Coronavirus Roundup: Unemployment Help on the Way; Cuomo the Micromanager | 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 Thursday, September 10 and Friday, September 11. 

442,791 cases confirmed (880 new)
9,142,700 tests performed (89,722 new)
Positive test rate: 0.98%
25,382 deaths (5 new)
474 current hospitalizations
120 current ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065

Good news for New Yorkers on unemployment: That extra $300 is coming soon. The state Department of Labor (DOL) will begin paying out federal weekly unemployment payments through the Lost Wages Assistance program starting September 14. According to a DOL fact sheet, payments are guaranteed for at least three weeks, covering the weeks ending August 2, 9, and 16. New York State has applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for an additional three weeks of payments, and is waiting for approval. About two million New Yorkers are already qualified to receive the payments; about 435,000 more need to submit certification that their unemployment is related to the pandemic in order to qualify for the program. See the DOL website for details:

Portrait of a micromanager: The Wall Street Journal had a deep dive Friday on New York State’s response to the pandemic, focusing on Governor Andrew Cuomo and his tendency, from the pandemic’s early days through the present, to seize the reins from local authorities on decisions both large and small. With this feature, the paper joins ProPublica, The New Yorker, and The New York Times in making an accounting of New York State’s early delays and missteps, and makes a case that if Cuomo had been willing to let New York City act sooner, fewer people would have died. Of note to locals: The paper cites flooding from Hurricane Irene in 2011 as a game-changing event for Cuomo and for New York State disaster response, causing a shift in the balance of power toward the state and away from local governments.

Snow days might be a thing of the past in New York, even after the pandemic ends: The New York State Department of Education told school districts this week they can opt to go to remote learning when the roads are icy instead of cancelling school. It’s a pilot program for this year, the Times Union reports, but the department is considering making it permanent.

School is in session again in many districts, but there’s still no data yet on New York State’s new COVID Report Card school case dashboard. Heather Warner, program manager at Delaware County Public Health, told The River that school districts, not the local health department, will be responsible for reporting the data that will appear on the dashboard to New York State health officials; county health officials will communicate with districts about any positive cases in the school community that they became aware of. “If there is a positive in their school district, whether it’s staff or a child, the school district will know,” Warner said. Schools in rural Delaware County, like many across the state, do not have plans to do surveillance testing of students and staff. For the dashboard, they will report cases that come to light in the school community, but will not conduct the tests themselves. To help with data-gathering for the dashboard, the state is also imposing a new requirement on labs to ask anyone between 4 and 18 what school they attend.

State health officials are worried about a double epidemic this fall, with the annual flu season ramping up pressure on hospitals and healthcare workers at the same time COVID-19 cases are expected to spike. To fend off that scenario, the New York State Department of Health is considering making flu shots mandatory for students, like neighboring Massachusetts does. That’s likely to be a hot topic in the Hudson Valley, which has been the stage for some high-profile battles between parents, schools, and health officials over vaccination in the wake of a 2019 local measles outbreak.

The disastrous outbreak at SUNY Oneonta is slowly winding down, with no new cases reported Thursday and 11 on Friday, making a total of 707 student cases so far. Another alarming spike is getting underway at the University of Albany, where 10 on-campus students and another 30 living off campus have tested positive so far. “We are at a critical moment right here,” Albany county executive Dan McCoy said in a Friday public briefing on the situation. Unlike SUNY Oneonta, the University of Albany required all returning students to be screened for COVID-19 before arriving on campus

Education advocates rallied at Albany’s West Capitol Park on Thursday to speak out against New York State’s 20 percent funding cuts to school districts. The ultimate fate of the cuts is still undecided, but the state is already withholding aid to schools, wreaking particular havoc on poorer districts that rely more heavily on state aid.

The pandemic is taking a toll on New York’s mental health, state experts told New York State legislators in hearings this week. About 40 percent of adults in the state have struggled with mental health during the pandemic, according to data presented to legislators by the Office of Mental Health. 

Time is running out to respond to the 2020 US Census: Last month, the Trump administration moved the deadline from October 31 to September 30, shortening data collection by a full month. The Census matters locally as well as nationally: How many people are counted in an area determines funding for state and local governments as well as how political districts are drawn. If your household hasn’t responded yet, you can respond online at the 2020 Census website, as well as by phone or mail.

Convalescent plasma for COVID-19 has become a political hot potato, to the chagrin of doctors who see it as a promising treatment that has been hampered by President Donald Trump’s overhyping of its benefits. The Washington Post reports that demand for the treatment is lower than expected because of political backlash, and that proponents of plasma in the medical world are trying to keep clinical trials on track, although that task has been made more difficult by the FDA’s recent emergency use authorization of the treatment.

