Coronavirus Roundup: Gyms Can Reopen; Ulster Housing Prices Skyrocket | 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 Saturday, August 15 through Monday, August 17. 

425,916 cases confirmed (408 new)
7,125,087 tests performed (56,891 new)
Positive test rate: 0.72%
25,256 deaths (6 new)
534 current hospitalizations
133 current ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065

Gyms and fitness centers will be allowed to reopen across New York State starting August 24, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Monday. The health standards that gyms must meet include requiring users to wear masks at all times, undergoing mandatory inspections by health officials, and keeping occupancy at or below 33 percent. Local health officials will have the power to delay reopening until September 2 if they choose, in order to ensure that there is time to conduct required health inspections. Health officials can also delay the resumption of indoor fitness classes, even if a gym is allowed to reopen. New York City may also decide to delay gym reopening, a decision that is up to Mayor Bill de Blasio; according to comments the mayor has made to the press, it seems unlikely that New York City gyms will reopen on August 24. Bowling alleys, which have been languishing in limbo along with gyms for months, were given the green light on Friday to reopen starting Monday. 

Have you been noticing new faces at the socially distanced farmers’ market? They may be your new neighbors—especially if you live in Kingston. The Ulster County capital had the fastest-growing housing market in the US in the second quarter of this year, with a typical home selling for $276,000, an 18-percent jump from the same period in 2019, according to a new report from the National Association of Realtors. And where are these people coming from? “Every single deal I have is someone from Brooklyn or Manhattan,” Kingston agent Amy Crossfield told Bloomberg, while Tim Sweeney, president of the Hudson Valley Catskill Region Multiple Listing Service, told the Daily Freeman that it’s the strongest seller’s market he’s ever seen. Median home sales prices rose six percent in Dutchess and Putnam counties. That has some locals fretting: about runaway gentrification, speculative development, and that the latest transplants “will bring their worst instincts with them,” as the subheading of a recent New York Times op-ed titled “Kingston: A City Remade by the Coronavirus” puts it.

Throughout the pandemic, the embrace of unproven “cures” for coronavirus by President Donald Trump and other top officials has been a problem for public health. Calls to poison control centers spiked after an April press conference in which President Trump advocated injecting or ingesting bleach and other disinfectants, and people with rare conditions who need hydroxychloroquine treatment have faced shortages of the drug because of the president’s campaigning for its use as a COVID-19 treatment, even after studies concluded it does not help cure or prevent coronavirus infection. Recently, on the advice of supplement makers, the administration has reportedly entertained a remedy that could pose even more of a problem for public health: A compound found in a common—and highly toxic—backyard plant. Oleandrin, a chemical compound found in oleander and named after the plant, is a cardiac glycoside. It has similar effects on the heart to those caused by digitalis glycosides found in the common foxglove, a plant that has successfully been used to develop pharmaceutical compounds. Horses and cattle sometimes die from eating the plant. Human deaths from oleander poisoning are rare, partly because the plant is bitter-tasting, but in 2000, two toddlers in El Segundo, California, died after eating oleander leaves. In 2010, the medical journal Heart Views published an account of a 21-year-old woman who was poisoned after drinking oleander extract to boost her fertility; she was hospitalized for three days, but survived. “It is interesting that oleander poisoning can be fatal with relatively small amounts ingested,” the authors write. Oleander is a common plant in warmer climates. Its potent compounds might well have medical uses, but if people begin taking it as a potential COVID-19 remedy, it has the potential to cause intense and possibly fatal suffering. 

New York hospitals and nursing homes would need to hire almost 70,000 additional nurses and other workers to meet mandated staffing levels under the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act, which will set nurse-to-patient ratios in New York healthcare facilities to improve medical outcomes. That’s the finding of a new state Department of Health report, which was posted on the agency’s website late Friday evening. The report concludes that passing the legislation is untenable due to wage costs for the new hires, which may top $4 billion, insufficient labor pools and complex demands of the healthcare system.

Dissatisfied with recent hearings in the New York State legislature on the handling of nursing homes during the pandemic, Republicans in the legislature held their own separate online nursing home forum on Monday. Assembly minority leader Will Barclay, a Republican from Oswego County, said that the testimony given by state health commissioner Howard Zucker at a hearing presided over by Democratic Senate and Assembly leaders earlier this month was “insufficient and evasive,” a sentiment clearly also held by some of Barclay’s colleagues across the aisle.

