Coronavirus updates

The Enterprise — Marcello iaia

Albany County's department of health in the city of Albany.

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As the pace of coronavirus news settles, we will be posting these live updates as weekly breifings. For more, stay up to date with for our headlines newsletter.

Week VII roundup

COVID-19 cases mount in Albany County as governor outlines plans for regional reopening

ALBANY COUNTY — On Wednesday, Albany County topped the 1,000 mark for residents testing positive with COVID-19.

As County Executive Daniel McCoy announced 1,026 confirmed cases at his morning press briefing, he said, “As we get aggressive with testing, we’ll have this number climb. It has been our goal to get everyone tested in Albany County so we can get back to work, so we can open up the doors and do it the safe way.”

The county has about 305,000 residents. Under 10 percent of those tested have turned out to have the disease.

Also on Wednesday, the county’s death toll from the coronavirus disease 2019 rose to 39 as three more patients with underlying health conditions had died: two men in their seventies and a man in his nineties.

On Sunday, Governor Andrew Cuomo outlined a phased plan to reopen New York, beginning with construction and manufacturing.

Once a region has a 14-day decline in its hospitalization rate, it can begin phased re-opening, according to recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In New York State, the overall hospitalization rate is down as is the number of intubations.

The state will adjust its plan, Cuomo said, as it continues to monitor the hospitalization rate, the infection rate, and the number of positive antibody tests, as well as the overall public health impact.

Cuomo noted that hospitalization rates were very different upstate than downstate.

The infection rates are also different. Cuomo said it is important to keep the infection rate below one person infecting one other person. “Upstate, interestingly, it’s .9 … upstate the infection rate is one person infects .9 percent. Downstate, one person is infecting .75,” Cuomo said.

At his press briefing on Wednesday, Cuomo cautioned about opening too fast, citing a “second wave” of infection in Singapore and an increased rate of infection in Germany.

“They relaxed and started to reopen,” he said of Germany. “They’re now seeing an increase.” The infection rate had been one person infecting .7 percent, he said. “In 10 days, they went up to a one on the infection rate. That’s troubling. Shows you how fast the infection rate can increase if you don’t do it right on the reopening. So proceed with caution.”

The plan in New York is to re-open in phases, according to analysis in each of 10 regions, with a “circuit breaker” to stop reopening if infection rates increase. There will be two weeks in between each phase to monitor the effects of the re-opening and ensure hospitalization and infection rates are not increasing;

“All of this is done in a multi-state context with our neighboring states, most relevant, especially downstate,” said Cuomo. “Downstate is obviously the most complicated situation.”

Cuomo said that government decisions would be made in partnership with business decisions.

“In terms of businesses thinking about the new normal, think about it in terms of people,” Cuomo said, going on to pose a series of questions: “How are you going to protect your people? What are you going to be doing differently with your employees? Your actual physical space, what does the physical space look like when you reopen in this new normal?

“What are you doing about PPE equipment?” he said of personal protective equipment. “How are you cleaning? What’s the hygiene? What’s the access? What’s the screening? How do you move people? What’s the travel and transportation? Then what processes can you put in place to make your business less risky, right? How can you train people? How you can communicate about this disease? Can you do testing in your workplace?”

 The plan also stipulates that a region must not open attractions or businesses that would draw a large number of visitors from outside the local area.

Testing increased

Also statewide, both diagnostic testing and testing for antibodies is being ramped up.

Cuomo said on Saturday that diagnostic testing is to be expanded to include all first responders, health-care workers, and essential employees.

“Why? Because these people have been carrying the load and they have been subjected to the public all during this crisis and because they’re public facing,” said Cuomo. “These are the people who you interact with.”

Cuomo also went over the way in which the federal government will work with the states in testing.

“The states take responsibility for the labs in their state in getting those labs functioning. We regulate those labs,” he said. “And the federal government would take the responsibility of making sure the national manufacturers had the tests, the reagents, the vials, the swabs, all the equipment that the national manufacturer needs to be able to send to our labs so our labs can actually function.”

New York, he said, has 300 laboratories.

Cuomo also announced that he would authorize all the independent pharmacists in the state — New York has 5,000 pharmacies — to be collection sites for testing.

“Since we now have more collection sites, more testing capacity, we can open up the eligibility for those tests,” Cuomo said.

Starting next week, “significant antibody testing” will be conducted in downstate New York, focusing on first responders and frontline transit workers, Cuomo said.  Antibody testing determines — with a finger prick — if someone has immunity to the disease. It’s possible to have COVID-19 and not have any symptoms.

On Wednesday, Cuomo announced 1,000 New York City Fire Department officers and 1,000 New York City Police Department officers from across all five boroughs had been tested and the preliminary results show 17.1 percent of FDNY officers and emergency medical technicians have COVID-19 antibodies and 10.5 percent of NYPD officers have COVID-19 antibodies. 

Across New York, finger-prick tests have been conducted twice for a sampling of who has antibodies. 

The second phase of statewide antibody testing, with results announced Monday, showed 14.9 percent of New Yorkers have antibodies to COVID-19. Results from the first round of these finger-prick blood tests showed that 13.9 percent of New Yorkers had had the disease.

The rates are far higher downstate than upstate. Long Island, for example, is at 14 percent while the Mohawk Valley is at 2.6 percent, the North Country is at 1.2 percent, and the Capital District is at 2.1 percent.

“Different situations, different strategy going forward,” said Cuomo.

He said he gets a lot of calls from local officials, wanting to reopen. “Know what you are doing before you do it,” said Cuomo. He said he would be extending the May 15 “pause,” which shut down schools and non-essential businesses, “in many parts of the state.”

Also on Wednesday, Cuomo announced that elective outpatient treatments could begin again in 35 counties; Albany County is not one of them.

County concerns

Albany County, as of Wednesday, has 853 residents under mandatory quarantine and 24  under precautionary quarantine. So far, 2,209 residents have completed quarantine, with 527 of them having tested positive and recovered. 

Albany County continues testing on several fronts. Diagnostic community testing began in mid-April after a two-week hiatus when a drive-through facility run by the state opened at the uptown University at Albany campus.

Then, last week, the county, working with the Whitney M. Young Health Center, opened four mobile walk-up testing sites for at-risk neighborhoods. As of Wednesday, 495 people had been tested there, with 46 testing positive for COVID-19.

Also, a site run by Rite Aid and the federal government opened in Colonie. And just this week, Jonathan Halpert, M.D. opened a testing site at his urgent-care center in Guilderland.

“We’re not really seeing a spike in the number of cases per day,” said Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen on Wednesday morning. “We’re more seeing ourselves plateau.”

She said that hospitalizations had also plateaued.

“Our doctors want to do elective procedures that have been backing up,” said Whalen.

Part of the plan announced by Cuomo to make reopening safe is to have 30 trackers — workers who track the people who have come in contact with a COVID-19 patient — for every 100,000 of population.

Whalen said the county currently has about 30 trackers, mostly health-department employees, and that the department has done contact tracing for more than 20 years for a variety of diseases including pertussis, mumps, measles, and sexually-transmitted diseases.

“It’s a skill set we have,” Whalen said, adding, “We are going to need to increase the workforce … right now, we’re at capacity.” She also said, “I think we’re doing a lot more than many other local health departments.”

Added workers may come from other county departments, she said, or by expanding the county’s volunteer medical reserve corps.

Currently, 37 Albany County residents are hospitalized with COVID-19 with eight of them in intensive-care units. The county’s hospitalization rate is at 3.6 percent of people who have tested positive for the disease.

At Shaker Place, the county’s nursing home, 46 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and two of them have recovered from the disease. Twenty-three Shaker Place workers have tested positive and two of them have recovered and returned to work. Three nursing home residents have died.

“We’re seeing a large number of people recovering from COVID,” said Whalen, reiterating that about 80 percent of the people who contract the disease do not have a serious case. Patients in that group can range from having no symptoms, to mild symptoms, to a flu-like illness.

Twenty percent of cases are more severe and may require oxygen or hospitalization or, for a very small percentage, intensive care.

“Those that are young … are at very high risk of transmitting it to others,” Whalen stressed, as McCoy has throughout the last two weeks.

She noted, as graphs on the county’s website show, that the group most affected is age 50 to 59 but the group next most affected is aged 20 to 29

Whalen stressed again the importance of social distancing to prevent transmission of the disease.
 


 

 

Comptroller faces ‘cash-flow crunch’ as revenues evaporate

The state’s revenue loss continues to grow in the midst of the shutdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

“We are in a new economic reality. We are in a challenging economic landscape …,” the state’s comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, said on Wednesday at the county’s press briefing. “We still don’t know where it’s headed so a lot of what we’re talking about is still very tentative information.”

In mid-March, the governor’s office asked DiNapoli’s office to come up with a new revenue estimate as the state’s budget was being finalized. “We estimated the impact of this crisis would conservatively result in a $4 billion revenue hit … to as much as $7 billion or more,” said DiNapoli.

“Where are we now over a month later? The range is really more like 10- to 15-billion dollars, and we’re still not sure,” the comptroller said.

The freezing of the economy, the lack of business activity, unemployment, and the decline in sales-tax revenue are all contributing to the losses, he said. 

DiNapoli cited a report by the New York State Association of Counties that predicts losses in sales-tax revenue ranging from 4 to 12 percent. The state faces a similar loss in income tax since people aren’t working, he said.

The extension for filing income taxes will make it hard to meet “big commitments” like school-aid payments, DiNapoli said. “We really are facing a cash-flow crunch … Navigating just April, May, and June is going to be a challenge.”

Although the state legislature and the governor came up with a budget nearly on time, DiNapoli said, “In many ways, the budget is a work in progress so they’re placeholders in there for broad discretion by the governor to adjust spending. And much of New York State’s budget … goes back to localities and school aid.”

He concluded, “If the money’s not coming in, the governor may have to adjust those numbers downwards.”

Unemployment is also a big concern, DiNapoli said. The state’s Department of Labor has updated the way to apply for benefits with goal being to now have a 48-hour turnaround, he said.

DiNapoli mentioned the United States Senate’s passage on Tuesday of a $484 billion federal package that will help small businesses and hospitals and pay for testing.

“What is really needed is more help from Washington,” he said, for states and localities. “If the state has a budget hole — the governor said this not as a threat but a reality — if we don’t have the money, then the money that would flow [to localities] isn’t going to happen.”

DiNapoli also mentioned that people who are not working might not be able to pay their property taxes.


 

State and county focus on COVID-19 testing as protesters demand ‘freedom’

On Wednesday, as protesters clogged the road in front of the state capitol, Albany County’s death toll from COVID-19 rose to 29.

Many of the protesters’ signs — like “Cuomo is the Virus” — were directed at New York’s governor as a group dubbed “Operation Gridlock,” promoted through social media, drew participants from around the state. Similar protests have been held across the country by conservatives and right-wing groups wanting to end the measures taken to control the spread of coronavirus.

The protestors demanded an end to the “pause,” declared by Andrew Cuomo, which shut down schools and nonessential businesses until May 15 to flatten the curve of coronavirus infections so as not to overwhelm the health-care system.

“We, the people, want our freedom back,” said one sign; “Stop Tyranny” said several red signs shaped as octagons; “Live Free or Die,” declared another placard. “Quarantine the Sick, Not the Healthy!” said a handwritten sign held by a youngster at the protest.

An hour before, Albany County’s health commissioner, Elizabeth Whalen, had explained once again that the coronavirus is often spread by people who are asymptomatic; they can feel fine as they pass along the disease without knowing they have it. COVID-19 is most lethal for the elderly and those with underlying health issues.

“Twenty percent will have no signs or symptoms,” said Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy at his Wednesday morning press briefing, just before the protest. He noted that those 20 percent can infect other people and kill them.

Also Wednesday morning, McCoy announced four deaths from Tuesday — two men in their eighties, a woman in her eighties, and a woman in her nineties.

Like most of the COVID-19 deaths in the county, the victims were elderly; most have had underlying health issues. The county’s death toll now stands at 29.

“Sorry you couldn’t be with your loved ones in their final hours,” said McCoy.

The past week saw the death of two residents of the county’s nursing home; the launch of wireless internet service in the Hilltowns to help homebound students; reports on government revenues; the start of a Data Dashboard on the county website tracking age, race, gender, and location of COVID-19 cases; and more testing — both to diagnose the disease and also to survey how many have had it.

Each of these initiatives was covered in daily online dispatches by The Enterprise with many of those stories also in this print edition.

Cuomo on Wednesday reported, “We’re in a relatively good place. In downstate New York, the curve is on the descent. The question is now how long is that descent. Is it a sudden drop off?”

Earlier in the week, Whalen had said that, just because downstate New York was seeing a decline didn’t mean that Albany County was. She urged residents to continue to stay home; wash their hands; and, when they have to go out, stay at least six feet from others. 

“We need to continue our increased vigilance and our increased testing,” said Whalen on Wednesday, adding that the new antibody testing will “inform us how we move forward as a county and as a state.”

 

Testing to scale

While Albany County was opening new test sites — four walk-in sites for high-risk neighborhoods as well as a drive-through site in Colonie — the governor, too, was concentrating on testing this past week.

Cuomo focused on the need for federal coordination of a supply chain to bring testing to scale so states can begin reopening functions. Tests are currently produced by private laboratory-equipment manufacturers — there are 30 large manufacturers in the United States, he said, and these manufacturers sell the tests to smaller labs, who then sell the tests to hospitals and the public.

For a test to be performed, local labs must have the necessary reagents and there are different reagents for different manufacturer’s tests. The state asked the top 50 labs in New York what they needed to double their testing output, and all said they needed more reagents, Cuomo reported on April 18.

“That’s the logjam that we are in,” said Cuomo: Local labs have the test but they need the reagents to do a higher volume of tests.

He went on, “When you go back to the manufacturer and say: Why don’t you distribute more reagents? They say one of two things. I can’t get more reagents because they come from China, they come from here, they come from here. We don’t make them in the United States. Or they say the federal government is telling me who to distribute to.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Cuomo met with President Donald Trump and reported afterward that the federal and state government would be working together on testing. Cuomo said at his Wednesday press briefing that the meeting with Trump had been productive.

“To me, a productive visit means we spoke truth, we spoke facts, we made decisions, and we have a plan going forward,” Cuomo said.

At his press briefing on Wednesday, Cuomo also announced with Mike Bloomberg, former mayor of New York who made a late and brief foray in presidential politics, looking to be the Democratic candidate, that Bloomberg and Bloomberg Philanthropies will help with a new testing program.

Starting right away, the program, coordinating downstate New York with New Jersey and Connecticut, will trace COVID-19 contacts to control the rate of infection.

“Tracing is a very big, big deal,” Cuomo said. “Once you trace, and you find more positives, then you isolate the positives; they’re under quarantine, they can’t go out, they can’t infect anybody else. This entire operation has never been done before.”

In Albany County, Commissioner Whalen has led a similar initiative since early March.

“We’re also going to be partnering with Johns Hopkins and Vital Strategies in putting together that tracing operation,” Cuomo said. “It will be coordinated tri-state and downstate.”

On Wednesday, Cuomo also reported that Trump had agreed to waive the state match for Federal Emergency Management Agency aid, which will save the New York “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

“Normally a state has to pay 25 percent of the FEMA cost,” said Cuomo. “That would be a cruel irony for New York and adding insult to injury. New York had the highest number of coronavirus cases in the country, therefore our cost of FEMA was the highest cost in the nation.”


