All hospitals in NYS can now perform elective procedures

— From Siena Research Institute
A majority of New Yorkers think the state should wait for early March data before deciding whether to lift the school mask mandate; more people without children believe this than people with children.

ALBANY COUNTY — “While our weather forecast overall looks rather dark and foreboding, our COVID forecast is definitely much brighter,” said Governor Kathy Hochul at a storm briefing on Thursday.

As the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to plummet from the mid-January Omicron peak, both statewide and in Albany County, Hochul announced that all hospitals across the state can now perform elective procedures.

The state had kept a list of hospitals, which Albany Medical Center was initially on, where staffed bed capacity was less than 10 percent, meaning elective procedures couldn’t be performed.

The state is now down to 2,200 hospitalizations, Hochul reported, a marked decrease from 12,000 a month and a half ago.

Albany County currently has 28 residents hospitalized with COVID-19, with four in intensive-care units, county Executive Daniel McCoy reported on Thursday morning.

Statewide, the number of new cases, Hochul said on Thursday, was 2,700, again a dramatic decrease from the 90,000 new cases at the state’s peak on Jan. 7.

Statewide, the infection rate is at 2.1 percent, down from a peak of 23 percent on Jan. 2.

In Albany County, McCoy reported 57 new cases on Thursday, bringing the seven-day average of new cases down to 54.8.

The county has 15 COVID cases per 100,000 with an average infection rate of 3.2 percent.

Vaccination numbers continue to inch up with just over three-quarters of New Yorkers (75.3 percent) fully vaccinated, according to the state’s vaccine tracker.

In Albany County, 73.6 percent of residents are fully vaccinated.

Hochul on Thursday reiterated her plan to look at COVID test results from students returning to school after their mid-winter break before deciding on the statewide school mask mandate that she put into place six months ago when she first became governor.

“We have over 20 million test kits that have already been distributed to schools; 4.8 million were sent to schools just before this most recent break,” said Hochul. “We’re sending another 2 million out next week.”

She urged parents, “Test your children Monday morning, before they head into school, it doesn’t take much time. It’s not invasive. It’s very simple.”

Then, there are enough free kits, Hochul said, that students can be tested again a few days later.

She said she would look at global trends as well as student test results and state data before making her decision on the mask mandate.

Hochul had allowed the mask-or-vax rules for businesses to expire on Feb. 10.

Governors in nearby states have already announced plans to lift school mask mandates, including in Massachusetts and Connecticut on Feb. 28, in Rhode Island on March 4, in New Jersey on March 7, and in Delaware on March 31.

On Monday, the Siena Research Institute released a statewide poll showing 58 percent of New Yorkers thought the state should wait for early March data before deciding whether to lift the school mask mandate, compared to 30 percent who say the school mask mandate should have ended already, and 10 percent who want to see it end after this week’s school break.


Heating help

New Yorkers who have used up their regular and first emergency benefits to pay for home heat can now apply for second emergency benefits as $65 million remains to help low- and middle-income New Yorkers.

New Yorkers in households that have exhausted the regular HEAP (Home Energy Assistance Program) benefits and face a heating or electric utility shutoff may apply. Households also qualify if they have less than a quarter of a tank of oil, kerosene, or propane or have less than a 10-day supply of other heating fuels.

Applicants must meet HEAP eligibility criteria and income guidelines, which vary by household size. For instance, a family of four may have a maximum gross monthly income of $5,249 or an annual gross income of $62,983. 

“This $65 million in federal emergency home heating aid will ensure that New York families and seniors struggling to pay the bills during the pandemic aren’t left out in the cold,” said Senator Chuck Schumer in a statement, making the announcement.

Demand for heating assistance through HEAP has been high so far this winter. More than 1.4 million regular benefits totaling $212 million have been issued since the program opened in October, with an additional 28,000 emergency benefits totaling $25 million provided since Jan. 3, according to the governor’s office.

Applications for assistance are accepted at local departments of social services in person or by telephone, with funding provided on a first-come, first-served basis.

In Albany County, residents may apply, Monday through Friday, at:

— The Albany County Department of Social Services at 162 Washington Ave. in Albany, NY 12210, by phone at 518-447-7323;

— Cornell Cooperative Extension at Route 9W, Faith Plaza in Ravena, by phone at 518-756-8650; or

— Cornell Cooperative Extension at 230 Green Street, Floor 3, in Albany, by phone at 518-765-3500.

The after-hours emergency contact is the Homeless and Travelers Aid Society by phone at 518-463-2124.

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