson and Gilboa, is facing up to $60,000 in fines for allegedly violating pandemic restrictions. Schoharie County Public Health director Amy Gildemeister told The River that her office issued the fines; she says that local officials have been trying to shut the camp down for more than two weeks. Camp managers dispute the allegations, and are claiming that they are being targeted for selective enforcement: Zone spokesman Ralph Zucker told the station that families are staying at the camp with a system for keeping social distance between households. The camp has a long history of going toe-to-toe with the town of Jefferson over property tax issues. On Wednesday, a day after News10’s report came out, a massive fire destroyed the kitchen and dining room of Oorah’s Gilboa camp

The New York State Department of Health has been refusing for months to give out information to the press about enforcement actions served against Orthodox Jewish camps upstate. According to local officials, state health officials have gotten involved in enforcement actions against Orthodox hotels allegedly operating as summer camps in the Delaware County village of Fleischmanns and the Sullivan County town of Highland, but so far, the state has refused to release information on any specific actions taken. A statement given to News10 about the situation at the Oorah camps in Schoharie County cited litigation as a reason for not releasing information: “The New York State Department of Health will continue to aggressively hold camp operators accountable for following all COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. As this involves ongoing litigation, we cannot comment further at this time.”

About 30 percent of parents in the Cobleskill-Richmondville school district want their children in remote education, the Times-Journal reports. Some local school districts are offering families a choice between in-person and remote learning; others have yet to determine whether they will offer a remote option. 

Despite the pandemic, local economic activity rolls on in Sullivan County. A few businesses are looking into setting up shop in the county, including a bagged ice distributor, a New York City software company looking to relocate, and a buyer who’s eyeing the vacant Apollo Mall in Monticello, the Sullivan County Democrat reports.  

A drive-through food pantry will be held at the Charlotte Valley Central School in Davenport from 10am to 1pm on Tuesday, August 18, open to anyone in the local community. 


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 has a guide on where, how, and when to get tested for the coronavirus in the Hudson Valley and Catskills. To read more of our coronavirus coverage, visit our coronavirus page.

The River is 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.

Lissa Harris

Lissa Harris is a staff writer at The River and a volunteer firefighter. She was the founding editor of the Watershed Post, a site that covered local news in the rural Catskills from 2010 to 2017.
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