 

 

Gov outlines plan for ‘new normal’

This week, Governor Andrew Cuomo extended the state’s “pause” to at least May 15 — keeping schools and nonessential businesses shut — and also has outlined a plan to “un-pause” New York.

“Now that we’ve shown we can flatten the curve and our efforts to control the spread of the virus are working, we must focus on a smart, effective plan to un-pause New York,” he said in a statement.

Cuomo’s blueprint is to control the rate of infection, strengthen the health-care system, and increase testing with federal help while phasing an economic return to what he termed a “new normal.” The goal is to get people back to work and ease social isolation without triggering a renewed spread of the coronavirus.

The plan is to be implemented in conjunction with nearby states.

Cuomo outlines these four steps:

— Do no harm: Continue to control the rate of infection by extending the pause order until May 15 and implementing additional measures to reduce the rate of infection, including requiring masks in public when social distancing is not possible;

— Strengthen the healthcare system: Continue the surge-and-flex strategy to ensure anyone who needs medical attention gets it, building out the strategic stockpile of personal protective equipment and other medical equipment, and sharing resources among states and localities;

— Test and trace contacts: Both diagnostic and antibody testing is needed to inform decisions and calibrate progress of phased reopening of the economy. The states need the federal government to partner on this effort, Cuomo says, and bring it to the mass scale that is needed; with the help of an army of investigators, contact tracing needs to be done to help limit the virus spread; and

— Return to a ‘new normal’ in phases: Businesses considered more essential with inherent low risks of infection in the workplace and to customers will be prioritized, followed by other businesses considered less essential or those that present a higher risk of infection spread. As the infection rate declines, the pace of reopening businesses will be increased.

These precautions and practices for businesses, the plans says, will guide the phased return to the ‘new normal”:  

— Transport: Ensure employees have means for safe transport such as masks and gloves for public transit or require telecommuting to work from home;

— Workplace: Ensure workplaces are designed to include social distancing measures (i.e., desks six feet apart, conference rooms redesigned), telecommuting for those who can and the most vulnerable;

— Customer interaction: Measures are to be designed to ensure minimal contact with customers, ensure public-interacting employees have necessary protective supplies such as gloves and masks. Special precautions should be taken for businesses that primarily interact with the most vulnerable populations; and

— Proactive infection plan: Ensure protocols, such as a work-from-home plan, are in place should an employee develop COVID-19 symptoms or test positive.


 

 

Gov extends ‘pause’ till May 15

The statewide “pause” — shutting nonessential businesses and prohibiting gatherings — is extended until at least May 15, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Thursday.

The closure is in concert with neighboring states.

Cuomo also directed New Yorkers to wear masks or face-coverings in public, specifically when using public or private transportation or when riding in for-hire cars. The drivers must also wear masks, effective on Friday at 8 p.m.

Cuomo on Thursday also confirmed 8,505 additional cases of novel coronavirus disease 2019, bringing the statewide total to 222,284. 

At his press briefing on Thursday morning, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy announced that the county now has 563 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 668 people under mandatory quarantine and 66 people under precautionary quarantine.

Thirty county residents are now hospitalized with eight of them in intensive-care units. the hospitalization rate for Albany County stands at 5.68 percent of those who have tested positive for COVID-19.


 

 

Gov says curve has flattened, calls for more federal funding

There are now 453 confirmed positive cases of coronavirus disease 2019 in Albany County with 638 people under mandatory quarantine and 74 people under precautionary quarantine.

The death toll for Albany County remains at 12.

Forty county residents are hospitalized with the disease, 13 of them in intensive-care units. The hospitalization rate for Albany County stands at 8.8 percent of those who had tested positive.

The county executive took a break on Easter Sunday from his daily briefings and sent out those latest COVID-19 numbers in a press release.

Meanwhile, the governor on Easter morning was at the Pathways Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Niskayuna, returning ventilators that had been loaned.

“Again last night we lost hundreds of New Yorkers to this terrible disease ...,” said Andrew Cuomo. “But also, when things are at their worst, sometimes people are at their best. Sometimes, just when you need it, people can really show you how great they can be.”

Because ventilators were needed downstate, the epicenter of the pandemic, Cuomo had called for upstate hospitals to lend the ones they weren’t using.

“Out of the blue one day, I got a call that said there’s a nursing home in upstate New York that wants to lend 35 ventilators to downstate New York,” said Cuomo. “It was unsolicited, nobody called and asked.”

That nursing home is Pathways. “We talk about that we’re a family, upstate, downstate, we’re all one family. That family is there to support one another and I want to say thank you on their behalf,” Cuomo said, adding he found the gesture personally inspiring.

Later in the day, at a press briefing, Cuomo announced that the change in total number of hospitalizations statewide is down again. The apex has become a plateau, he said, with total hospitalizations at 18,700.

Cuomo also said that 758 people died of COVID-19 yesterday, bringing the state’s death toll to 9,385.

He announced that now a total of 188,694 New Yorkers have tested positive for the disease, with 8,236 more confirmed cases since yesterday.

Cuomo said he was issuing a new executive order for employers to provide essential workers, for free, with cloth or surgical face masks when they are interacting with the public.

“People want to get on with their lives,” Cuomo said. He called New York Pause — which shut down all nonessential businesses, now until at least April 29 — a “blunt device.”

“The caveat is we need to be smart in the way we reopen. What does smart mean? It means a coordinated approach, a regional approach, and a safe approach. Nobody wants to pick between a public health strategy and an economic strategy,” Cuomo said, calling for more testing and federal assistance.

Cuomo referenced a joint statement put out by Larry Hogan, Maryland’s Republican governor who chairs the National Governors Association, and by himself, a Democrat and vice chairman of the association, that says the federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act “almost ignores state government”; the association is calling for substantial federal funding for states.

“There is no level above the state government that can make a difference besides the federal government and we did a statement on a bipartisan basis that said the federal government has to fix this in the next bill, and we put $500 billion for funding,” said Cuomo.

He also cited a Kaiser Health analysis that found “Nebraska, Montana, for example, Minnesota are getting approximately $300,000 per COVID-19 case. New York State gets approximately $12,000. How can that be?” asked Cuomo.


 

State starts antibody testing

Governor Andrew Cuomo says New York State is ramping up antibody testing, a key component of any plan to reopen the economy.

The state is currently conducting 300 antibody tests per day, and is on track to conduct 1,000 per day by next Friday, and 2,000 per day by the following week, he said.

Antibodies are proteins made by plasma cells as an immune response; they remain in a person’s blood after that person has recovered from a disease like COVID-19.

“Our state lab is now developing an antibody test which is a fast and not invasive test … Even with our high capacity and high performance on testing it’s still not enough,” said Cuomo at a press briefing on April 10. “It’s not enough if you want to reopen on a meaningful scale and reopen quickly so the testing front is going to be a challenge for us … You need certain materials so you can do the testing. It’s very hard to get these reagents right. You’re in a situation where countries all across the globe are trying to do the same thing.”

As part of the state’s efforts to bring mass testing to scale, Cuomo offered a full partnership with the federal government to conduct this work. In the interim, he announced that New York, Connecticut and New Jersey will create a regional testing partnership to bring mass testing to scale for residents in these states.

Cuomo also announced an additional $200 million in emergency food assistance will be available for more than 700,000 low-income households enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, now known as SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.

Households eligible for the supplement that live in counties outside of New York City will begin receiving the supplemental emergency benefit starting on April 13, and all eligible households will have received it by April 24.

Cuomo is also working with New York’s Congressional delegation to create a COVID-19 Heroes Compensation Fund to support health-care and other front-line workers and their families who contracted COVID-19.


 

Muslims donate $20K to help those hurt by pandemic

“In 1887 — here’s a quick little history lesson — in Denver, Colorado, a woman, a rabbi, a priest, and two ministers joined together to launch the first United Way campaign,” said Peter Gannon, president and chief executive officer of United Way of the Greater Capital Region, at Saturday morning’s county press briefing.

Two imams on Saturday joined in that spirit of community giving when they presented a $20,000 check, raised from area mosques, to United Way to help those in need because of the pandemic.

“The reason we are here is we would like to show our support and our appreciation for the people who are doing the right work at the right time,” said Imam Djafer Sebkhaoui of Al-Hidaya Center. He noted all of humanity is facing the pandemic and said the check was just a token of appreciation for the work being done.

“Thank you very much, our elected officials — you are the front line. This is a very difficult time … We are all in together,” said Imam Abdul-Rahman Yaki of the Islamic Center of the Capital District.

He noted that mosques were closed now to prevent the spread of the virus but hoped they would be able to open with Ramadam coming soon. “There will be no religion if we are all dead,” he said. “We have to have life to practice our faiths.” 

He concluded, “We appreciate our diversity here in New York, here in Albany County … Let us know how we can actually do better.”

“We talk a lot at United Way about how people in our community are one bad day away from being in serious financial straits but no one really anticipated this collective bad day we all go through together,” said Gannon. “But we are getting through it.”

So far, United Way has raised nearly $600,000 to deal with the coronavirus crisis, Gannon said. “In a unique twist for us, we’ve already deployed $300,000 of that to the front lines,” he said, noting money had gone to such organizations as food pantries and tenant associations “to help people dealing with the most severe fallout from this crisis.”

He also said that, since the highest volume of cases was in Albany County, the most funds had been directed here.

Gannon went on, “I’m encouraged by the generosity of the Islamic community here in Albany County. We still need more people to join us … The simplest way to do that — and it doesn’t matter if you have $5 or $5,000 … [is to] text COVID19 to 41444.”

Gannon also recalled being at the county press briefing a month ago with “folks still talking about this being an overreaction. “Your leadership through this crisis has saved a lot of lives,” Gannon told County Executive Daniel McCoy.

On Saturday, McCoy announced that Albany County now has 424 confirmed cases of coronavirus disease 2019 with 498 people under mandatory quarantine and 66 under precautionary quarantine.

Thirty-six county residents are hospitalized with COVID-19 with 14 of them in intensive-care units. The percentage of people hospitalized after testing positive for the disease is just over 8.49, McCoy said.

“Social distancing is working,” he said, noting that about 5,000 county residents have been tested so far.

McCoy noted that the county has about 320,000 residents and said, “If things weren’t shut down and you weren’t home, we’d probably have well over 30,000 people infected by the coronavirus.”


 

County’s death toll at 11

Two more Albany County residents have died of COVID-19, bringing the county’s death toll to 11, the county executive said at his press briefing on Thursday morning.

Both of the patients were women — one in her seventies and the other in her eighties. All 11 have been over the age of 60 with underlying medical conditions.

Thirty-four county residents are now hospitalized with COVID-19 and 14 of them are in intensive-care units. The hospitalization rate for Albany County stands at just over 9.3 percent.

At the same time, Governor Andrew Cuomo confirmed 10,621 additional cases of novel coronavirus, bringing the statewide total to 159,937. He also said he would issue an executive order to bring additional funeral directors to New York to help with the high number of deaths due to COVID-19.

Cuomo is also asking all New Yorkers who have recovered from COVID-19 to contact the state and donate blood. People who have recovered from the virus may have convalescent plasma in their blood, he said, which has antibodies against the virus and could help with the development of a treatment for the virus. More information is available at the New York Blood Center website.

The state’s health department is now recommending that people wear cloth face masks in public while at the same time the federal government has announced that its stockpile of personal protective equipment has been depleted by 90 percent.

The county is continuing to urge residents who sew to make face masks and donate them the the county’s health department while reserving N95 masks for health-care workers and first responders.


 

Out-of-work New Yorkers to get more benefits

On Wednesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo directed the State Department of Labor to immediately make $600 in additional weekly unemployment benefits available to all New Yorkers.

The additional benefits were included in the Federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) Act, but, unlike other states, New York began delivering the extra unemployment insurance to unemployed people before federal funds were disbursed to the states.

New York is also extending the period covered by unemployment benefits for another 13 weeks, for a total of 39 weeks.

Cuomo is also issuing an executive order to ensure New Yorkers can vote by absentee ballot in the June 23 primary elections. He had already issued an order to move the presidential primary election from April 28 to June 23, aligning it with the congressional and legislative primaries in New York.

Further, Cuomo announced that Delta, JetBlue, and United are offering free travel to New York for COVID-19 medical workers. To date, more than 90,000 health professionals — more than 25,000 of them from out of state — have signed up to serve as part of the state’s surge health-care force during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

 

The State Education Department has cancelled the June Regents exams and on Tuesday issued guidelines for graduation.

“The COVID-19 emergency has evolved rapidly, leading to uncertainty as to when regular in-school classroom instruction will be able to resume throughout the state and whether students will be adequately prepared to take the Regents examinations,” the department said in a release. “As a result, the Board of Regents and Department have cancelled the June 2020 administration of the NYS High School Regents Examination Program.”

In addition, due to the schools being closed to stop the spread of coronavirus, the department delayed for one year, to 2022, the rollout of state tests aligned to the grades 3 through 8 Next Generation Learning Standards for English and math. Similarly, the alignment of state tests to the New York prekindergarten through 12th grade Science Learning Standards will begin in spring 2023.

The department has modified the requirements that students must meet to earn high school diplomas, credentials, and endorsements. These modifications apply to all students enrolled in grades 7 to 12 during the 2019-20 school year who were intending to participate in one or more of the June 2020 Regents Examinations.

Students who during the June 2020 examination period would have taken one or more Regents examinations, will be exempted from passing the tests in order to be issued a diploma. To qualify for the exemption, students must meet one of the following eligibility requirements:

— The student is currently enrolled in a course of study culminating in a Regents examination and will have earned credit in such course of study by the end of the 2019-20 school year; or

— The student is in grade 7, is enrolled in a course of study culminating in a Regents examination and will have passed such course of study by the end of the 2019-20 school year; or

— The student is currently enrolled in a course of study culminating in a Regents examination and has failed to earn credit by the end of the school year. Such student returns for summer instruction to make up the failed course and earn the course credit and is subsequently granted diploma credit in August 2020; or

— The student was previously enrolled in the course of study leading to an applicable Regents examination, has achieved course credit, and has not yet passed the associated Regents examination but intended to take the test in June 2020 to achieve a passing score.

Further guidance is available on the website for the State Education Department.


 

 

County COVID-19 count climbs to 309, most new cases are first responders

Three-hundred-and-nine Albany County residents have now tested positive for coronavirus disease 2019 and, according to the county’s executive, Daniel McCoy, 90 percent of the recently confirmed cases are of first responders.

He named firefighters, police, and emergency medical services workers, as well as those working in nursing homes and hospitals among them.

Until Monday, when community testing started again, the only people being tested for the disease were hospitalized patients and health-care workers who had been exposed. 

On Tuesday, at his daily press briefing, McCoy said that 459 people are now under mandatory quarantine — a jump of more than 100 from the day before — and 57 are under precautionary quarantine.

McCoy said the increase of mandatory quarantine numbers was because of “the contact people had in the different services.”

Peter Barber, Guilderland’s supervisor, wrote on Tuesday afternoon, in his daily email to residents, that two paramedics in the town’s EMS had tested positive for the disease.

“Both medics are asymptomatic and resting well at home under quarantine,” Barber wrote. He said that the town was guided by the county’s health department, which identified additional staff for testing. “Test results are forthcoming and all staff members are asymptomatic,” Barber said.

He thanked the EMS staff for its “dedicated service” and noted, “There has been no impact upon system status or the full deployment of ambulances and fly cars.”

