While COVID cases downstate decline, upstate cases still surge

— From the NYS Governor’s Office

Governor Kathy Hochul commended the RNA Institute for being “on the front lines, helping us battle this pandemic by allowing testing to be done.”

ALBANY COUNTY — Governor Kathy Hochul highlighted two Albany County venues — the Port of Albany and the RNA Institute at the University at Albany — on Friday as she announced offshore wind projects in the morning and touted COVID research in the afternoon.

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the future,” Hochul said at the Port of Albany where she was joined by United States Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm and Congressman Paul Tonko as well as state and local officials.

“This is what the future looks like for our green energy economy and how we’re going to protect this fragile planet that’s been entrusted to us for the time that we live on this planet,” said Hochul.

She said she was proud to announce a $500 million investment in offshore wind and clean energy infrastructure.

Contracts have been finalized between the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and Empire Wind Offshore LLC and Beacon Wind LLC, each a 50-50 partnership between Equinor and bp, for the Empire Wind 2 and Beacon Wind offshore wind projects, the governor’s office said.

The wind turbines, to be built at the Port of Albany, will travel by barge to be installed off the coast of Long Island.

“Bethlehem is so proud to be the future home of the Port of Albany’s offshore wind tower construction facility,” said Bethlehem Supervisor David VanLuven in a statement. “Industry has long been a core part of our community, and this important project and others are quickly defining Bethlehem as a green energy hub for all of New York.”

Later in the day, Hochul toured the RNA Institute, which she said gave her “a chance to put a spotlight on the fascinating work that’s being done here by nation leading researchers and scientists and doctors who are innovating all kinds of therapies and research into rare diseases.”

She commended the institute for being “on the front lines, helping us battle this pandemic by allowing testing to be done.”

At her Friday afternoon press conference, Hochul held up a vial to describe how pool testing is done, where four samples of saliva are combined for pool testing, speeding up the detection of COVID-19.


Weather warning

Next up was Jackie Bray, former chief of staff to the National Weather Service and now the state’s acting commissioner for Homeland Security and Emergency Services, to talk about two impending “real weather events.”

Wind chill will put temperatures in the negative teens Friday night, and as low as negative 35 degrees in the North Country, Bray said.

“Frostbite can develop in these temperatures within 10 minutes,” Bray warned, urging New Yorkers to cover exposed skin when outdoors, to be careful with use of heaters, and to check on neighbors.

Secondly, she said, a winter storm is expected to move into the state about 7 p.m. on Sunday, continuing through 7 p.m. on  Monday. The most intense snow will fall between midnight and noon on Monday, she said.


COVID “news flash”

“So, here’s the news flash: Turning the corner. You heard it here first, I’ve been waiting to say that,” Hochul said on Friday afternoon as she displayed a graph showing new COVID-19 infections are decreasing. 

She said the highest point was a week ago with 90,000 cases. Currently, there are 49,000 positive tests as a seven-day average statewide, which Hochul termed “a very positive trend.”

Hochul noted the numbers do not include home tests.

While securing tests has still been a problem locally, the White House says it has procured 500 million at-home tests that residents can get from a new website — covidtest.gov — starting on Jan. 19. Four free rapid tests are to be allotted to each household, shipped through postal mail within 12 days of entering a name and address on the website.

While downstate case numbers are trending down, Hochul noted, “Upstate is still not out of the woods yet.”

Elective surgeries continue to be suspended in the Finger Lakes, Central New York, and the Mohawk Valley.

Bray reported that 80 ambulance crews supplied by the federal government are currently at work in New York State — 30 upstate and 50 downstate — and that 30 more are arriving on Sunday.

Acting Health Commissioner Mary Bassett stressed that COVID vaccines are “entirely free,” urging that everyone, especially children, be vaccinated.

Bassett also announced that the federal Department of Health and Human Services extended the public health emergency first opened in March 2020 from June 16 further for another 90 days.

“The New York State of Health, which is New York’s official health plan marketplace, will remain open for enrollment as it has been since March 2020, and will continue to be open for enrollment throughout the public health emergency,” said Bassett.

Describing it as a “one-stop shop,” Bassett said the marketplace offers both public and private health-insurance options.

“When many people lost their jobs and with it, their health insurance, or lost income … we’ve had a huge surge of enrollment during the pandemic with 1.5 million New Yorkers added to the New York State of Health rolls,” said Bassett.

The number of uninsured New Yorkers has been cut in half, across every racial, ethnic group, she said. “This is a huge accomplishment, but we still have about 900,000 New Yorkers who don’t have coverage and at least half of them are eligible for it.”

New Yorkers who want to get coverage for March 1 have to enroll by Feb. 15. There are subsidies available so that the cost of health insurance can be greatly reduced. Said Bassett.

Bassett also said she is convening scientists from around the state to discuss long COVID. “We don’t know much yet about Omicron and long COVID,” she said.


Albany County

Two more COVID-19 deaths — a woman in her forties and a woman in her nineties — were announced Friday morning in a release from Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy. This brings the county’s death toll from the virus to 484.

McCoy also announced 1,586 new cases of COVID-19 — another record — bringing the county’s seven-day average of daily new cases to 1.161.2.

This does not count positive results from at-home tests. The county has set up a link on its website for residents to report positive antigen test results.

The county’s health department is no longer calling infected patients because of the overwhelming number of cases.

Rather, those with positive results are advised to follow isolation protocols on the county’s website and to tell people with whom they have been in contact and who therefore may become infected so that those exposed people may quarantine.

McCoy also reported that Albany County’s most recent seven-day average of cases per 100,000 is at 239.1 with an infection rate of 19.2 percent.

There were 10 new hospitalizations since yesterday, and there are now 113 county residents hospitalized with the coronavirus – a net decrease of 12. Eighteen of those hospital patients are in intensive-care units, down from 19 on Thursday.

“While New York as a whole is showing signs of statewide COVID infections possibly hitting their peak, that is clearly not the case for Albany County as we report nearly 1,600 new positive cases in a single day, the highest increase we’ve ever experienced since the pandemic started nearly two years ago,” said McCoy in his release.


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