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Week XI: We’re going in ‘the right direction’ say governor and county executive

ALBANY COUNTY — As the Capital Region completes the first week of having Phase 1 businesses reopen, Albany County officials are optimistics the metrics will hold for Phase 2 to begin on June 3.

“I don’t want to jinx us,” said Daniel McCoy, the county’s executive, at his Wednesday morning press briefing. “It’s seven days without someone passing. It’s great news.” The county’s death toll from COVID-19 stands at 76.

Similarly, Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen said on Wednesday morning, “The numbers look very encouraging. We are seeing many less cases on a daily basis.”

Two weeks ago, the county was seeing 30 to 40 new cases of COVID-19 daily; that number is now in the single digits.

The first phase of reopening started last Wednesday, May 20, and included construction, manufacturing, retail with curb-side pickup, and farming, forestry, and fishing, accounting for less than 9 percent of jobs in Albany County.

Phase 2, of a four-phase plan, includes office settings, retail, and real estate, accounting for more than half of the jobs in Albany County.

“We are starting to go in the right direction with a lot of things but we can’t continue to go in the right direction without your help and without your continuing to do the right things,” said McCoy on Wednesday.

The news across the state was also encouraging this week.

As of Wednesday, nine of the state’s 10 regions had met the seven required metrics to begin the first phase of reopening. That leaves just New York City, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, still on pause.

On Tuesday, the state legislature was scheduled to begin committee meetings remotely while the governor on Tuesday morning rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange to commence the reopening of the trading floor for the first time since March 23.

On Wednesday, at his press briefing in Washington, D.C., Andrew Cuomo said, “When you look at the curve in the State of New York, we are down.” He noted that hospitalizations and intubations are down statewide, and he reported that, on Tuesday, 74 New Yorkers had died of COVID-19.

“It is all headed in the right direction,” said Cuomo.

Cuomo’s emphasis at his press briefing on Tuesday was on jumpstarting the state’s economy.

“We want the economy to come roaring back,” he said. He also commended the stock market for reopening “smarter than before — fewer people, wearing masks, new precautions.”

Cuomo met with President Donald Trump on Wednesday to discuss infrastructure projects. He said that the state will fast-track construction of the new LaGuardia Airport and of the Empire Station at Penn while rail ridership and air traffic are down.

To further jumpstart the economy, the state, Cuomo said, will work to increase low-cost renewable power downstate and production upstate by building new cross-state transmission cables, expediting a power cable from Canada to New York City, and increasing renewable energy resources.

On Friday, Cuomo had announced that New York State is starting its own loan program for small businesses that did not receive federal COVID-19 assistance. With $100 million available, the New York Forward Loan Fund will focus on woman-owned and minority-owned businesses, he said.

“The federal definition of small business is what many could consider large business, but we’re going to focus on true small businesses. Twenty or fewer employees, less than $3 million in gross revenues,” said Cuomo.

Businesses interested in receiving a loan should visit .

“They are 90 percent of New York’s businesses and they’re facing the toughest challenges,” said Cuomo. “The economic projections, vis-a-vis small business are actually frightening. More than 100,000 have shut permanently since the pandemic hit.”

 

Albany County

The day after Phase 1 began in Albany County, McCoy displayed a form, available on the New York Forward that each reopening business must fill out with its plans for keeping workers and customers safe. The plan is to be kept on the business’s premises.

Essential businesses that have been running throughout the shutdown have to fill out plans as well.

A second form, with material specific to each type of business, has to be signed and submitted back to the state. McCoy said the agreement commits business owners to staying up to date on ever-changing county, regional, and state directives.

“It not only educates you; it protects you,” said McCoy.

McCoy urged business to keep a log of customers who visit to make it easier for the health department to trace those people if there is a confirmed case at the business. 

He said of consumers, “You’re the front line of defense.” McCoy said patrons should contact the health department if they see violations. “We can’t be everywhere,” he said.

Describing testing as a “cornerstone,” Whalen said it is important because “asymptomatic spread is a real thing.” People who have COVID-19 may not know it and unwittingly spread it. But, if they test positive, they can be isolated for two weeks, and prevent the spread.

Community mitigation must continue as well, said Whalen, stressing the need for frequent handwashing, keeping six feet from others, and wearing masks when this is not possible.

Wearing masks, she said, “can decrease up to 70 percent of the spread; this is significant and it is serious.”

McCoy said throughout the week he’d been hearing questions on enforcement of the protocols as businesses open. He noted there’s a complaint on the state’s website or people who think a business is not upholding state guidelines can call 1-833-789-0470.