McCoy was questioned again at his Tuesday morning press briefing on when the county would release information on which towns and populations have confirmed cases of COVID-19.

“We’re figuring that out,” McCoy responded, “and hopefully with more testing we’ll know.”

Although the county announced, on March 12, the location of the first two cases — a Guilderland woman and an Albany man — it has not since released locations, except to name the schools attended by two students who had tested positive: one at Farnsworth Middle School in Guilderland and the other at Pine Hills in Albany.

McCoy has repeatedly said the disease is widespread throughout the county. On Tuesday, he said, “It’s out everywhere in Albany County.”

This week, Commander Brian Wood, who heads the Office of Emergency Management for the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, told The Enterprise that, according to the county’s health department, there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in the four Hilltowns or New Scotland — rural municipalities where social distancing really isn’t a problem. The majority of the confirmed cases, he said, are in the county’s densely populated cities: Albany, Cohoes, and Watervliet. (See related story.)


 

 

County death toll at 8, worse expected ahead

The death toll from COVID-19 now stands at eight for Albany County. Two more patients died Saturday night — a man in his 70s and a woman in her 60s.

All eight have been over age 60 and each has had underlying health issues, according to Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy who made the announcement at his Sunday morning press briefing.

McCoy said the outbreak in the county, now in its fourth week, is not expected to peak for another 18 days, naming April 23 as a potential apex for the outbreaks. “It’s going to get worse … We’re going to get to the top and then we’ll go down,” he said.

McCoy said he’d received queries after his statement at Saturday’s briefing that COVID-19 hospital patients are dying without their families at their bedside. “Hospitals are shut down,” he said, explaining that, even for surgeries or childbirth, family members are not allowed.

Referring to doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff, McCoy said, “They have people around that are compassionate and loving but not their family.”

Addressing kids in the county whom he still sees gathering, McCoy said, “I’m totally amazed at the lack of understanding of the situation you are in … They think it’s this big joke. It’s not. I hope to God I don’t have to come in here tomorrow” and announce more deaths, he said.

Also on Sunday morning, Governor Andrew Cuomo confirmed 8,327 additional cases of novel coronavirus statewide, bringing New York’s total to 122,031. Most of those cases are downstate with more than half — 67,551 — in New York City.

At the same time, the governor said in his daily press briefing, that the federal government is deploying about 1,000 people — including doctors, nurses, respiratory technicians, and therapists — to New York State to help the state’s overwhelmed hospital systems. The first 325 will be deployed to the New York City hospital system on Sunday.

At the county level, the health department continues to map and track people exposed to coronavirus disease 2019.

Since the cashier at at Popeye’s at 900 Central Ave. in Albany tested positive for COVID-19, the county is asking anyone who was at the restaurant on Monday, March 23, from 4 to10 p.m. or Wednesday, March 25, from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. to call the county’s health department right away at 518-447-4580. Popeye’s customers are also asked to stay home under precautionary quarantine until April 6 for those exposed on March 23 or April 8 for those exposed on March 25.


 

Abuse in the time of coronavirus

With members of a household needing to isolate themselves to prevent the spread of COVID-19, abuse can become a problem, according to Karen Ziegler, the director of the county’s Victim and Sexual Violence Center.

“Social distancing is critical … We have to stay home,” Ziegler said at Sunday’s county press briefing. “However, social distancing can create its own problems”

Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple mentioned soon after the social-distancing guidelines were announced that his office had a spike in domestic calls.

“When there’s violence in a home, when there’s abuse in a home, isolation is a problem,” said Ziegler. She said it could be a problem for children, for men, for women, or for the elderly.

Ziegler spoke directly to people who may be abused, “If you don’t feel safe going to the hospital, please go to our website, go to other websites to see what you can do to [make a] safety plan. There are things that can be done to try to decrease the violence, to try to increase your safety. “

She stressed, too, that beds are available at this time in shelters for domestic violence victims.

“We want you to know we are available for you 24/7,” Ziegler said, giving the hotline phone number: 518-447-7716. Also, tele-counseling sessions may be scheduled by calling 518-447-7100. Information is also posted on the center’s website and Facebook page.

Because of the pandemic, Albany County has set up a mental-health helpline at 518-269-6634, which is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

On the center’s website, Ziegler speaks in a video to people who are suffering during the pandemic from domestic violence. Living in “close quarters” with much of society shut down, Ziegler says, “This abuser has a great deal of access to you because you’re not leaving to go to school or work or any social events.

“These times are stressful. Stress often raises people’s thoughts of violence and control. Those people who are abusing you may not give you accurate information. They may threaten to withhold medication …

“They may be telling you shelters are unavailable. They may be telling you that going to the hospital to report violence is not an option for you … We can be there with you by phone if you go to the hospital,” she says.


 

County’s death toll climbs to six, community testing to resume

The COVID-19 death toll for Albany County climbed to six as two more patients died Friday night — a man in his 70s and a woman in her 90s.

Like the other four patients who had died, all over the age of 60, each had “underlying health conditions,” announced Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy at his Saturday morning press briefing.

“We’re going to lose more and more of our vulnerable seniors and people in our community,” said McCoy, urging residents, “Stay home … Use common sense.”

The hardest thing, McCoy said, is that COVID-19 patients who die in the hospital “can’t say goodbye.” Visitors aren’t allowed.

“Think of that, being all alone in the hospital … Even after that,” McCoy said of death, “you can’t see the person.”

McCoy also announced that Albany County now has 278 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 464 people under mandatory quarantine and 82 under precautionary quarantine. Also on Saturday morning, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that New York State now has 113,704 confirmed cases with the apex downstate, the epicenter of the outbreak, still ahead.

Thirty-four people are now hospitalized in Albany County with the hospitalization rate for the county at just over 12 percent. Twelve of the hospitalized patients are in intensive-care units.

“The next two, two-and-a-half weeks will be tough for all of us,” predicted McCoy.

McCoy noted that, since community testing stopped two weeks ago, the number of Albany County cases is actually much higher — he estimated as high as 500. Currently only hospitalized patients and exposed health-care workers are being tested.

But on Monday, community testing will start again at a drive-through site at the University at Albany, staffed by Albany Medical Center and St. Peter’s Health Partners. McCoy stressed that the testing is for people with symptoms; the symptoms of coronavirus disease 2019 include fever and a cough.

People wanting a test must call 1-888-364-3065 to get an appointment. No walk-ins will be accepted. Everyone will be tested from their vehicle.

“By the end of the week, our numbers will probably double,” said McCoy.

 


 

 

Testing center to open Monday at UAlbany

Two more deaths from COVID-19 were reported at Friday’s county press briefing, bringing Albany County’s death count from coronavirus to four.

Both of the patients were men in their 60s. All of the deaths have been of people older than 60 — a woman in her 70s and another man in his 60s — and all of them have had underlying health conditions, according to Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy.

As of Friday morning, the county has 254 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 412 people under mandatory quarantine and 123 people under precautionary quarantine. Thirty COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized in Albany County, half of them in intensive-care units; the county’s hospitalization rate stands at just over 11.8 percent.

Also on Friday morning, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the state will open a new COVID-19 mobile testing site for the Capital District in partnership with Albany Medical Center, St. Peter’s Health Partners, and the University at Albany.

The mobile testing center will be set up in a parking lot at the UAlbany campus at 1400 Washington Ave. in the Colonial Quad parking lot, accessible from the university’s main entrance off of Washington Avenue.

The site will prioritize tests for people with the highest risk. Residents who want to be tested must make an appointment by calling 888-364-3065. No walk-ins are allowed and all patients must be in a vehicle.

The UAlbany testing center is slated to open on Monday, April 6, at 10 a.m. and will run Monday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Drive-through testing facilities keep people who are sick or at risk of having contracted the coronavirus out of health-care facilities where they could infect other people, the governor explained, adding that New York is currently testing more than 16,000 people per day, more than any other state and more than China and South Korea on a per-capita basis.

McCoy and Elizabeth Whalen, Albany County’s health commissioner, have been calling for community testing since it shut down two weeks ago due to limited test kits from the federal government. Cuomo had announced on April 1 that Regeneron Pharmaceuticals was creating 500,000 test kits for New York State for free.

At his Friday morning press conference, Cuomo also said he would sign an executive order that allows the state to redistribute ventilators and personal protective equipment, like masks and gowns, taking them from institutions that currently don’t need them and having the National Guard transport them to hospitals with the highest need. The equipment will be returned to the hospitals or the hospitals will be reimbursed, Cuomo said.

Cuomo said on Friday that the statewide total for confirmed cases is now 102,863. New York City remains the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States and Cuomo said that the Javits Center in Manhattan, which had been converted for overflow patients, will now be used for COVID-19 patients, adding 2,500 beds.

 “As it turned out, we don’t have non-COVID people to any great extent in the hospitals,” the governor said, noting that, with people staying home, there are fewer car crashes, and a reduced crime rate. “Hospitals have turned into effectively ICU hospitals for COVID patients,” he said.

“In the ICU, you need a ventilator,” Cuomo said. “And if you don’t have a ventilator, the process stops, and we don't have enough ventilators ... I don’t believe the federal stockpile has enough to help all of the states because you can’t buy the material at this point.”

Cuomo went on, “I’m not going to be in a position where people are dying and we have several hundred ventilators in our own state somewhere else.” He said to the hospitals that will be having their ventilators transported downstate, “I will give you my personal word, I’ll pay you for the ventilator. I’m not going to let people die because we didn’t redistribute ventilators.”

The governor concluded, “We’re learning things that fortunately no other community had to learn because we’re first and because of the intensity of the situation here. When our urgent need is over we will help any community in this nation that needs it, because that outpouring has been there for us.”

On Thursday afternoon, at a press conference held at Albany Medical Center by area hospitals, Dennis McKenna, M.D. who became president and chief executive officer of Albany Med on April 1, announced that Albany Med began accepting transfer patients late Tuesday night from hospitals in Flushing and Jamaica, Queens and has accepted 20 transfer patients so far. Combined, Capital Region hospitals have accepted 38 transferred patients.

Albany Med accepts nearly 16,000 transfer patients each year, more than 40 patients a day, it was noted, since it is the only level-one trauma center, tertiary care center, and academic medical center in northeastern New York and western New England.

“Accepting transfer patients will not hinder our ability to care for patients in our region,” said Fred Venditti, M.D., executive vice president for system care delivery and Albany Med’s hospital general director. He explained how analytic models are being used to project volume, and how staff, space, and supplies are regularly examined.

Albany County’s first two cases of COVID-19 were announced on March 12. Since the outbreak began, 50 out of 10,000 Albany Med employees have tested positive for COVID-19, it was announced; many have returned to work, and none have been hospitalized.

Venditti said that Albany Med has adequate personal protective equipment, known as PPE, for staff to safely care for patients. To conserve equipment, Albany Med recently began using ultraviolet light to disinfect N95 masks for safe reuse.

The hospital has used Tru-D, or total room ultraviolet disinfection technology, to effectively disinfect room surfaces for many years, he said, explaining that UV radiation distorts the genetic material of airborne viruses, thereby killing the virus.

David Liebers, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and Ellis Medicine’s vice president and chief medical officer, warned that the greatest challenges are ahead.

 


 

 

Albany County suffers second COVID-19 death, confirmed cases climb to 228

The county’s second death from COVID-19 was announced Wednesday morning by County Executive Daniel McCoy.

“With great sadness, I have to let everyone know we’ve had another death, a female in her 60s … My heart goes out to the family,” McCoy said at his daily press briefing.

The county’s first COVID-19 death was on Saturday. The patient was a man in his 70s; he died at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany after a short stay.

Both victims of the disease had “multiple underlying medical issues,” McCoy said.

He stressed, when announcing the first death, that people over the age of 70 should stay home and follow “Matilda’s Law,” issued last week by Governor Andrew Cuomo and named for his mother.

“Matilda’s Law” requires vulnerable New Yorkers to stay home and limit home visits to immediate family members or close friends in need of emergency assistance. If it is necessary to visit, the visitor should check his temperature first and not visit if he has a fever or cough. Both people should wear a mask for the duration of the visit.

Also on Wednesday, Cuomo announced that New York-based Regeneron Pharmaceuticals is creating 500,000 test kits for the state at no charge amid a nationwide shortage of test kits and swabs. The first batch of test kits was delivered to the state on Monday and the state will receive an ongoing delivery of 25,000 kits per day, Cuomo announced.

“New York has been very aggressive on testing from day one — so far we have tested more than 220,000 New Yorkers with more than 15,000 new tests every day — and it has helped us slow the spread of this virus,” Cuomo said in a release on Wednesday from his office.

While New York City — the epicenter of the coronavirus in the United States — has been able to continue community testing, Albany County and other upstate counties have not been able to do so.

Cuomo also announced on Wednesday that the statewide number of confirmed cases of coronavirus disease 2019 stands at 83,712. More than half of those cases — 47,439 — are from New York City. Other downstate counties also have high tallies.

Albany County’s number of confirmed COVID-19 cases climbed to 228 on Wednesday with 439 people under mandatory quarantine and 241 people under precautionary quarantine.

Twenty-two people in Albany County are now hospitalized with the disease, with 12 adults in intensive care units. This puts the county’s hospitalization rate at just over 9.6 percent.

Based on the data, McCoy said, the daily rate of hospital admissions is increasing 33 percent in the Capital Region, and up to one-third of those admitted are going into intensive-care units.

Albany Medical Center announced on Wednesday that, late on Tuesday, it had accepted from downstate hospitals 14 transfer patients who have either confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19. 

McCoy said on Wednesday that the county has no control over hospitals’ decisions but that his role is to “make sure we have enough beds for our residents.”

“Accepting transfer patients from other hospitals will not prevent Albany Med from caring for any local patients,” the hospital said in a statement. The center also noted an interdisciplinary team in Albany Med’s Incident Command Center has established a comprehensive plan for an increase, or surge, in patients as the governor had called for.

“We’re all New Yorkers,” said McCoy at Wednesday’s briefing. “We’ve got to take care of one another.”

McCoy also noted on Wednesday that 25 percent of the people infected with COVID-19 don’t know they have it. “They’re walking around, carrying symptoms,” he said.

Without community testing to identify who has COVID-19, Whalen has stressed throughout the week, all residents must act as if they are quarantined. The county’s health department keeps daily tabs on those who are legally quarantined.

McCoy noted on Wednesday that, the day before, the number of deaths in the United States, at over 3,500, has topped the death toll in China, where the coronavirus was first noted in December 2019.

“When are you going to take this serious? … When you see someone in your life pass away?” asked McCoy on Wednesday. “It’s not just about yourself.”

He also said, “Right now, we’re seeing higher numbers with first responders.” He noted that Albany firefighters as well as hospital workers had tested positive for COVID-19.

The county is bolstering its protections for homeless people, McCoy said on Wednesday. County-contracted shelters, he said, have become overcrowded. “We’re contracting with hotels,” he said. Homeless people sheltering there are having their temperatures taken and being evaluated, McCoy said.

“I do think most people are heeding our advice,” Whalen said on Wednesday. That advice, repeated daily at the press briefings is to: Stay home, wash hands and touched surfaces, and avoid gathering in groups — stay at least six feet away from other people.

 

What does it mean to be under quarantine?

Elizabeth Whalen, Albany County’s health commissioner, said the question her staff hears most often is: What does it mean to be under quarantine?

Quarantine, Whalen explained at a press conference Tuesday, is a legal designation for individuals who have had known contact with someone who has COVID-19.