People testing positive for COVID-19 are twice as likely to have eaten at a restaurant in the previous two weeks as people testing negative, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that looked at the relationship between COVID-19 status and a wide range of behaviors like shopping, gym use, and socialization. The study shines a spotlight on the risk of dining, although it’s possible that people who eat out in restaurants are more likely to do other risky things that weren’t measured in the study. 

Announced by New York State on Thursday and Friday: 

  • A press release from Governor Cuomo’s office on Thursday gave more details about $88.6 million in pandemic funding for childcare, drawn from federal CARES Act funding, and how it will be spent. Most of the funding is set aside to make grants directly to childcare providers, who will be able to apply for funding through the state Office of Children and Family Services website later this month. $20 million has been earmarked for childcare scholarships for the children of essential workers making less than 300 percent of the federal poverty line. 
  • New York State has awarded another $2.3 million in CARES Act funding to four organizations that serve small- and mid-size manufacturers, to help them bolster supply chains and adapt to new market conditions imposed by the pandemic. Among the recipients is the Manufacturing and Technology Enterprise Center in Highland, which received $500,000 to help manufacturers improve safety and productivity. 
  • Subway riders in New York City will now face $50 fines if they refuse to wear masks, a new measure adopted by the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority in response to an executive order from Cuomo directing the MTA to develop a plan for boosting mask compliance. The New York City Police Department, an agency not known for its compliance with mask guidelines, will enforce the fine, along with the MTAPD and Bridge and Tunnel Officers. (New Yorkers who see police officers not wearing masks may not be able to fine them $50, but they can report them to NYPD Mask Watch, a Twitter account tracking sightings of maskless cops in the city.)
  • New York State will host a virtual networking event in October for the state’s farmers, food producers, and beverage makers to connect with businesses seeking to buy New York products. Dubbed the Taste NY Producer Showcase, the event will be held October 27, and is open for registration. 
  • The positivity rate for New York State COVID-19 testing on Thursday was 0.98 percent, the 35th day in a row that the state rate has been below one percent. 

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
University coronavirus pages: Sarah Lawrence, Iona, SUNY Purchase, Manhattanville, Westchester Community College, Rockland Community College, Dominican, Mercy

The next town hall hosted by Westchester County Executive George Latimer will be an open conversation on the topic of economic recovery. County residents are invited to share their thoughts via email ([email protected]) or by commenting on Facebook live when the town hall is held on Wednesday, September 16 from 6-7pm.

Pleasantville seems to have dodged a bullet: After two priests and a staffer at Holy Innocents Church tested positive, Westchester health executives feared there might be a larger outbreak among the hundreds of people who attended church services in the last week of August. But of more than 200 tests done so far among other community members who may have been exposed, none have come back positive, the Examiner News reports.

Albertus Magnus High School, a Catholic school in Bardonia, Rockland County, has abruptly shifted gears to go all-remote for a few days after two members of the school community tested positive for COVID-19. The school had initially planned to open in a hybrid mode on Thursday.

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 latest local pandemic casualty: Woodstock’s Halloween parade, which has, predictably, been canceled. Organizer Renee Englander, better known to paraders as Raggedy Anne, has declared that every costume will be a winner, and is encouraging frustrated trick-or-treaters to go to the Woodstock Halloween That Wasn’t page on Facebook to post photos of their costumes.

The popular Stormville flea market in Dutchess County is causing some local consternation: Officials want to support the outdoor market, but worry that it might become a transmission hotspot, the Poughkeepsie Journal reports. The market is slated to run every Saturday until November 7.

Dutchess County was recognized Thursday for its innovative use of technology in handling the pandemic. The 2020 Digital Counties Survey, conducted by the Center for Digital Government and the National Association of Counties, ranked Dutchess the second-best midsize county government for using technology to inform residents, ensure people could continue to work, and otherwise manage the exigencies of the pandemic. The survey recognized the county’s Office of Central and Information Services for developing the Dutchess County COVID-19 data dashboard, providing logistical support for the county coronavirus hotline, and building website pages to house updates and information about the pandemic, as well as the Dutchess Responds and Restarting Dutchess initiatives.

Ulster County gave itself a pat on the back Thursday for making local government more responsive to citizen needs, a feat County Executive Pat Ryan attributes to a pandemic project called the Recovery Service Center. The center, which evolved from the county’s COVID-19 hotline, brings people from different parts of county government together to help connect residents to services like food assistance, housing support, and mental health resources. “It’s a model for how we can rethink the traditional silos of departments and create a center of excellence for customer service, even while we look for ways to cut costs,” Ryan said in a press release. 

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

On Friday, Schoharie County Public Health issued its first local case update since August 21, announcing in a Facebook post that five new cases have been found in the county since the last update. The county currently has four active cases. 

Sullivan County has been having some issues with updating the case dashboard on the county website this week. County officials gave out the latest data in a Friday afternoon press release instead: 11 active cases, 53 on isolation or quarantine, two currently hospitalized, one on a ventilator in the ICU, and 50 deaths and 25,925 tested in the county so far.

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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