Rich people are different: In the Hamptons, the price of admission to some exclusive parties is a rapid-response COVID-19 test administered by a private doctor at the door, with results given within half an hour, The New York Times reports. “Rapid testing right now is for the rich,” one Dallas medical assistant told the paper. “Who has 150 to 500 dollars just lying around in the middle of the recession?”

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 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

Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam counties are cooperating for September 11 memorial volunteer day that will benefit a food drive throughout the three lower Hudson Valley counties. The 10th annual 9/11: Serve + Remember initiative will provide pandemic-safe volunteer opportunities and no-contact donation dropoffs starting Tuesday, August 18 through Friday, September 11. Westchester County’s website has a full list of the food pantries that have joined the effort.

Westchester County also announced Monday that the Community Table Partnership, the county’s grant program to help local restaurants recover from pandemic, has awarded $600,000 to 17 different nonprofit organizations throughout the county. The funds can be used for food vouchers at participating restaurants, or for the distribution of cooked meals to households or individuals facing food insecurity.

New Rochelle’s Iona College, which was one of the first schools to close when the pandemic hit, reopened its campus to students on Monday with a long list of protocols and regular testing. was on the scene to chronicle how Day One went.

County coronavirus pages: Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia

Dutchess County had 32 new cases over the weekend, 18 on Saturday and 14 on Sunday. Active cases in the county have climbed to 274, the highest they’ve been since June. Earlier in August, Dutchess County officials attributed a jump in case counts to positive tests in the Fishkill and Green Haven prisons, but the most recent rise in case counts doesn’t appear to be linked to prisons: The latest data from the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision shows no increase as of Sunday afternoon in positive tests in either prison since last week.

Dutchess County announced a drive-through picnic for residents with special needs, a group that has been particularly hard-hit by the isolating effects of the pandemic. The picnic will be free to all comers on Tuesday, September 1, from 11am to 1pm at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds in Rhinebeck. Families and providers are welcome to attend.

Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan announced that the county has developed a five-part rapid response plan to support local school districts with reopening efforts in September. The plan focuses on setting guidelines for proper screening and testing processes, investigating positive cases through contact tracing, offering support for school-specific isolation plans, establishing communication between the county and individual school districts, and providing PPE for students and faculty.

Columbia County announced two more testing clinics for Monday, August 24 and Monday, August 31 at John L. Edwards Primary School in Hudson. Testing will be conducted from 9am-11am. Preregistration is not required, but the clinics will be limited to 50 tests each.

County coronavirus pages: Sullivan, Delaware, Greene, Schoharie

A student at SUNY Cobleskill, where the return to campus began on August 10, has tested positive for COVID-19, according to an announcement from the campus chief of police that was posted Sunday on the Mountain Eagle’s Facebook page. According to the statement, the student was asymptomatic and their infection was discovered during a routine screening. The student’s roommate is in quarantine. As of Monday evening, the Schoharie County Department of Health had not made any announcement about the case.

This time of year, Sullivan County usually invites local nonprofits to apply for funding from the county legislature. But with the county facing fiscal disaster, so-called “discretionary funding” is on hold for 2020, county officials said in a press release issued Monday. “Due to the economic impacts of coronavirus, earlier this year we had to lower and even eliminate some of the $300,000 in 2020 funding we provided to nonprofits,” said legislative chair Robert Doherty. “As those impacts lessen, we’ll have a better idea of what we can and can’t afford throughout county government in 2021, including the Discretionary Contract Program.” 

Executives at HealthAlliance and Bassett Healthcare, the hospital networks that run two Delaware County hospitals in danger of losing their status as “critical access hospitals” under a federal administrative rule change, spoke to the Daily Star in support of a bill sponsored by upstate Congressional representatives Antonio Delgado, a Democrat, and Elise Stefanik, a Republican. If passed, the bill would allow Margaretville Hospital, O’Connor Hospital in Delhi, and other hospitals already designated “critical access” to keep their designation, which gives remote rural hospitals greater access to grant funding and higher Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates.

While the weather holds, the Middleburgh Rotary Club and the Middleburgh Library are teaming up to offer a series of free drive-through movies at Timothy Murphy Park. First up on Saturday, August 22: The Lion King

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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