Albany County currently has 517 people under mandatory quarantine and 234 people under precautionary quarantine. People under both kinds of quarantine follow the same regimen: They stay at home, keep separate from others in their home; and use their own bathroom or, if there is just one bathroom in a shared home, disinfect it after use.

People who are placed under a legal quarantine by the health department have their cases followed by the department, Whalen said.

Albany County now has 210 confirmed cases of COVID-19, up from 199 on Monday. Nineteen patients are hospitalized with the disease and eight adults are in intensive-care units, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy said Tuesday. The hospitalization rate for the county now stands at just over 9 percent.

“If we were testing, that number would be in 500,” said McCoy of confirmed cases.

Community testing in Albany County stopped because test kits from the federal government are in short supply. Now only hospital patients and exposed health-care workers are being tested.

Whalen said she believes the disease is widespread in the community. She repeated that the two pillars of controlling infectious diseases are to conduct widespread testing and to practice social distancing.

Without the community testing, Whalen said, “We have to focus on what we have left … stay home.”

If someone in a quarantined household is sick with COVID-19, Whalen advised reaching out to the patient’s doctor and to the county health department. The sick person should stay in a separate room, she said. He should have his temperature monitored, and be given Tylenol and adequate fluids.

Although particular caution should be exercised in households with residents over 60 or with co-existing medical conditions, “No one is immune from potential complications,” said Whalen.

“If someone develops shortness of breath,” said Whalen, that person should be evaluated at a hospital’s emergency department.

Asked about hotspots for COVID-19 within the county, Whalen said that, because of limited testing, “The geographic information we have would not be an accurate representation.”

Whalen stressed again the importance of staying six feet away from others, cleaning surfaces, and washing hands. Hands should be kept away from faces and Whalen suggested people could make and wear their own masks as a tool to make them aware of face-touching. 

McCoy said that 25 National Guard members began today to distribute over 19,000 pounds of food from the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York to quarantined households. “We have your backs,” he said.

He also announced that the county’s health department has identified 8,000 N95 masks. Sixty percent of the masks will go to hospitals and the rest will be “divied up for first responders,” McCoy said.


 

Cohoes company plans to make respirators to keep COVID-19 patients alive until more ventilators are available

As New York, like the rest of the nation, is faced with a shortage of ventilators to help patients with severe cases of COVID-19 to continue to breathe, a Cohoes company has come up with a machine to fill the gap.

Tony Hynes, president and chief executive officer of Precision Valve & Automation, spoke at Tuesday’s county press conference about the bag valve masks his company plans to produce; within two weeks, Hynes said, he expects PVA can produce 100 of the portable respirators each day. 

In his Saturday press conference, Governor Andrew Cuomo said that, when the outbreak of coronavirus disease 19 peaks in New York — anticipated in two to three weeks — 140,000 hospital beds and 30,000 ventilators will be required. If the state is short on ventilators, the governor said, COVID-19 patients would need to use manually operated bag valve masks.

Cuomo had said members of the National Guard could sit next to each patient’s bedside to operate one of these machines. However, Hynes’s company, working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has come up with a way the portable respirators can operate on their own.

“We saw the governor’s pleas and decided we needed to act,” said Hynes. He also said, “The device will certainly keep someone alive” until a ventilator becomes available.

Ventilators cost in the neighborhood of $40,000 while these portable ventilators will cost under $8,000, Hynes said. He noted the PVC ventilators will not be as effective as the $40,000 ventilators but would sustain patients until the more expensive ventilators become available.

Hynes also said he has had support from two Albany County hospitals — Albany Medical Center and St. Peter’s — as well as interest from as far away as a Veterans Administration hospital in San Francisco.

Elizabeth Whalen, Albany County’s health commissioner, said she was happy to hear of PVA’s initiative. Whalen said she had used bag valve masks in emergency situations and noted they are “incredibly hard to keep going.”

Whalen described the device as feeling almost like a deflated football and, no matter how strong someone operating it is, she said, the process becomes tiring. 

McCoy said that PVA has been working with Congressman Paul Tonko’s Office, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Office, and Vice President Mike Pence’s Office and he called on the United States Food and Drug Administration to approve the portable respirator as soon as possible.

Hynes said that PVA engineers are talking with the FDA about getting emergency approval.

PVA is a global supplier of automation equipment, typically servicing the electronics, medical device, telecommunications, semiconductor, and defense industries, McCoy said.

 

Food to be distributed to quarantined, seniors, those who need it

“When we signed up in this uniform, it was to defend not only the country but also the state,” said Xiomara Diaz, a chaplain with the New York Army National Guard.

She is part of a strike team out of Fort Drum that is now stationed in Albany and on Monday morning was busy at the Times Union Center in Albany organizing over 19,000 pounds of food from the Regional Food Bank, to be distributed in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak here.

“We are there for the call center, to distribute food for my brothers and sisters out there … We’ll be there in the trenches for time to come,” said Diaz, concluding, “Snow, sand, rain, or epidemic, we are here.”

At his press briefing on Monday morning, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy said the 25 Guard members would begin food distribution on Tuesday. The food will go to people under quarantine — 559 people are now under mandatory quarantine in Albany County and 223 are under precautionary quarantine, McCoy said — as well as to seniors who shouldn’t be out shopping and to “people who can’t afford food,” he said, since many are now out of work.

A reporter asked about residents being “fearful” at the sight of Guard soldiers, and McCoy, a member of the National Guard himself, said, “If anything, they should take relief.”

“They know how to get the job done … As things change, they’re there for us,” said McCoy.

Monday’s press briefing marked a shift from focusing on health and the rising toll of confirmed COVID-19 cases — there are now 199 with 15 patients hospitalized — to other county efforts to help the community.

“A lot of other needs are arising,” said Elizabeth Whalen, the county’s health commissioner.

“It takes a village, an entire community, to respond to a crisis like this … It takes a village to raise a community,” said McCoy.

In addition to the new food-distribution initiative, McCoy announced that he had requested that local industrial development agencies, IDAs, be allowed to handle applications from distressed businesses and “get money out quicker.”

McCoy said that over 25,000 people had applied to the Small Business Administration and that it is likely it will take a long time to have the applications answered. The website for small businesses to apply for disaster assistance is https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/disaster-assistance.

“People need money today,” said McCoy. He also said, “Some people live check to check, not just paying the rent but putting food on the table.”

McCoy and other county leaders sent a letter to the governor, he said, asking the governor to waive state laws to enable IDAs to make direct loans to businesses for up to $50,000.

“We have cash stranded in our IDAs and current law does not allow us to use those funds for loans and grants,” McCoy’s letter states.

His letter goes on, “Additionally, I would also ask that you permit the transfer of funds from the IDAs to affiliated Local Development Corporations for the same purpose. As you know this support is essential and needed urgently.”

“We’ll get this program rolled out quickly,” said McCoy at Monday's press briefing.

Although the governor has extended the statewide “pause” on all nonessential businesses and gatherings, until April 15, McCoy said, “Probably the norm won’t start for a couple of months.”


 

Statewide ‘pause’ extended by governor into April

Stasis brought on by coronavirus was formally extended Sunday as Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a slew of restrictions on non-essential businesses and government workers would last, for now, until April 15.

Non-essential businesses — restaurants, bars, gyms, theaters, and malls among them — were ordered to close all in-person operations, and all non-essential gatherings of any size were banned, as of March 22. 

Albany County officials expressed frustration Sunday with local businesses not following the governor’s orders and threatened to call them out by name or revoke their licenses.

The pause will be re-evaluated every two weeks, Cuomo said in a release from his office.

School districts remain closed, though they can host free day care, the release says; and pharmacies have agreed to offer free prescription home delivery.

New York State has become the country’s latest epicenter for infections. It has some 59,000 positive cases of coronavirus, according to the release Sunday, with 8,000 hospitalized patients, and almost 1,000 dead.

Cuomo spoke about a rolling peak of cases, expecting one on the horizon for upstate New York, after New York City, Westchester, and Long Island. But he said he had no answer for when people should return to work after a peak.

“There is no answer,” Cuomo said in the release. “I think the answer is going to be in testing.”

With a rolling peak of cases, Cuomo said, there will come a point when upstate health-care systems relieve downstate, and vice versa.

Businesses deemed essential include news media; financial institutions like banks; providers of basic necessities to economically disadvantaged people like food banks; construction for essential infrastructure or emergency repairs; defense; services needed to maintain safety and sanitation; and vendors that provide essential services or products, including logistics and technology support, child care and services. (See a more complete list here).

Businesses can apply to be deemed essential.


 

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia
John Gulino, funeral director at Altamont's Fredendall Funeral Home, plans to have a single dedicated entrance for mourners who he'll limit to no more than 10 in person. See related story.

 

First COVID-19 death in Albany County

On Saturday afternoon, Albany County announced its first COVID-19 death.

The patient was a man in his 70s “with multiple underlying medical issues,” Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy announced; he died at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany after a short stay.

On Sunday morning, at his daily press briefing, McCoy said of the death, “It’s not easy … It’s a blow to the stomach. My heart goes out to the family … The most vulnerable population is going to be hit.”

He stressed that people over the age of 70 should stay home and follow “Matilda’s Law,” issued last week by Governor Andrew Cuomo and named for his mother.

“Matilda’s Law” requires vulnerable New Yorkers to stay home and limit home visits to immediate family members or close friends in need of emergency assistance. If it is necessary to visit such individuals, the visitor should check his temperature first and not visit if he has a fever or cough. Both individuals should wear a mask for the duration of the visit.

The county’s health commissioner, Elizabeth Whalen, quoted her own mother, a nurse, as she made a passionate plea.

Whalen’s mother would ask Whalen and her siblings as they were growing up: Are you part of the problem or are you part of the solution?

“What side of history will you fall on?” asked Whalen on Sunday. “What will you do to be part of the solution?” Staying home, she said, “can mean the difference between life and death.”

On Sunday morning, McCoy reported there are now 187 confirmed cases of coronavirus disease 2019 in Albany County. That number was up from 178 on Friday. The number of confirmed cases in the county had, until recently, risen steadily since the first two were reported on March 12.

McCoy and Whalen have repeatedly said in recent days that many more residents in the county are likely to have the disease than the numbers show. McCoy estimated on Sunday that the number could be as high as 500.


 

Residents are advised: ‘Physical health depends on emotional health’

As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Albany County climbed to 166 Thursday morning, the focus was on mental health.

“Physical health depends on emotional health,” said Stephen Giordano, director of Albany County’s department of mental health.

These are unprecedented times, he said, calling it a “major challenge” for people “dealing with prolonged uncertainty.” He said that about 60 people have called the county’s mental-health helpline, set up after the outbreak of the coronavirus.

The number is 518-269-6634 and the line is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. Anyone experiencing a psychiatric emergency should still call the Albany County Mobile Crisis Team at 518-549–6500.

Giordano had advice for dealing with the anxiety he said everyone is feeling: “In a world of uncertainty … take control of what you can.” This means making plans, developing routines, creating family rituals, he said.

Giordano quoted an old adage: “It doesn’t matter what happens in life. It matters how we respond to that.”

He made several suggestions for managing emotions. “Exercise heals us emotionally,” he said. “Sleep is critical for the immune system. So is eating.”

He suggested that people download a meditation app as he had. When the mind focuses on the future, it can cause anxiety, he said. When the mind dwells on the past, it can cause depression. Meditation, Giordano said, helps people focus on the present moment.

Two populations need extra attention: the elderly and children. The elderly can be prone to depression with isolation. “Reach out to your neighbors,” Giordano advised. While he has often been critical of social media, Giordano said, “Now, thank God for social media.”

For children, he said, it is important for adults to model behavior that makes them feel safe, answering the questions they ask.

He also recommended that residents pace themselves and not watch “endless coverage” of the pandemic but, rather, check in once or twice a day.

“The world is still a beautiful place,” Giordano said. “More than ever now, I think we’ll be defined by how we treat one another: kindness, generosity, compassion, empathy — those are still the coin of the day.”

 

Test kits sought

County Executive Daniel McCoy reported that 566 people in Albany County are under mandatory quarantine and 247 are under precautionary quarantine. That number dropped significantly because 400 people related to a case of COVID-19 at Farnsworth Middle School were released from quarantine, with none of them having contracted the disease.

Fifteen people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in Albany County, ranging in age from two months to 99 years old. Six of those patients are in intensive-care units.

The county’s hospitalization rate is currently at 9 percent.

“It’s hitting a younger population here,” said McCoy.

Elizabeth Whalen, the county’s health commissioner, said that the epidemiology in the United States was different than it had been in China. Young people in the United States have had serious illnesses, she said.

McCoy also said that the number of cases in Albany County is probably much higher than the reported 166. This is because, with limited test kits from the federal government, the only people now being tested for the disease are hosptiatlized patients and health-care workers who have been exposed.

Whalen said it is “a concern the numbers are as high as they are” without the widespread community testing that had been done previously. “The test kits are the sticking point,” she said.


 

 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020 - 14:44

Local hospitals double capacity

At Tuesday afternoon’s press conference, leaders from the Albany Med Health System, including Columbia Memorial Health and Saratoga Hospital; Ellis Medicine; St. Peter’s Health Partners; Glens Falls Hospital; and St. Mary’s Amsterdam described their surge plans. 

“There are still people that feel we are overreacting,” said Steven Hanks, chief clinical officer of St. Peter’s Health Partners. “We are in support of the governor’s increase of at least 50 percent.”

Across its system, St. Peter’s has 702 acute-care beds and will be adding 663 beds using extant facilities. St. Peter’s will increase its ICU beds from 48 now to 150, Hanks said.

As the governor continues to push for more COVID-19 testing in New York State, local hospital leaders said on Tuesday, after two weeks of aggressive community testing, they are now testing only health-care workers and hospitalized patients.

New York is currently testing more than 16,000 people per day, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Tuesday morning, more than any other state and more than China and South Korea on a per capita basis. Cuomo said that reducing density and increasing testing is the most effective way to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

New York has nearly half of the nation’s confirmed cases, 15 times higher than any other state. Cuomo announced on Tuesday that New York has 20,875 confirmed cases.

A positive test for COVID-19 does not change the management of a case for a patient who is not admitted to a hospital, said Dennis McKenna, president and chief executive officer of Albany Medical Center, at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

At an Albany county press conference Tuesday morning, the county’s health commissioner had said she hopes more testing kits will be made available from the federal government so that community testing could pick up again.

McKenna said that patients with COVID-19 symptoms — a fever, cough, and shortness of breath — should quarantine themselves for two weeks, stay hydrated, and take anti-fever medication.

The numbers from Albany Med, McKenna said, are typical of the other hospitals represented at the press conference. Albany Med tested 1,642 people in two weeks, with results still pending from 50 tests; 79 — or about 5 percent — came back positive, which he called “a very reassuring number.”

Of those with confirmed cases, 11 were hospitalized, McKenna said, and six patients are still in-house. About 14 percent of those who tested positive required hospitalization. Generally, what hospitals are seeing, McKenna said, is about half of the COVID-19 patients are in beds on hospital floors while the others need to be in an intensive-care unit.

The people requiring hospitalization, McKenna said, are usually elderly with underlying comorbidities. Albany Med has had health-care workers test positive for COVID-19 and reduced, with health-department guidance, the 14-day quarantine to seven days, being sure the workers wore protective gear when they returned to work.

 

 


Wednesday, March 25, 2020 - 14:08

Albany County says locations won’t be mapped

Albany County now has 136 confirmed cases of coronavirus disease 2019, up from 122 on Monday morning.

