McCoy: ‘We need everyone to pause’

— From the Albany County website
The infection rate in Albany County is now four times that of the springtime surge.

ALBANY COUNTY — The infection rate in the county is four times that of the springtime surge — 300 new cases were announced Saturday — and, as hospitalizations reached a new high, County Executive Daniel McCoy called for schools, scheduled to reopen Monday, to go to all-remote learning.

McCoy noted he has no authority to close schools and said it was a recommendation. He also said he would talk to leaders of colleges and the university in the county to recommend students not return to campus until the end of February.

“We need everyone to pause,” he said.

Governor Andrew Cuomo had said repeatedly, as he touted the earlier micro-cluster system to control COVID-19, that schools were the safest place for children because protocols like mask-wearing and social distancing were observed.

With Cuomo’s winter plan for dealing with the virus, infection rates are no longer a trigger for designating red zones — the most severe — or warning orange zones or precautionary yellow zones.

Instead, the focus has been on hospital capacity.

Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen said she would be talking to area school superintendents in a conference call later and that it is up to individual superintendents to decide on their own school systems. She did not know if there would be a broad consensus on suspending in-person classes.

“We are seeing cases within the school systems,” she said. “We have concerned parents, students, and teachers. I don’t think it’s an easy decision.”

She said of superintendents who have the ability to close their schools, “They don’t want to start back with in-person learning and then have to change course.”

During Saturday morning’s press conference, Whalen pointed to a graph that showed “a tremendous difference” between the springtime surge and the current surge.

The first surge was flattened with a statewide shutdown that closed nonessential businesses and schools.

“Currently, we are experiencing a four-fold increase since that first surge,” said Whalen.

With Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings, she said, the county is now experiencing a surge upon surge — and New Year’s parties haven’t yet figured into the tallies.

“Thirty new hospitalizations yesterday is a very serious concern,” said Whalen.

Currently, 133 county residents are hospitalized with the disease, breaking the record of 129 set on Dec. 30. Twenty-two patients are currently under intensive care.

“So what can we do? What should we do?” she asked. “The answer is: Stay home … work from home, keep your children at home … We have to now put ourselves on individual responsibility for shutdown.”



Albany County is one of eight Capital Region counties coordinating with Albany Medical Center, the state-selected regional hub for vaccination. The county has now linked to Albany Med’s website, which gives the basics, as they evolve, on vaccination.

Albany County is expecting its first shipment of vaccines this week, Whalen said.

Vaccinating is “a tremendous lift for us with exponentially increasing cases,” she said. Her staff is doing case investigation and contact tracing for each case.

The volunteers being sought through Albany Med’s website are “not duplicating our efforts,” said Whalen. “Those volunteers will serve with us as well.”

Medical professionals may sign up to administer the vaccination at Points of Dispensing, known as PODs, by going online to ServNY.

“We want to be sure that the rate-limiting step in our area is the amount of vaccine we’re getting, not the ability to get it out,” said Whalen.

Albany Med is following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as to who is eligible to get vaccinated. Whalen said the plan is evolving and changes are posted to Albany Med’s website.

Currently, vaccinations are being given in the first tier: 1a.

“I’m happy to say that, during this week, the local health-department staff working on PODs becomes part of the eligible population to receive vaccines.,” said Whalen.

These are the first three tiers:

— 1a is for health-care workers; first responders in medical roles such as emergency medical services providers, medical examiners and coroners, funeral workers, and ambulatory care providers; and for residents and employees of long-term care facilities including congregate settings overseen by the state’s Office of People with Developmental Disabilities, Office of Mental Health, and Office of Addiction Service and Support;

— 1b is for frontline essential workers such as fire fighters, police officers, corrections officers, food and agricultural workers, postal workers, manufacturing workers, grocery-store workers, public-transit workers, and those who work in education like teachers, support staff, and day-care workers; and people aged 75 and older; and

— 1c people aged 65 to 74 years; people aged 16 to 64 years with underlying medical conditions that increase the risk of complications from COVID-19; and other essential workers, such as those who work in transportation and logistics, food service, housing construction and finance, information technology, communications, energy, law, media, public safety, and public health.


Newest numbers

McCoy began Saturday’s press briefing by announcing another death of a county resident from COVID-19 — a woman in her seventies — which brings the county’s death toll to 227.

As of Saturday morning, Albany County has had 12,078 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 300 new cases since Friday.

Of the new cases, 245 did not have a clear source of infection identified, 38 had close contact with someone infected with the disease,  and 17 are health-care workers or residents of congregate settings.

The five-day average for new daily positives jumped to 271 from 258.2. There are now 1,758 active cases in the county, up from 1,730 on Friday.

The number of county residents under mandatory quarantine decreased to 2,968 from 3,169. So far, 38,625 residents have completed quarantine. Of those, 10,320 had tested positive and recovered. That is an increase of 266 recoveries since Friday.

There were 30 new hospitalizations overnight, and there are 133 county residents currently hospitalized from the virus — a net increase of 19. There are now 22 patients in the ICU, up from 21 yesterday.

Of the state’s 10 regions, the Capital Region continues to have the worst rate for availability of ICU beds, at 18 percent. Currently, of the 235 ICU beds in the region, 198 are filled by COVID-19 patients. Statewide, 30 percent of ICU beds are available.

The Capital Region has the third worst rate for available hospital beds. Currently, 431 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized, which is 0.04 percent of the region’s population and leaves 24 percent of hospital beds available.

Central New York has the worst rate with 21 percent of its beds available, followed by the Mohawk Valley at 23 percent. Statewide, 0.04 percent of New Yorkers are hospitalized with COVID-19, leaving 30 percent of the state’s hospital beds available.

The Capital Region’s infection rate is also the third worst in the state, at 9.82 percent for a seven-day average. The Finger Lakes have the worst rate at 10.03 percent followed by the Mohawk Valley at 10.02 percent.

The Southern Tier has the lowest infection rate at 5.72 percent. Statewide, the positivity rate is 7.55 percent.

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