Coronavirus Roundup: Going Deep on the Mental Health and Unemployment Crises | Health | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

This is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties for Friday, September 12 through Monday, September 14. 

NEW YORK STATE
444,948 cases confirmed (583 new)
9,381,651 tests performed (63,358 new)
Positive test rate: 0.92%
25,394 deaths (4 new)
464 current hospitalizations
143 current ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065

Did Westchester Medical Center use the pandemic as an excuse to get rid of the only inpatient mental health treatment center in Ulster County? It sure looks that way—and despite calls from mental health advocates and drug recovery professionals to bring it back, there isn’t any sign of the behavioral health unit being restored to the Mary’s Avenue Campus in Kingston anytime soon. Our own Phillip Pantuso dug into the hospital network’s decision to move all inpatient psychiatric, detox, and drug rehab care across the Hudson, and how it’s hurting local access to care, in an in-depth weekend feature for The River.

The Times Union took a look inside the New York State Department of Labor’s frantic effort to get people connected with unemployment benefits during the pandemic. What they found: Chaos, triage, a 16,000 percent increase in phone call volume, a fugitive facing identity theft charges hired to review applications, an actual burst water pipe in the building, and a whole lot of sketchy claims getting paid out. “This has affected a lot of people—there are people who work for [the unemployment office] who drink every night. People are screaming and crying, the amount of stress. They know they are doing things they shouldn’t be doing…It goes against their morals and ethics,” one source told the paper.

New York State’s school COVID-19 “Report Card” dashboard is finally live, and the data is coming in from school districts across the state. It’s not exactly a dashboard: In order to see any data, you have to search by school building or district, which is fine if you’re looking for district information, but cumbersome if you’re looking for trends across a broader area. One useful feature of the site: If you look at a district’s data, it will also give you the option to view data from neighboring districts. Right now, only public primary schools are listed on the site, but WKBW Buffalo reports that private schools will soon have to submit their data too.

The annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade will be “reinvented” for pandemic this year: There will be floats, there will be performers, there will be unspeakable acts of tackiness that we need to collectively witness in order to feel a sense of normalcy, but none of it will proceed down 34th Street. Stay tuned.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine trials in the UK have started back up again, the company said in a statement on Saturday. The company, which is conducting trials of a vaccine developed by researchers at Oxford University, halted clinical trials last week after a participant became ill. 

A blockbuster report from Politico dropped late Friday night: Trump administration officials have been interfering with weekly scientific reports put out by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pressuring the agency to change language and downplay the severity of the reports. “CDC officials have fought back against the most sweeping changes, but have increasingly agreed to allow the political officials to review the reports and, in a few cases, compromised on the wording, according to three people familiar with the exchanges,” Politico’s Dan Diamond reports. The exclusive report traces the meddling to Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign official with no science or medical background who was installed as Health and Human Services spokesman in April. House Democrats have launched an investigation in response to Politico’s reporting.

On Sunday, a couple of days after the Politico story broke, Caputo apparently went off the deep end, posting a live Facebook video in which he urged viewers to buy ammunition to prepare for armed revolt, talked about “sedition” and murder plots being planned by government scientists and left-wing terror groups, and confessed that he did not like being “alone in Washington.” “Shadows on the ceiling in my apartment, there alone, shadows are so long.” As of Monday night, Caputo still had his job.

A tale of two colleges: Hartwick College students are preparing to go back to in-person class this week, after two weeks of shutting down because of local outbreaks sparked by nearby SUNY Oneonta. Hartwick’s positive rate remains below one percent, and the campus is conducting regular testing of students and staff. Meanwhile, across town, the case count at SUNY Oneonta currently stands at 723, with 31 students still in quarantine awaiting results. The campus is shuttered for the fall semester and all classes will be held online.

Infections at the University of Albany are driving Albany County cases into the double digits, County Executive Dan McCoy said in a public briefing Monday. “We need to reverse this trend before the school is forced to shut down and this outbreak spreads beyond the campus and student housing and into the larger Albany County and Capital Region communities.”

SUNY Oswego has squiggled out of having to close down on a technicality, the Times Union reports. The college had 148 infections as of Monday, well past the 100-case limit put in place by New York State for a mandated two-week shutdown of in-person classes. But the college is counting cases in two-week buckets instead of calculating “rolling” case numbers for the past 14 days. When the first two-week counting period ended on Friday, September 11 with 82 cases, SUNY Oswego wiped the slate clean and began counting again at zero. As an epidemiologist at a private Albany college told the paper, this makes no sense from a public health perspective. 

Two apparent SUNY deaths reported as numbers in the state university system’s new COVID-19 dashboard last week—an employee at the Fashion Institute of Technology and a student at Rockland County Community College—were the result of data errors and not actual fatalities, SUNY spokesperson Jim Urso told The River on Monday. “If a case were to get to that point, we'd make a more formal announcement/notification, etc.,” Urso wrote in an email.