A total of 576 Albany County residents are under mandatory quarantine in their homes and another 652 are under precautionary quarantine.

McCoy said that the county has received many inquiries from citizens wanting information on the locations of cases throughout the county.

“It’s not going to happen,” said McCoy. “Assume it’s all over the county.”

The county’s health department does let emergency medical workers know about the location of patients with COVID-19, McCoy said.

“You’re not going to get a map to make you feel safe in certain parts of the county,” McCoy said at Tuesday’s press conference.

“If you look at the trajectory over the past week  … COVID-19 is becoming more prevalent in the community,” said Albany County’s health commissioner, Elizabeth Whalen.

She also said, “It’s likely we’re not getting a true picture.”

On Friday, community testing was halted as supplies of test kits from the federal government are limited and are now being used only for hospitalized patients and exposed health-care workers. “I hope community testing will pick back up,” said Whalen.

McCoy said that over 2,700 tests had been performed in Albany County with a positive test rate of under 5 percent.

The county executive concluded with some advice: “Discover being home with your kids all day … that magical time … Have fun with them. Discover each other.”

 

Announcements

Mccoy said the American Red Cross is in need of blood as many drives have been canceled. Donors need to make an appointment by calling 1-800-Red Cross, or by going online to RedCrossBlood.org.

“Cards have taken off,” said McCoy of electronic greetings that kids are sending to nursing home residents who can no longer receive visitors. The e-cards are cheering up the workers at Shaker Place, too, he said. E-cards can be sent to AlbanyCountyKidsCare@albanycountyny.gov .

 McCoy announced that Tuesday is Great American Takeout Day across the nation. With restaurants in New York and elsewhere closed for service except for takeout and delivery, restaurant associations nationwide have asked Americans to support local eateries by ordering takeout and delivery.

McCoy said the county’s new mental-health support line had received “30-some” calls. The support line — 518-269-6634 — runs seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Anyone experiencing a psychiatric emergency should still call the Albany County Mobile Crisis Team at 518-549–6500.

Anyone who wants to volunteer for the Albany County Medical Reserve Corps to help the response to COVID-19, or to help the county’s health department, answering phones and making calls to residents under quarantine, may call the Department of Health’s Medical Reserve Corps Coordinator at 518-447-4610.

For all COVID-19 questions and concerns, Albany County residents are encouraged to use United Way’s 2-1-1 hotline as well as the State Department of Health’s hotline at 888-364-3065.

 


County update: ​Monday, March 23, 2020 - 18:38

Sheriff says wing of jails ready to shelter the homeless

As the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus 2019 disease in the county climbed to 122, the county executive, Daniel McCoy, announced at Monday morning’s press conference, “We had someone in the City Mission that came down with COVID-19.”

“We are seeing cases in sensitive settings,” agreed Elizabeth Whalen, Albany County’s health commissioner. She said her department is working with support from the county’s Department of Social Services to see that people who are homeless or in shelters can be quarantined and not put others at risk.

Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple said that the wing at the county jail that he had, before the outbreak, planned to make into a homeless shelter is “ready to go.” The wing is sealed off from the jail, which had open cells as the prison population declined.

Staff at the Homeless and Travelers Aid Society, based on Central Avenue in Albany, was willing to “help out” and staff the new wing, Apple said.

Whalen said that it is not yet clear what the timeline for the course of the disease will be but based on information from the last two weeks — Albany County’s first two cases were announced on March 12 — “It seems likely we are entering a period of more community spread,” she said.

“We don’t know how long this is going to last; plan on July or August,” said McCoy. “We’re not even the tip of the iceberg.”

Currently 490 people in Albany County are in mandatory quarantine, and 634 are in precautionary quarantine. Seven people with COVID-19 have been hospitalized, putting Albany County’s average at 5.7 percent.

Whalen noted that there were just seven more confirmed cases on Monday morning than on Sunday morning and she anticipates that this week “our numbers will seem to drop off.”

She stressed that this is not a cause for reassurance but, rather, is because the hospitals have stopped community testing since test kits are in limited supply. The remaining kits from the federal government will be used to test hospitalized patients and exposed health-care workers.

“We need more test kits,” said McCoy, repeating his plea from the day before. “We need the federal government to step up.”

 

“Act like you have it”

Whalen again stressed the importance of staying home. Initially, it was thought that asymptomatic patients or those with mild symptoms were not drivers of infection, she said, but this turned out to be wrong.

People with mild or no symptoms — fever, cough, shortness of breath — are spreading the disease.

“All of us need to protect ourselves. All of us need to protect each other,” Whalen said. She urged residents, “In order to contain this, you have to act like you have it; treat your family and others as if you do.”

The county’s health department, she said, is tracking all cases that have tested positive. “We call everyone who has a diagnosis,” siad Whalen.

The first question the ill person is asked is: What were you doing the last couple of weeks … Tell us who you were in contact with.

“My hope,” said Whalen, “is you would say, ‘I heeded the message.’” Whalen’s hope is she would hear that the only people the patient had been in contact with were family members, and distance was kept even there.

“Please think of this and let it guide your actions,” said Whalen.

She stressed again the importance of social distancing — staying at least six feet from anyone else — of staying home, and of washing hands.

“People almost need to develop a whole new relationship with their hands,” she said. People have to stop their usual habits of touching their faces. “It’s difficult,” said Whalen.

 

Jail nurse has COVID-19 

Sheriff Apple reported, “We continue to ramp up supplies,” distributing them to emergency medical service workers, health-care workers, and funeral parlors.

He also said a nurse at the county jail has tested positive for COVID-19. Thirty-five inmates have been identified as having come in contact with the nurse and they have been isolated, he said.

The jail has 89 cells set up for isolating inmates with COVID-19 and it is being constantly disinfected, Apple said.

He said of jail workers, “What you do after hours sets up the framework for the next day.” He is urging jail staff to stay home after work, and will even have their groceries delivered.

 

Federal census

McCoy also urged Albany County residents to fill out their 2020 federal census forms. He noted that the census will decide how over $1.5 trillion in federal funding is allocated to state and local governments.

“It matters for the next 10 years,” he said.

McCoy said that the population of the town of Colonie, measured by the 2020 census, will probably top the city of Albany. He said that college students who would have been counted in Albany “won’t be here to count; they went home” because of the coronavirus.

“They’ll be counted back home,” McCoy said.

“Do your job,” he urged county residents. “Get online and do your census.”

McCoy reported that 19 percent of Albany County households have filled out the nexus, which is above the statewide rate of 16 percent.

 

Supplies and services

McCoy praised the Guilderland Central School District for responding to his earlier plea for supplies to protect health-care workers.

The school gave the county 2,000 gloves, 250 masks, bleach, disinfectant spray, suits, and a box of gowns, McCoy said.

The county on Monday posted mental-health and exercise videos on its website, McCoy said.

The mental-health helpline that the county launched last week has been busy, McCoy said, as people struggle with anxiety over the disease and with isolation. The helpline, staffed by county workers, received 11 calls in the first hour, he said.

The mental-health support line — 518-269-6634 — runs seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Anyone experiencing a psychiatric emergency should still call the Albany County Mobile Crisis Team at 518-549–6500.

McCoy also praised the children, home from school, who have created electronic greeting cards for nursing home residents who can no longer receive visitors. Electronic cards may be sent to AlbanyCountyKidsCare@albanycountyny.gov.

He highlighted one that he said made him smile. A little girl displayed her artwork on which she had written, “After every storm comes a rainbow.”

Another card said, “When in doubt, smile” with a picture of a happy face.

McCoy also reported that he had sent a letter to all the school superintendents in the county to urge school nurses, no longer working in the closed schools, to volunteer at the county nursing home or at the county’s health department.

Anyone who wants to volunteer for the Albany County Medical Reserve Corps to help the response to COVID-19, or to help the county’s health department, answering phones and making calls to residents under quarantine, may call the Department of Health’s Medical Reserve Corps Coordinator at 518-447-4610.

For all COVID-19 questions and concerns, Albany County residents are encouraged to use United Way’s 2-1-1 hotline as well as the State Department of Health’s hotline at 888-364-3065.


 

 

Sunday, March 22, 2020 - 14:31

County exec calls for more protective gear, Sheriff warns caution with guns

As the count of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to rise in Albany County — it’s now at 115 — the county’s executive and sheriff urged again at Sunday morning’s press conference that residents should stay calm.

“Gun sales have skyrocketed ...,” said Sheriff Craig Apple. “I don’t want anyone shooting a first responder coming to the house.”

While Apple said he was a Second Amendment rights supporter, he urged those who had recently purchased guns: “Handle that gun safely; store it responsibly.”

He also said, “Don’t go out and shoot a gun for the first time in the midst of this crisis.”

In general, Apple said of residents following the governor’s directives to stay home, “People seem to be adhering to guidelines.”

He also said, “For the most part, crime is down.” However, he said, there has been “a minor spike in domestics,” which he said was understandable with people being on edge at home.

County Executive Daniel McCoy said that, in addition to the normal layers of police protection, the New York Army National Guard is being deployed throughout the state to help with food distribution and setting up hospitals.

A reporter asked if, with the National Guard deployment, people shouldn’t fear their families were in danger.

“Let police do their jobs,” said County Executive Daniel McCoy. He also said, “If you’ve never owned a firearm, don’t fire it.”

McCoy reported that 318 people in Albany County are now in mandatory quarantine and 634 are in precautionary quarantine.

McCoy estimated it would be June or July “before we get out of this.”

Apple said that 30 officers had been under quarantine and there were “no hiccups” in the running of the department. “We have plenty of first responders,” he said.

Two inmates in the county’s jail are currently in isolation, Apple said, and the jail has 89 isolation cells.

“We’ll shift to 12-hour shifts this week to keep people from burning out,” said Apple, concluding, “We need you to continue to work with us.”

McCoy said the county’s new mental-health helpline has been “a huge success.” He urged, “Reach out, don’t be ashamed. We’re not tracking; we’re not taking personal information.”

The number is 518-269-6634 and the line is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. Anyone experiencing a psychiatric emergency should still call the Albany County Mobile Crisis Team at 518-549–6500.

He also encouraged kids, home from their closed schools, to continue making electronic greeting cards for nursing home residents who are unable to receive visitors at AlbanyCountyKidsCare@albanycountyny.gov.

 

 


Saturday, March 21, 2020 - 17:21

NYS gears up to create hospital space, manufacture masks and medical equipment

NYS gears up to create hospital space, manufacture masks and medical equipment

On Saturday afternoon, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced four sites that the Army Corps of Engineers has identified for conversion to hospitals, and said that apparel manufacturers in the state are converting their operations to begin making masks and other medical equipment.

Further, Cuomo announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has granted New York’s request for a major disaster declaration.

Under the current declaration, FEMA will pay 75 percent of the funding and New York is responsible for 25 percent. Cuomo is urging the president and his administration to grant a 100-percent federal cost share under this declaration.

Cuomo is also urging the federal government to quickly grant the state’s pending request to support homeowners through additional individual assistance programs and statewide hazard mitigation assistance.

And Cuomo is asking New York’s Congressional delegation to modify federal coronavirus legislation to ensure New York is eligible for $6 million in aid. Due to a current technical issue in the bill, New York State is not eligible to receive aid, said a release from the governor’s office.

 The proposed hospital sites are all downstate where the cases of COVID-19 are heaviest:

— The Jacob K. Javits convention Center in New York City;

— The State University of New York at Stony Brook;

— The State University of New York at Old Westbury; and

— The Westchester Convention Center.

Over the past days, an inspection team led by the Army Corps of Engineers, and including state officials from the Office of General Services, the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, the Department of Health and the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs, has visited more than a dozen sites to review for temporary hospital use, a release from the governor’s office said.

Upon Cuomo’s determination, the Army Corps is expected to immediately begin work to construct the temporary hospitals. Cuomo is also requesting that FEMA designate four field hospitals with 250 beds each for the state, intended for use in the Javits Center in addition to the temporary hospital to be constructed by the Army Corps.

“Every day we see the number of cases of novel coronavirus continue to rise, and we know that by all projections we’re going to have more hospitalizations than we can deal with in our healthcare system,” Cuomo said in the release. “We have a plan of action to help stop the spread of this virus, including expanding hospital capacity and identifying new hospital beds … This is a public health crisis, but worse than the virus is the fear, but we have a plan and we are doing everything we can to keep the people informed and save lives.”

Cuomo also announced new actions to increase the state’s supply of personal protective equipment. The state has identified two million N95 masks for purchase and will send one million to New York City and 500,000 to Long Island.

Apparel manufacturers in the state are converting their operations to begin manufacturing masks and other medical equipment, and the state is also exploring manufacturing masks. Additionally, the state is gathering ventilators from different health facilities from across the state to be used in the most critical areas and has already purchased 6,000 additional ventilators, the release said.

Cuomo also issued an executive order temporarily closing in-office transactions for the Department of Motor Vehicles. Online transactions, including for license renewals, will still be available. License and permit expirations will be extended.

Additionally, Cuomo announced that State Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker has recommended trials for new drug therapy to help combat COVID-19. The Federal Drug Administration is acquiring 10,000 doses of Hydroxychloroquine and Zithromax for New York State to use on a trial basis.


 

 

Friday, March 20, 2020 - 19:42

Gov puts state ‘on pause’

On Friday, Governor Andrew Cuomo executed a 10-point policy meant to assure safety for everyone. There are now 7,102 confirmed cases of coronavirus in 23 counties.

Effective on Sunday at 8 p.m., all non-essential businesses are to close across the state. Also, all non-essential gatherings of any size for any reason are banned.

“Matilda’s Law,” named for the governor’s mother, is to provide new protections for the most vulnerable New Yorkers — those 70 and older, those with compromised immune systems, and those with underlying illnesses.

Matilda’s Law requires vulnerable New Yorkers to stay home and limit home visits to immediate family members or close friends in need of emergency assistance. If it is necessary to visit such individuals, the visitor should check his temperature first and not visit if he has a fever or cough. Both individuals should wear a mask for the duration of the visit.

Cuomo also directed a 90-day moratorium on residential and commercial evictions.

And he asked those with personal protective equipment — like gloves, masks, and gowns — to sell non-essential products to the state. Businesses interested in selling products to the state should contact Simonida Subotic at 646-522-8477 or covid19supplies@exec.ny.gov.

Cuomo is also encouraging any company with the proper equipment or personnel to begin to manufacture personal protective equipment if possible. The state is willing to provide funding to any company to obtain the proper equipment and personnel. Businesses interested in receiving state funding for this should contact Eric Gertler at 212-803-3100 or COVID19supplies@esd.ny.gov.

The governor listed 12 essential businesses that are exempt from the directive. These are businesses that provide essential health-care operations; essential infrastructure like public water; essential manufacturing like medical equipment; essential retail like gas stations, pharmacies, and grocery stores; and essential services like mail delivery and trash pickup.

Also: news media; financial institutions like banks; providers of basic necessities to economically disadvantaged people like food banks; construction for essential infrastructure or emergency repairs; defense; services needed to maintain safety and sanitation; and vendors that provide essential services or products, including logistics and technology support, child care and services.

The state has provided a form online for businesses to request designation as essential.