“The enforcement is you,” McCoy said on Wednesday.

Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple said on Tuesday that his office had received “very few complaints” regarding violations of coronavirus protocols. The sheriff’s office has yet to fine any violators but, rather, has issued cease-and-desist warnings.

“Right now, heroin deaths in the Capital Region by far outpace COVID deaths,” Apple said. “That’s something we have to focus on,” he said as alcoholics and addicts can’t get to their meetings and “are regressing.”

“We’ve had a big spike and we’ve had some bad heroin and some bad cocaine come through the area,” said Apple.

While he said he believes education on the importance of social distancing and wearing masks has been working, Apple said, “I worry a lot about our mental health. I worry about those who are addicted getting help. I think that’s going to be our next battle.”

Whalen urged county residents who have friends or family members who are addicted to get training, now provided by the county through videoconferencing rather than in person, on administering naloxone to prevent death in case of an overdose.

Those training sessions take place weekly through videoconferencing, every Tuesday at 11 a.m. Participants learn how to spot the signs of an overdose and how to use the overdose-reversing antidote Narcan. Accessing free Narcan kits is addressed during the training.

On Wednesday morning, McCoy reported that the county now has 1,644 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 848 people under mandatory quarantine and seven under precautionary quarantine. The five-day average for new daily positives has dropped to 5.

So far, 4,451 county residents have completed quarantine, with 1,237 of them having tested positive and recovered. That brings the county’s recovery rate up to 75.2 percent.

Twenty-seven county residents still remain hospitalized, with three in intensive-care units. The hospitalization rate for Albany County stands at 1.64 percent.

As of Wednesday morning, 22,032 county residents have been tested and, of those, 8.1 percent tested positive. 

McCoy pointed out that the 50-to-59 age group with 284 cases, and the 20-to-29 age group with 270 cases continue to lead the way.

Whalen pointed to the county’s COVID-19 Dashboard that shows the 12203 ZIP code, which includes parts of Albany and Guilderland, continues to have the highest concentration of positive cases with 238, followed by 12208 in Albany with 131 positive cases, “followed by areas right around the city of Albany.”

Whalen also noted that the state’s shows that fewer tests are now being taken in Albany County than earlier.

She cited the state’s online guidance for businesses, workplaces, and schools and again urged returning workers to be tested for COVID-19.

“Educate yourself,” urged Whalen, “so when you go back to work, you understand the best way to control your environment.”

Earlier in the week, Whalen had said, “We don’t know whether the decline in cases is related to a possible seasonal effect of COVID-19. We don’t know if we’ll be facing another surge in the fall, which is a concern of many at the national and international level.”

According to a Sienareleased this week, by 2-to-1, New Yorkers say that moving too quickly to loosen stay-at-home orders is a bigger danger than moving too slowly.

The poll also showed that 75 percent of New Yorkers think the state will face another large COVID-19 outbreak in the fall yet 64 percent think it likely schools will reopen in September.

 

Online summer school

Cuomo, in his press briefing on Thursday, said that summer school will be conducted online to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. Meal programs and child-care services for essential employees will continue, Cuomo said.

School districts must also develop a plan for students with disabilities who participate in extended summer school year programs over the summer to ensure they receive instruction. The state will make a determination about the fall semester and issue guidelines in June. Schools and colleges will submit plans for approval to the state in July.

Cuomo also said on Thursday that the state is currently investigating 157 reported cases in New York where children — mostly school-aged — are experiencing symptoms similar to an atypical Kawasaki disease and toxic shock-like syndrome possibly due to COVID-19. So far, 13 countries and 25 other states have reported cases of this COVID-related illness in children.

 

Nursing homes

McCoy has said that 65 percent of the county’s COVID-19 victims are nursing-home residents.

“The bulk of the positive cases that we continue to see are from nursing homes,” said Health Commissioner Whalen at Friday’s press briefing. Her department has worked with the state and with local nursing homes “to be sure every resident has been tested,” she said.

“We are at the tail end of that very large sampling and the bulk of the cases we are getting represent people that are coming back positive,” she said. The county is continuing its work, she said, to get nursing-home employees tested twice weekly, as Cuomo has directed.

McCoy announced on Saturday that Albany County has been awarded $675,000 for the federal CARES [Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security] Act, which will be used for COVID-19 testing at Shaker Place, the county’s nursing home.

The governor has required nursing-home workers and nursing-home residents throughout the state to be tested twice a week for the virus. McCoy said it costs $200,000 each month to test the workers at Shaker Place.

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