New York State’s COVID-19 positivity rate is still below one percent, although the rate has ticked higher in some regions in the past few days, including the Mid-Hudson. Monday marked the 38th day in a row that the state hit that benchmark.

New York State is falling behind most of the rest of the nation in answering the 2020 Census: We’re currently 33rd in the rankings. City & State weighs in on why this could cost us a Congressional seat, explains why Nassau County has a better response rate than the rest of New York, and notes that the wealthy Upper East Side and Greenwich Village neighborhoods from which many Manhattanites have fled are lagging behind their 2010 response rates. If you haven’t answered the Census yet: You don’t have to be a US citizen or a homeowner to fill it out, you have until September 30, and you can do it online

Reminder: Village elections in New York State, which were delayed because of the pandemic, will be held Tuesday, September 15. If you live in a village, and you’re registered to vote, get out there and cast your ballot. 

Announced by New York State on Monday and over the weekend: 

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

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.

https://public.flourish.studio/visualisation/3327033/

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

Almost 60 percent of Westchester County residents have been tested for COVID-19, County Executive George Latimer said in his weekly pandemic briefing on Monday. The exact percentage is not known, partly because some people have gotten tested more than once. Hospitalization rates in the county currently stand under five percent, Latimer said, and roughly 3.9 percent of Westchester County residents testing positive so far during the pandemic have died. The fatality rate has fallen slightly over the course of the pandemic, which might reflect more widespread testing, better treatment, a falling average age among those testing positive, or all of the above.

Pelham high school students made The New York Times’s live coronavirus news feed this week for having Labor Day parties that delayed the reopening of in-person school. 

A positive case was found Friday at the William E. Cottle Elementary School in the Tuckahoe School District, News 12 Westchester reported on Sunday. As of Monday, the positive test had not yet been added to New York State’s new COVID-19 Report Card dashboard

With flu season right around the corner, Putnam County will hold its first drive-through flu vaccine clinic on Monday, September 21. The clinic will be held from 1-6:30pm at the health department’s main office at 1 Geneva Road. Register for a time slot at putnamcountyny.com/health/immunization.

MID-HUDSON VALLEY
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 coronavirus pandemic is many things: public health crisis, economic catastrophe, federal aid boondoggle. One thing it should not be: an opportunity to profit. There have been stories of companies jacking up prices on valuable resources like PPE, but in an attempt to protect consumers, Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan signed into a law on Friday a bill that prohibits price gouging on consumer goods and services during times of emergency. Under the new law, businesses that increase prices on hand sanitizer, toilet paper, sanitizing wipes, and other items of necessity during the pandemic will be subject to prosecution and fines up to $5,000 per day.

Columbia County has hired a contact tracer whose sole responsibility is to track cases in the county’s school districts. The position is state-funded. “Our COVID-19 team is anticipating a big spike in contact tracing once the schools are open,” Columbia County Health Department Director Jack Mabb said Monday.

After several weeks of hovering in the single digits, Columbia County hit zero active cases on Monday, according to data released by county health officials

Don’t forget: Flu season is approaching. To prepare, Columbia County will hold six drive-through flu vaccine clinics in September and October. Most insurance plans are accepted, and if you’re uninsured or underinsured, you may be eligible for a free or reduced-rate vaccination. Preregistration is required at the county health department’s website, and a county press release has the full schedule of the clinics.

CATSKILLS
County coronavirus pages: Sullivan, Delaware, Greene, Schoharie
University coronavirus pages: SUNY Cobleskill, SUNY Delhi, SUNY Sullivan

Schoharie County Public Health reported seven new cases over the weekend, two of which were transferred to other county health departments. The county currently has seven active cases, the county’s highest number since The River began tracking local active cases in mid-May.

Fallsburg School District is delaying in-person schooling an additional 10 weeks until November 30—not because of the coronavirus, but because it’s still filling vacancies in several critical positions. The district had planned to start hybrid instruction next week, but the Times Herald-Record reports Superintendent Ivan Katz told parents that the district is still hiring nurses for its schools and a director of facilities, who will oversee the vital task of cleaning and disinfecting.

Get it together, Sullivan County: The Catskills county currently ranks second-lowest in New York State for Census response rate, beating only deep-rural Hamilton County for dead last. Sullivan County has launched an effort to get all of its residents to respond by the September 30 deadline, and is reminding people that there’s a lot at stake: “Up to $3,000 in Federal aid is lost per year for each person who is not counted in the Census, and after the close of this Census on September 30, 2020, we will have to wait a full 10 years before we get another chance,” said county census coordinator Saraid Gonzalez in a statement. 

Creekside Restaurant in Catskill has been voluntarily closed since September 4 in the wake of a staffer testing positive for COVID-19. The restaurant will reopen Wednesday, September 16, the Catskill Daily Mail reports. Restaurant owner Sean Meagher told the paper that the staffer was exposed to someone outside of work who contracted the virus in Oneonta, where a college outbreak at SUNY Oneonta has surpassed 700 cases.


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OF INTEREST?
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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