 

Ten points

This is the 10-point “pause plan”:

— 1. Effective at 8 p.m. on Sunday, March 22, all non-essential businesses statewide will be closed;

— 2. Non-essential gatherings of individuals of any size for any reason (such as parties, celebrations or other social events) are canceled or postponed at this time;

— 3. Any concentration of individuals outside their home must be limited to workers providing essential services and social distancing should be practiced;

— 4. When in public, individuals must practice social distancing of at least six feet from others;

— 5. Businesses and entities that provide other essential services must implement rules that help facilitate social distancing of at least six feet;

— 6. Individuals should limit outdoor recreational activities to non-contact and avoid activities where they come in close contact with other people;

— 7. Individuals should limit use of public transportation to when absolutely necessary and should limit potential exposure by spacing out at least six feet from other riders;

— 8. Sick individuals should not leave their homes unless to receive medical care and only after a telehealth visit to determine if leaving the home is in the best interest of their health;

— 9. Young people should also practice social distancing and avoid contact with vulnerable populations; and

— 10. Use precautionary sanitizer practices such as using isopropyl alcohol wipes.

 

Matilda’s Law

Matilda’s Law includes the following rules for vulnerable populations:

— Remain indoors;

— Can go outside for solitary exercise;

— Pre-screen all visitors and aides by taking their temperature and seeing if person is exhibiting other flu-like symptoms;

— Do not visit households with multiple people;

— Wear a mask when in the company of others;

— To the greatest extent possible, everyone in the presence of vulnerable people should wear a mask;

— Always stay at least six feet away from individuals; and

— Do not take public transportation unless urgent and absolutely necessary.


 

 

Gov orders 75-percent cut in office workforce

On Thursday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced 4,152 confirmed cases of coronavirus in New York State and made directives affecting businesses, mortgage holders, and hospitals.

He signed an executive order mandating businesses that rely on in-office personnel to decrease their in-office workforce by 75 percent.

This follows his Wednesday directive that all businesses implement work-from-home policies.

Exemptions will be made for essential service industries, including shipping, media, warehousing, grocery and food production, pharmacies, health-care providers, utilities, banks and related financial institutions, and other industries critical to the supply chain.

Cuomo also announced the state’s Department of Financial Services has issued a new directive to New York State mortgage servicers to provide 90-day mortgage relief to mortgage borrowers impacted by the novel coronavirus. The directive includes:

— Waiving mortgage payments based on financial hardship;

— No negative reporting to credit bureaus;

— A grace period for loan modification;

— No late payment fees or online payment fees; and

— Postponing or suspending foreclosures.

Cuomo also asked the Department of Financial Services to instruct state-chartered banks to waive ATM fees, late fees, overdraft fees, and fees for credit cards to help lessen the financial hardship of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Building on his efforts to increase the state’s hospital surge capacity, Cuomo also announced an executive order allowing the state’s Department of Health to identify space within existing hospitals to increase bed capacity.

He announced new measures to free up staff and speed the admission and discharge processes at hospitals for 90 days. The Department of Financial Services will issue a directive to health insurers allowing scheduled surgeries and admissions without insurer preapproval and allowing inpatient hospital services without insurer approval.

Under the measure, insurers will pay inpatient hospital services and emergency services without waiting to review for medical necessity. It will also allow the discharge of patients to a rehabilitation center or nursing after an inpatient hospital stay without insurer pre-approval, and encourage self-funded plans to adopt these same provisions.


 

 

Local COVID-19 testing limited to symptomatic health-care workers

Albany Medical Center and St. Peter’s Health Partners are suspending COVID-19 community testing, the hospitals announced on Thursday evening.

Effective immediately, St. Peter’s will be testing only symptomatic health-care providers at its Albany Memorial Campus at 600 Northern Blvd. in Albany.

Drive-up testing will continue until 9 p.m. Friday, March 20, at the Albany Med testing site adjacent to its emergency department at 43 New Scotland Avenue in Albany. The Albany Med site will remain open only to examine and evaluate patients and will continue to be operated by emergency medical staff.

“The difficult decision was made in order to conserve testing resources for those at highest risk, including inpatients, symptomatic direct-care workers, and those with high-risk exposure to the virus,” a release from the hospitals said.

People with symptoms of COVID-19 who have not been determined by a doctor to require hospital care, are advised to follow the recommended 14-day home quarantine and any treatment regimen recommended by their doctors.

The hospitals advised people who are sick to:

— Stay home except to get medical care, and separate yourself from other people and animals in your home;

— Call your health-care provider if your illness is worsening;

— Cover your coughs and sneezes; and

— Clean your hands often.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has current information about the virus, including information on how the virus spreads, how it’s treated, how to protect yourself, and what to do if you get sick.


 

 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020 - 17:27

Local governments closed to public, open for business

Local towns and villages are working at half-staff amid a directive from the governor but most remain open for business. Area municipalities are asking that residents with any business with town or village hall do it over the phone or online; no one but staff is being allowed inside. 

At 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Guilderland closed all of its town buildings until further notice, according to an announcement from Supervisor Peter Barber. He said phone calls may not be answered and advised residents in need of services to email.

“I cannot overemphasize that there is no change in staffing for responses to emergencies, including Police, EMS, and ambulances,” Barber wrote. “Water, Sewer and Highway Departments will respond to emergency calls ... The Parks Department is readying the Western Turnpike Golf Course, parks, open space, and trails for your ‘social distancing’ enjoyment. Building and Fire inspectors are performing tasks that allow approved home and commercial construction.”

The Guilderland transfer station will keep its regular hours and the Household Hazardous Waste Day scheduled for Saturday, April 11, remains on the town’s calendar but depends upon the availability of state-certified contractors.     

 

Open meetings

Also a victim of the coronavirus is the public’s attendance at upcoming board meetings. In an email to residents, the village of Altamont said that its April 23 planning board meeting and its April 31 zoning board of appeals special meeting will take place but the public will not be allowed to attend. 

Last Friday, the governor signed an executive order suspending certain aspects of the state’s Open Meetings Law specifically relating to the obligation municipalities have to allow in-person attendance at public meetings, said Kristin O’Neill of the New York State Committee on Open Government.

What cities, towns, and villages will now have to do is to make the meeting remotely available to the public contemporaneously, whether that is a livestream over the internet or broadcast on television, O’Neill said. In addition, a recording and transcription of the meeting will also have to be made available to the public at a late date. 

Mayor Kerry Dineen told the Enterprise in an email: “We are currently working to set up a platform for the public to watch and listen to our upcoming PB and ZBA meetings.”

Dineen said when she had more information, she would make it available.


 

Commissioner: ‘Stay home, save lives’ as Albany County cases continue to climb

The drumbeat of announcements on coronavirus cases in Albany County has been steady all week, starting with the first two cases announced on Thursday, March 12, the day after the World Health Organization declared it a pandemic.

Wednesday morning, the county’s press conference featured the usual officials — executive Daniel McCoy, Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen, and Sheriff Craig Apple — but this time they were seated a safe distance from each other at the diais and the conference was streamed live on Facebook, all in keeping with the guidelines for social distancing.

The news was not unexpected: The count of confirmed cases had risen from 25 the day before to 41 Wednesday morning with 126 county residents mandatory quarantine and 441 in precautionary quarantine.

On Tuesday, it was announced a 7-year-old, the youngest confirmed case in the county, had tested positive. McCoy said on Wednesday that the 7-year-old was in the Albany City schools, a Pine Hills first-grader, and the school had notified parents.

The disease is not clustered but rather spread widely throughout the county, with the health department, for example, trying to locate all the parishioners who had attended Sunday Masses at two different churches on March 8.

Two cases were highlighted at the March 18 press conference: an elderly person in respite care at Teresian House, and a sheriff’s deputy.

Whalen said the first is from a “highly vulnerable” population, and the second is essential to community service.

“Stay home, save lives,” Whalen repeated. “You may not be concerned because you think you are young and healthy. That may not be the case … Even if this does affect you, you get a mild case of COVID-19, being out in the community, you put others at risk.”

The Teresian House resident was not part of the general population there but in a separate section for respite patients and is now hospitalized at Albany Medical Center, Whalen said. All residents and staff who were in contact with the now-hospitalized patient are being tested, Whalen said.

Whalen had said early on that the county’s efforts were to focus on travellers from abroad but now she reports the vast majority of cases are community generated.

“It is very important you empower yourself with knowledge,” Whalen said. She again urged residents to follow guidelines from the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state’s Department of Health.

She urged residents to wash their hands and to stay home if they are sick or if they are no longer going into school or work.

Sheriff Apple said that, after his deputy tested positive — he’s seven days in and “feels good,” Apple said — nine other deputies were quarantined.

“We’ve already shifted,” Apple said. “We’re back up and running and there wasn’t even a hiccup.”

McCoy reiterated the directive he’s had all week to “stay calm” and continued to ask for volunteers. Two sorts of volunteers are needed:

— People to staff phone lines, so the health department staffers aren’t “bogged down,” who can be trained in 10 or 15 minutes, McCoy said; and

— Trained medical professionals: nurses, doctors, paramedics, emergency medical technicians. Those who want to volunteer for the Albany County Medical Reserve Corps can go online to register or call 518-447-4610.

On Saturday, McCoy had declared a state of emergency to allow the county to quickly move funds and resources where needed.

McCoy again on Wednesday urged people who do not need county health department services but rather have other concerns, like price-gouging, not to call the health department but rather to call United Way at 2-1-1 or to call the state hotline at 1-888-364-3065.

McCoy continued with his daily reassurances that the county was prepared and following the state’s lead.

Throughout the week, Governor Andrew Cuomo has issued a series of executive orders to stem the spread of the disease. Schools are closed until at least April 1; theaters, gyms, and other gathering places are closed; bars and restaurants can provide take-out service only. (Each of these developments as they unfolded were posted previously.)

Cuomo also directed nonessential state workers to work from home and told municipal governments to cut their workforce by half.

Albany County has cut staffing by over 54 percent, McCoy reported on Wednesday, excluding its 24-hour facilities: the department of health, the sheriff’s office, the jail, the nursing home, and the water purification district.

On Wednesday, Cuomo announced an executive order directing non-essential businesses to implement work-from-home policies effective Friday, March 20. Businesses that rely on in-office personnel must decrease their in-office workforce by 50 percent.

The executive order exempts essential service industries, including shipping, media, warehousing, grocery and food production, pharmacies, healthcare providers, utilities, banks, and related financial institutions, and other industries critical to the supply chain. 

On Wednesday afternoon, Cuomo joined with the governors of neighboring Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Connecticut in ordering the closure of all indoor portions of retail shopping malls, amusement parks, and bowling alleys, effective at 8 p.m. on Thursday, March 19. This followed Monday’s directive of limiting gatherings to under 50 people.

Cuomo had pushed to get testing done at the state’s Wadworth lab when the CDC testing was caught in a bottleneck. He later pushed to have laboratories across the state be allowed to perform tests and the first drive-through testing service was set up in New Rochelle, then the epicenter of the disease in New York, with others to follow.

Elsewhere in The Enterprise is a list of local testing sites; Albany County residents are to see a primary-care provider first and be sent to a testing station.

Cuomo’s current push is to have the Army Corps of Engineers transform places like college dorms and unused nursing homes into hospital facilities.

In the New York Times “The Daily” podcast Wednesday morning, the governor said that some projections show the peak of the pandemic in New York occurring in 45 days, which will require 110,000 hospital beds and 37,000 intensive-care-unit beds.

“In this state you have 50,000 hospital beds ... and 3,000 ICU beds,” the governor said.

As of Wednesday, 2,382 New Yorkers had been infected with the disease.

“We are looking at the Army Corps of Engineers to try to build additional hospital beds, convert hospital beds, etc., because you are overwhelming the capacity of the healthcare system by two or three times,” Cuomo said. “You need backup staff, backup nurses, backup doctors, and more space, more equipment, more gloves, more food, more everything.”

Albany Medical Center announced at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon that so far 1,402 people have been tested for COVID-19 at the hospital. A large white tent has been set up outside the hospital’s emergency department for that purpose.

Currently, six people with COVID-19 are hospitalized at Albany Med; one of those six is in the intensive care unit.

Cuomo also spoke on the Times podcast about the need for ventilators. Although the federal government has a stockpile, it’s not clear how they will be distributed in a shortage.

“We try every which way to buy ventilators, we’re trying to go to China, which is now over it, trying to buy their ventilators,” said Cuomo. “I mean it is a global competition to buy ventilators.”

Host Michael Barbaro asked, “Is there a version where hospitals can handle this influx or is it just a matter of how short they fall?”

“There is no way they can handle this … It will be a question of triage,” the governor responded.


 

No clusters as COVID-19 spreads throughout county

A 7-year-old is among the 10 newly confirmed cases of coronavirus disease, bringing Albany County’s total to 25, County Executive Daniel McCoy announced at this morning’s press conference.

There are now 450 people under precautionary quarantine and another 125 under mandatory quarantine. “A lot more people will be infected,” said McCoy as “aggressive testing” continues.

He said he wouldn’t be surprised if, by tomorrow, 1,000 people in Albany County were quarantined.

One person remains hospitalized and the other confirmed cases are under quarantine at home.

The location of the first-grader who got the positive test results last night was not disclosed as the school district had to first be given time to inform staff, McCoy said.

“The leaps and bounds we’re taking versus any other county is alarming,” he said.

 The governor listed Albany County today as fifth among the 18 counties statewide with confirmed cases of COVID-19. Downstate counties had formerly been the ones with the most confirmed cases.

“We thought it was all going to be Guilderland,” McCoy said; one of the two first confirmed cases was in Guilderland, followed quickly by two more. “But it is all around the county in different areas,” he said.

“We are finding the vast majority did not have contact with other cases,” said Elizabeth Whalen, the county’s commissioner of health. “We’re not seeing clusters.”

Whalen reiterated the message she had given at earlier press conferences: Residents need to stay home. 

Whalen noted that she has children who are home from school and would like to see friends. “It’s simply not safe to do so,” she said.

Whalen also said there are “a multitude of online resources to find things to do with children.”

She concluded, “We are in unprecedented times … It calls for a unified approach.”

McCoy predicted that soon, “It will be too difficult to map and track.”

He noted that the county’s health department is now “chasing down parishioners from two churches” since on March 8 one person with a confirmed case had attended Mass at the Welcome Chapel and another had attended mass at Our Lady of Assumption. Anyone who attended those morning masses is asked to remain in their homes under precautionary quarantine and to contact the health department.

“San Francisco last night shut down the entire city,” said McCoy. “We’re headed that way.”

He said he would follow Governor Andrew Cuomo’s lead on closures and stressed again that residents should not “bog down” the health department with calls but rather call United Way at 2-1-1 if they have concerns. He also gave the number for the state’s hotline: 1-888-364-3065.

“If I close Albany County, they’ll just travel to Rensselaer,” McCoy said of the need for following state directives.


 

Quarantined New Yorkers  to get paid sick leave, gov says

A bill guaranteeing job protection and pay for New Yorkers quarantined because of the coronavirus has been agreed upon by State Senate and Assembly leaders, the governor announced today.

Andrew Cuomo also announced 432 additional coronavirus cases have been confirmed in New York State, bringing the statewide total to 1,374; Albany county is fifth of the 18 counties that have confirmed cases with 25.

The program bill also includes the permanent comprehensive paid sick leave policy first advanced in Cuomo’s 2021 executive budget proposal.

This follows his announcement last week that the state will guarantee two full weeks of paid leave for all state workers who are subject to a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine as a result of COVID-19.

To address the immediate need of employees affected by COVID-19 who are subject to mandatory or precautionary orders of quarantine or isolation, the legislation will provide the following:

— Employers with 10 or fewer employees and a net income less than $1 million will provide job protection for the duration of the quarantine order and guarantee their workers access to paid family leave and disability benefits (short-term disability) for the period of quarantine including wage replacement for their salaries up to $150,000;

— Employers with 11 to 99 employees and employers with 10 or fewer employees and a net income greater than $1 million will provide at least five days of paid sick leave, job protection for the duration of the quarantine order, and guarantee their workers access to paid family leave and disability benefits (short-term disability) for the period of quarantine including wage replacement for their salaries up to $150,000; and

— Employers with 100 or more employees, as well as all public employers (regardless of number of employees), will provide at least 14 days of paid sick leave and guarantee job protection for the duration of the quarantine order.

The provisions of the quarantine legislation are set to take effect immediately upon passage, ensuring that New York workers will be able to take advantage of these benefits.

The legislation also includes the comprehensive paid sick leave proposal that was advanced by the governor as part of his State of the State and 2021 executive budget, which will be effective 180 days after enactment. Specifically, the legislation states:

— Employers with four or fewer employees and a net income less than $1 million will provide at least five days of unpaid sick leave each year;

— Employers with 5 to 99 employees and employers with four or fewer employees and a net income greater than $1 million will provide at least five days of paid sick leave each year; and

— Employers with 100 or more employees will provide at least seven days of paid sick leave each year.


 

Governor closes schools until at least April 1

Schools across Albany County that had closed for a week, starting today, will now be closed until April 1, according to an executive order Governor Andrew Cuomo signed this afternoon.

The state has suspended its requirement for 180 days of instruction during a school year.

On April 1, the state will reassess whether to extend the school closures further and continue to suspend the 180-day instructional requirement, according to a release from the governor’s office; schools that exceed the closure period without state authorization will not be exempted from the 180-day rule.

“The single most effective way to slow the spread of this virus is to reduce close contacts, and that includes in our schools,” Cuomo said in the release. “I am directing the closure of all schools throughout the state for two weeks as we continue working aggressively to ramp up testing, isolate those who are sick, and mitigate the impacts of this virus.

“Every district will be required to submit a plan to ensure children of healthcare workers and first responders have access to child care so these closures do not strain our hospitals and that children who depend on school meal programs continue getting the support they need.”

School districts will be required to develop a plan for alternative instructional options, including distance learning; distribution and availability of meals; and daycare, with an emphasis on children of parents of first responders and healthcare workers.

Those plans must be submitted to the State Education Department, which can amend or modify those plans in consultation with the State Department of Health and the Office of Children and Family Services at any time.

 

As tri-state directives close theaters, restaurants, gyms tonight, Albany County’s tally of confirmed cases climbs to 15

Elizabeth Whalen, the county’s health commissioner, did not mince words at this morning’s press conference: “Your individual decision as a healthy adult could save a life. Please take it that seriously because it’s true,” she said.

County Executive Daniel McCoy announced there are now 15 confirmed cases of coronavirus disease in Albany County, with one of those patients in the hospital. There are 90 mandatory quarantines and 367 precautionary quarantines — a number that has been as high as 500.

“We’re aggressively testing,” said McCoy, complimenting Governor Andrew Cuomo’s initiative in pushing the federal government to allow New York to set up its own testing and to use private labs.

Today, Cuomo along with the governors of two neighboring states — New Jersey’s Phil Murphy and Connecticut’s Ned Lamont — announced that, with the lack of federal direction and nationwide standards, they are taking a regional, tri-state approach to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Effective at 8 p.m. tonight:

— Crowd capacity for social and recreational gatherings is limited to 50 people;

— Restaurants and bars will close for on-premise service and move to take-out and delivery services only; they will be provided a waiver for carry-out alcohol; and

— Movie theaters, gyms, and casinos are closed.

In Albany County, Whalen said, the ages of those who have tested positive for COVID-19 range from 13 to 74. Just two of 15 confirmed cases were travelers — one had been to Italy and the other to Ireland.

“The others are community acquired,” she said. “We still don’t have an exact handle on how many cases we have in the community,” Whalen added.

If people are not adhering to the precautionary quarantine, Whalen said, “We can and will make it mandatory.”

She went on, “It’s essential for parents to realize, if children are identified as a contact, they need to be in their own room with their own bathroom for a period of two weeks.”

Whalen had said earlier that the incubation period for the virus is from two days to two weeks.

Although children may have just mild systems, they can pass the disease to more vulnerable people.

“I cannot underscore enough,” Whalen said, “the importance all of us play in what happens over the next two weeks …

“We are estimated to be nine to 10 days behind Italy. Please look at what’s going on there. What we do right now as a community in terms of limiting social interaction can blunt the curve and help our hospital capacity and our capacity to care for those that are ill.”

In Italy, hospitals and doctors have been overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients and doctors have said they have to make choices on who to save.

In a briefing this afternoon, Governor Cuomo said the state will organize the National Guard, building unions, and private developers to identify existing buildings — such as dormitories or former nursing homes — that can be retrofitted to be used as medical facilities in order to add 9,000 additional beds.

The governor also directed nonessential state workers to stay home from work, starting tomorrow, and directed local governments to cut their workforce in half, allowing nonessential employees to work from home. At the same time, the state is waiving all park fees for state, local, and county parks.

Meanwhile, the county’s airport reported today that traffic at the airport has dropped by as much as half and some airlines are considering a reduction in service. Travelers are advised to check the Transportation Security Administration website at http://www.tsa.gov/coronavirus. Airport concessions remain open but the Military Courtesy Room has closed due to restrictions on military travel. 

 

McCoy: Be prepared

McCoy urged business owners and government leaders to have contingency plans.  “Government has to run, companies have to run … You need a second layer, a third layer, even a fourth layer if you can do it,” he said.

McCoy noted that the deputy county executive, Daniel Lynch, wasn’t with him at today’s press conference as he had been at the last one, on Saturday, since Lynch is now staying separate from McCoy to serve as the “second layer” if need be.

McCoy went over the distinction between voluntary and mandatory quarantine and said that yesterday a woman under quarantine decided to host an open house. She said her husband had cleaned and disinfected the house and she was going to stay outside, McCoy reported.

“We had the sheriff respond to make sure they understood the difference between mandatory and voluntary,” McCoy said.

McCoy said further that, while Albany county residents could still go to malls like Colonie Center and Crossgates, if people didn’t follow the six-foot mandatory distance from one another, “We’ll close down.”

“We want you to go out but keep your six-foot distance,” he said.

 

Call for help

McCoy reiterated his call for help — the county needs volunteers for staffing phone lines as well as doctors and nurses, he said. He said trained medical volunteers — perhaps nurses at closed schools — were needed as patients under quarantine need to be visited daily.

The phone volunteers, he said, can be trained in 10 or fifteen minus.

He also urged, “Don’t call the department of health because you read something online or heard a rumor.” Instead, he explained that residents with those concerns, or concerns on price-gouging, could call United Way at 2-1-1.

“You can bog them down all you want,” he said.

The county’s department of social services, McCoy said, is still taking new applicants as well as servicing current beneficiaries. But the transactions are no longer in person but rather handled by phone or through a computer.

Updates on county services are available online.

 

Containing the virus

Whalen explained that the virus is spread through droplets that can be inhaled when someone coughs or sneezes. Or, if someone sneezes into a hand and that hand then touches a surface — a doorknob, a phone, for example — someone else can get infected that way.

Therefore, she urged hand-washing, use of hand-sanitizers, cleaning of surfaces, and keeping social distance.

“Your individual responsibility is to control your own movements, to stay at home, and avoid gatherings,” she said.

Whalen said there are no firm numbers but, from data being gathered in China where the outbreak originated in December, it is thought that every person infected with the coronavirus infects two to three others.

She stressed that that is under normal circumstances. “We can lessen those numbers with social distancing,” Whalen said.

If an Albany County resident has symptoms like a fever, a dry cough, or shortness of breath, he or she is to call a primary-care provider. “Not all primary-care providers have an environment with appropriate infection control,” said Whalen.

So the county’s health department has collaborated with the Albany Medical Center, setting up a screening protocol so that primary-care providers can determine if a patient with symptoms needs to be tested for COVID-19.

A white tent has been set up outside of Albany Medical Center for either walk-through or drive-through testing, Whalen said. Dennis McKenna, Albany Med’s president, told Whalen last night that the hospital is testing 200 people a day, she said.

“We would encourage people not to just drive up,” said Whalen. “We don’t want people not acutely ill to overwhelm the emergency department.”

If patients are suffering from acute systems, they are to call 9-1-1 and alert the dispatcher if they  have been exposed to or think they may have COVID-19.

“We want to make sure we’re protecting our first responders as well,” said Whalen.

She stressed that the health department is not overwhelmed. “We had to look at how we are allocating staff … to make sure the work we do every day gets done.”

Whalen said she welcomes assistance from volunteers who form the Albany County Medical Reserve Corps. Health professionals interested in joining may call the Department of Health’s MRC Coordinator at 518-447-4610 or register online.

McCoy concluded the conference, saying, “At our worst, we’re at our best. We stand together.”

 


Today Albany county has 11 confirmed cases of COVID-19

All 11 Albany County patients with confirmed cases of coronavirus disease are recovering, according to a release Sunday morning from the office of Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy.

This is up from the count of seven confirmed cases yesterday evening.

One of those 11 patients is hospitalized and the others are quarantined at home.

“We are currently monitoring 476 under a precautionary quarantine and 89 under a mandatory quarantine,” according to the release. “We have said as more people are tested that we expect we are going to get more positive cases.”

 


Hospitals in the time of coronavirus

Capital Region hospitals have outlined their plans for coronavirus preparedness.

Referrals from primary-care providers are preferred for assessment and potential testing for COVID-19 at these locations:

— Albany Med: A white tent, isolated from the rest of the hospital, has been set up next to the emergency department at 43 New Scotland Ave. in Albany. Patients are to use the ambulance ramp from the corner of Myrtle Avenue and New Scotland Avenue;

— St. Peter’s Health Partners on the Albany Memorial Campus at 600 Northern Blvd. in Albany. Patients are to follow signs to the Conklin entrance. Testing is done from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.;

— Ellis Medicine: Prescriptions are required and patients are to drive up to the hospital’s ground level of the Rosa Road parking garage at 1101 Nott Street in Schenectady and remain in their cars for testing;

— Columbia Memorial Health has three different locations for testing: the emergency department at 71 Prospect Ave. in Hudson; CMH Rapid Care at 283 Mountain View Rd. in Copake; and CMH Rapid Care at 2827 Route 9 in Valatie; and

— Saratoga Hospital: A tent has been set up next to the emergency department at 211 Church Street in Saratoga Springs. Patients are to use the ambulance ramp on Myrtle Street. Specimen collection is by appointment only and must be ordered by a licensed health-care provider, the New York State Department of Health, or Saratoga County Public Health Services. There is no walk-in testing.

These hospitals are following guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New York State Department of Health, according to a release from the hospitals.

 Visits

Hospitals throughout the region are strengthening guidelines for visitors and have begun briefly interviewing patients and visitors at hospital entrances. Visitors will not be permitted to enter if they say they have a fever or respiratory symptoms, have had close contact with an individual who has laboratory-confirmed COVID-19, or have traveled to areas with outbreaks in the past 14 days.

If non-patient visitors answer “yes” to any of those questions, they will not be permitted to enter. Patients with respiratory symptoms will be masked.

All of the hospitals have suspended routine visits to patients. While some exceptions will be allowed, no visitors under the age of 16 will be permitted entry.

Exceptions are made in some cases, such as for: obstetric patients who may have one support person at a time; neonatal Intensive Care Unit patients may have one birth parent plus one significant other who must remain in the room for the duration of the visit; patients at the end of life may have two visitors; and patients with disruptive behavior, in which a family member is key to their care, may have one visitor.

Also: Patients who have altered mental status or developmental delays (where a caregiver provides safety) may have one visitor; minors under the age of 18 may have one visitor, parent, or guardian; patients undergoing surgery or procedures may have one visitor who must leave the hospital as soon as possible after the procedure; patients who have an outpatient appointment, as well as those visiting the emergency department, may have one person with them.

Visitors who meet an exception will be allowed inside the hospital, but will be restricted to the patient’s room. Once a guest leaves a patient’s room, he or she must leave the hospital.

No visitor will be allowed entry to see a patient who has a pending or positive COVID-19 test. All permitted visitors will be greeted upon entry to all facilities and may be turned away based on the concerns of securing patient and staff safety.

Specific details regarding visitor guidelines or entrance restrictions may vary from hospital to hospital. Visitors should refer to the hospitals’ websites for guidance.

 


 

Gary Greenberg


Saturday, March 14, 2020 - 19:25

Governor modifies election procedures to control spread of virus 

The governor signed an executive order today that, to control the spread of the coronavirus, temporarily modifies election procedures.

The order goes into effect at 5 p.m. on Tuesday and suspends the candidate petitioning process for the June primaries for Congressional, State Senate, State Assembly, and Judicial races.

The executive order also modifies the signature requirements for ballot access; candidates will only need to collect 30 percent of the statutory threshold. For Congress, candidates would need 375 signatures rather than 1,250. For State Senate, candidates would need 300 signatures rather than 1,000. For Assembly, candidates would only need 150 signatures rather than 500.

“Public health experts have been clear that one of the most common ways to communicate COVID-19 is through direct person-to-person contact, and we are doing everything in our immediate power to reduce unnecessary interactions,” Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “This executive order modifies the election process in a way that both protects public health and ensures the democratic process remains healthy and strong regardless of the ongoing pandemic.”

On March 8, Democrat Gary Greenberg, of Greene County, who is running for the State Senate in the 46th District, a seat now held by Republican George Amedore, had called upon the New York State Board of Elections to adopt emergency rules reducing or even waiving the required signatures for candidates for State Legislature to qualify for the ballot this year.

He said at that time that a Guilderland woman, an American citizen of Chinese descent, was verbally assaulted while circulating his nominating petitions.

“People are scared and being urged to avoid all unnecessary contact by our government leaders at both the state and federal levels,” Greenberg said in a statement. “Requiring petitioners to knock on doors during this unprecedented health crisis does not make sense and causes undue stress for all New Yorkers who open their doors to strangers, asking for signatures.”

He also reported that the Guilderland volunteer “never even had the chance to identify herself to most of the residents” and recounted people screaming at her “to get away from their home and take your virus with you.”

Greenberg concluded, “I feel terribly that my good friend suffered those indignities but considering the numerous warnings from government officials and media coverage of how to avoid the corona virus, the NYS Board of Elections must adopt emergency rules that reflect warnings to avoid unnecessary interaction with people.”

The 46th District comprises Montgomery and Greene counties and parts of Albany, Schenectady and Ulster counties. Incumbent Amedore is not seeking re-election. Richard Amedure of Rensselaerville, an Independence Party member, has the backing of the five county Republican committees while Michelle Hinchey, of Saugerties, has the backing of the five Democratic committees.

 


Saturday, March 14, 2020 - 18:02

Albany County now has 7 confirmed COVID-19 cases

ALBANY COUNTY — Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy sent out this evening the update he’d promised at this morning’s press conference on the coronavirus outbreak here: The county now has seven confirmed cases of COVID-19.

One of those people is hospitalized and is recovering as are all of the county’s confirmed cases. Three cases announced earlier were in Guilderland and one was in Albany.

McCoy did not release information about the location of the two new cases announced today. But Guilderland’s town supervisor, Peter Barber, said they were not located in Guilderland.

The county is currently monitoring 39 under a precautionary quarantine and 102 under a mandatory quarantine, McCoy’s office said.

“We have said as more people are tested that we expect we are going to get more positive cases,” McCoy’s announcement said, adding that updates will be given daily at 10:30 a.m.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer


 

Some shelves at grocery stores have been emptied. Pictured, produce at ShopRite in Slingerlands was spare Saturday afternoon.

Saturday, March 14, 2020 - 15:13

Fifth case of COVID-19 confirmed

As Albany County now has five confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus — one more than yesterday — the county executive has declared a state of emergency.

The declaration, Daniel McCoy said, will allow the county to quickly move funds and resources where needed. At a press conference this morning, McCoy also announced a new partnership with United Way meant to prevent price gouging and fraud.

And McCoy made a call for volunteers to staff phone lines to keep the county’s health department from being “bogged down” as it maps and tracks the people that those with confirmed cases have come into contact with.

“We can use volunteers to answer phones,” McCoy said. “We can train you in ten, fifteen minutes.”

He also urged county residents, referencing the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Go to a CDC site or a news site … stop reading Facebook, the internet … If you feel sick, call your primary-care doctor … Unfortunately, fear is driving a lot of this.”

McCoy said the state of emergency was in conjunction with what Governor Andrew Cuomo did on March 7 and what the president did last night.

The president’s declaration made about $50 billion available in emergency funds for states, territories, and local governments dealing with outbreaks.

Meanwhile, Cuomo said yesterday that the way to contain the virus is to reduce density — he prohibited gatherings of more than 500 people — and to increase testing: the first drive-through testing center was opened in New Rochelle, the epicenter of the coronavirus in New York State.

Today, the governor confirmed the first COVID-19 death in New York State, of an 82-year-old Brooklyn woman with an underlying respiratory disease of emphysema. The statewide total of COVID-19 cases is now at 524 in nine counties, Cuomo announced today.

McCoy learned of the fifth confirmed case in Albany County moments before the press conference and so said he could share no details but will release more information later today.

He did say that the individual was hospitalized — the first COVID-19 patient to be hospitalized in Albany County; the others are quarantined in their homes. McCoy that the county’s health commissioner, Elizabeth Whalen, was tending to the situation and so could not be at the conference.

Currently, McCoy said, 75 individuals are under mandatory quarantine in Albany County and 47 individuals are under precautionary quarantine.

McCoy mentioned some of the changes in the county due to the virus. Schools are closed for a week so “lots of people need daycare,” he said, which the county is dealing with. Today, Cuomo announced he would eliminate the aid penalty for schools directed to close because of the coronavirus.

Also the department of social services is being closed, he said, explaining that people will still get their benefits but they are not to show up in person. Rather, transactions will be handled online or over the phone.

“I shut my nursing home to outside visitors,” McCoy said, adding that, if someone is dying in the county nursing facility, arrangements will be made for family members to visit.

McCoy also stressed, “Do not go to the emergency room if you don’t have to. Albany Med has set a tent up outside.” 

Referrals from primary-care providers are preferred for assessment and potential testing for COVID-19, according to a release from Albany Medical Center. A white tent is set up next to the emergency department of Albany Medical Center Hospital, at 43 New Scotland Ave. Patients are to use the ambulance ramp from the corner of Myrtle Avenue and New Scotland Avenue.

Today, governor Cuomo announced that the State Department of Financial Services will require insurance companies to waive co-pays for telehealth visits. This is meant to encourage New Yorkers to seek medical attention from their homes rather than visit a hospital or doctor’s office — ultimately reducing strain on the health-care system and preventing further spread of the virus.

At the close of the press conference, Deputy County Supervisor Daniel Lynch urged that, in the same way a patient with flu isn’t treated any differently, “We shouldn’t treat anyone with coronavirus any differently.”

 


Saturday, March 14, 2020 - 15:13

Fighting crime and fear

“Any time there’s an emergency going on … people take advantage of people,” McCoy said, noting that his office is working with Albany County’s district attorney and sheriff.

“We want to be ready,” said McCoy, warning, “If you’re thinking about doing something wrong, think twice.”

He described some “outrageous” behavior in New York City, where the virus struck weeks before it made its way to Albany County, such as a single bottle of hand sanitizer being sold for $79.

McCoy also mentioned products being sold to cure COVID-19. “There is no cure,” he said, adding, for reliable information, “Look to your local media or the CDC site.”

Albany County District Attorney David Soares urged citizens, “If you experience price gouging … or peddling of fraudulent products, we want you to contact law enforcement.” He urged people to call their local law-enforcement agency and said they would respond.

Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple echoed those thoughts, saying, “When you’re vulnerable and searching, the predators come out.”

The sheriff's office, he said, had already received reports of attempting to instill fear with one car dealership warning customers not to visit another dealership because “they have coronavirus.”

The sheriff’s office has also received reports of stores hiking prices. Apple said those store owners weren’t charged but rather talked to.

“They didn’t admit anything,” Apple said. “They just looked like, yeah, we get it.”

Soares said the charges for such crimes would be in two categories: schemes to defraud and larceny.

Soares also noted price-gouging could happen with online shopping, too. “If you’re experiencing cyber crimes, we also want to know,” he said.

Soares said that retailers should be vigilant, too, perhaps limiting the number of items that can be sold to an individual so that predators aren’t buying up masses of supplies to sell.

Apple warned that retailers should look out for imposters, saying someone had posed as a deputy to buy quantities of Lysol.

“Ninety-five percent of all offenses are reported by good citizens,” Soares said. “We rely on common sense, the eyes and ears of the community.”

Apple said he knew some people were upset with cancellations but that it is necessary.  “We won’t stop it,” he said of the coronavirus, “but we’ll be able to slow it.”

He said, too, that his staff had been reassigned to minimize exposure.

“If someone gets sick in my agency, we’re in trouble,” the sheriff said. “If someone gets sick in my jail, we’re in a lot of trouble.”

He noted that the jail is locked down; there are no visitors allowed but there is “free video visitation” available during regular visiting hours.

Peter Gannon, president and chief executive officer of United Way of the Greater Capital Region, said that, through United Way’s “vast national network,” the non-for-profit organization has seen people “capitalize on fears and concerns of the average citizen.”

Any information that comes in through the United Way phone line — call 2-1-1 — on price-gouging or deceptive marketing will be handed over to the district attorney and sheriff, Gannon said.

Gannon also gave a text number — covid19 to 41444 — where people could make contributions. “Those investments will stay here in the Capital Region to assist foks,” he said.

Residents looking to report price gouging and fraud can also use the online form at the below link: https://211ny4regions.communityos.org/price-gouging-ne


 

Friday, March 13, 2020 - 21:04

Schools close for a week at Guilderland, Bethlehem, Voorheesville, BKW

GUILDERLAND — With two more cases of coronavirus confirmed in Albany County today — one of them a student at Farnsworth Middle School — the Guilderland schools superintendent announced this evening that Farnsworth Middle School will remain closed through March 27.

Guilderland’s five elementary schools and its high school will be closed for one week instead of two, March 16 to 20, unless health officials determine they should close for longer, said Superintendent Marie Wiles.

Three other neighboring Albany County school districts — BethlehemVoorheesville, and Berne-Knox-Westerlo — also announced today that their schools, too, will close for the week of March 16 to 20.

All three of those districts used similar language in posts on their websites, explaining that the closures were out of an “abundance of caution” and that there had been no positive results for COVID-19 at Bethlehem, Voorheesville, or Berne-Knox-Westerlo.

Voorheesville’s superintendent, Frank Macri, told The Enterprise yesterday that area superintendents had all been guided by the Capital Region Board of Cooperative Educational Services and would likely be using the same language in informing residents about the coronavirus.

Guilderland had closed its schools today after receiving word from the Albany County Department of Health that “an individual at Farnsworth had tested positive,” said Wiles. She got the call at 4 a.m. today.

Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy had held a press conference on Thursday morning to announce the county’s first two confirmed cases of COVID-19. One is a student in his early 20s, living in Albany and attending classes at the University at Albany. UAlbany, like state universities across New York, has been closed as students are now to do their work remotely.

The second case announced on Thursday was a Guilderland woman in her 30s connected to Farnsworth Middle School. McCoy announced on Twitter today that the two new cases were connected to the Guilderland woman.

“If someone tests positive,” Wiles told The Enterprise, “a school is required to close for 24 hours.”

Guilderland closed all seven of its schools today. “We closed everything because the buses get used for multiple buildings,” Wiles said.

Wiles was on the phone several times today with the county’s health department, she said. “They asked us to gather a lot of information on possible contacts,” she said. This included class schedules, lunch schedules, sports activities, clubs, bus routes, and more.

“We sent them a monster file,” Wiles said. 

The health department now has the herculean task of trying to figure out people the student who tested positive may have come in contact with. “They call it mapping and tracing,” said Wiles.

Wiles talked with the county’s health commissioner, Elizabeth Whalen, later in the day, she said “to determine next steps.”

“Her recommendation was to close Farnsworth for the next two weeks. We just sent that message out to families,” Wiles said on Friday evening. The same message is posted on the district’s website.

“I got the message out as soon as I got off the phone with the commissioner,” she said, hoping that the weekend will give families time to plan for having children home for the next week or two.

Wiles said the week-long closures at the high school and the five elementary schools will be reassessed mid-week. “We’ll have to see if we get more positive tests,” she said.

Wiles went on, “We don’t want kids out of school. It’s a hardship on families.”

Asked about provisions for students who receive free or reduced-price lunches, Wiles praised the work of the district’s food-services director, Megan Beck. “She’s amazing. She’s pulled together a breakfast and lunch program where families can pick up the food at the middle school and high school,”said Wiles.

The grab-and-go meals will be available to any student, Wiles said, not just those in the free and reduced-price lunch programs.

Wiles stressed that the meals must be retrieved outside of the school buildings. Inside, deep cleaning will be underway.

The cleaning is being done by district staff under the guidance of the health department.

“We actually borrowed misters from a neighboring school district,” said Wiles, explaining that the misters spray disinfectant in such a way that it can reach “nooks and crannies” such as hard-to-get-to places on school buses.

The Superintendent’s Conference Day that had been scheduled for Monday to help teachers learn how to teach remotely has been cancelled.

“The only people in the buildings will be essential staff,” said Wiles. This includes maintenance workers, mechanics, and some of the district office staff.

Even with the conference-day cancellation, Wiles is hopeful that learning will still take place at home for the next week or, in the case of Farnsworth students, for the next two weeks.

“We have put together a huge resource for teachers — a website with a lot of linked materials,” Wiles said. “They can use it to put together learning opportunities.”

She went on, “It will not replace what would happen in a regular school day. But there will be reading and activities so they are not intellectually idle.”

Wiles noted it will be difficult in households where both parents are working outside the home. “We thought about daycare. Do we recommend? … In the end, we couldn’t. It’s just short-term day care.”

She noted some older students may be managing on their own. Both Wiles and her husband, who directs the Guilderland Public Library, will be at work.

“I let my own seventh-grader be on his own, God help me,” said Wiles.

She concluded, “This is unprecedented to have long-term closures during the school year. It’s uncharted territory for the whole community.”

She advised, “We need to be patient and work together, to put the health and safety of students ahead of everything else.

“It’s inconvenient. But it’s one of those life circumstances where, if we pull together, we’ll succeed. We’ll learn new things.”

 


Friday, March 13, 2020 - 12:37

Two new coronavirus cases related to Guilderland, schools closed Friday

Two more cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Albany County, connected to a woman in Guilderland, County Executive Daniel McCoy announced on Twitter Friday.

One is a student at Farnsworth Middle School, according to a statement by the district Friday, prompting a required closure of the district. 

This brings the total confirmed cases in the county to four, three of which are in Guilderland, each under quarantine. A fourth case, announced Thursday, is a student at the University at Albany, where classes have been suspended.

McCoy also said the county's nursing home has been closed to visitors, and congregate meal programs, where low income seniors can get meals, have been shut down for 30 days.

 


Friday, March 13, 2020 - 11:32

Local cancellations and closings

The Enterprise is compiling a list of local cancellations and closings here, and a submission form for readers to ask and give information for publication.

 


 

Thursday, March 12, 2020 - 20:07

On March 16, GCSD teachers will work on preparing lessons to teach remotely in case schools are forced to close

The school's large events, including the high school musical "Chicago," were canceled Thursday.

In order to effectively teach all students at home, should the district have to close, parents are being asked to fill out an online survey to assess technology in homes across the district. The survey is to be completed by Monday, March 16, at 10 a.m.

For homes that lack internet access, Wiles said, the district hopes to supply “hotspots” — devices that provide internet connections. Also, said Wiles, “We could provide loaner Chromebooks.”

 

 


Two people have tested positive — the first in Albany County — for having COVID-19, the county executive, Daniel McCoy, announced at a press conference this morning.

One is a man in his early 20s, a student at the University at Albany, who lives in Albany. The other is a woman in her 30s who lives in Guilderland.

Neither had traveled to one of the countries the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has designated as high-risk, McCoy said.

The novel coronavirus was first noted in Wuhan, China in December 2019 and on Wednesday was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization as it has spread to at least 114 countries and killed more than 4,000 people.

Marie Wiles, the Guilderland schools superintendent, notified the school community through an update Thursday on the district’s website that “someone in a household connected to the Farnsworth Middle School” had tested positive and reported, “That household is under quarantine.”

Consequently, the district has stopped holding any large group activities including the high school musical, “Chicago,” scheduled for this weekend; the Celebrate America event at Altamont Elementary School; and dances that were scheduled for March 13 at Farnsworth Middle School and Lynnwood Elementary School.

“This action is necessary in order to reduce the number of instances of community contact within our schools,” Wiles wrote. “We want to do as much as possible to protect our students and staff as we continue to take direction from the Albany County Department of Health.”

Elizabeth Whalen, health commissioner for Albany County, explained at a press conference on March 4 that the incubation period for the virus is from two days to two weeks so people are quarantined for two weeks. This means they are put in a controlled environment — often in their homes — before they develop symptoms, Whalen said.

This is different than isolation, which is for people who have tested positive for the disease. This can be managed at home in many cases. Not everyone has to go to a hospital, said Whalen, noting local hospitals are busy with flu patients.

The corona virus is predominantly a respiratory infection and spreads much in the same way that flu does — droplets containing the virus are spread by coughing and contamination of surfaces. 

People are most contagious, Whalen said, when they first develop a cough and fever.

On March 9, the state’s education and health departments issued updated guidelines for school and community health officials, which require schools to close for 24 hours if a student or staff member attended the school before being confirmed as a positive COVID-19 patient.

This day-long closure is to allow the health department to begin an investigation to determine the contacts with people at the school that the ill individual may have had. That investigation is to inform a local health department plan for further required closure or other precautions needed for particular classrooms or people. Disinfection is also to be carried out according to the state’s guidelines and must be complete before students can return to the school.

The guidelines also go over measures needed to respond to the coronavirus outbreak as well as recommended non-pharmaceutical interventions and ways to contain the virus that include a checklist for schools to use when planning. The State Education Department has a website dedicated to dealing with the coronavirus.

Last week, when the Guilderland school district thought a family with a student in the Lynnwood Elementary School might have been exposed to COVID-19 — the test came out negative — Wiles urged people to keep “two big things” in mind:

— “We want to be prepared but we don’t want people to panic. Be calm,” she urged;

— “Be smart … Wash your hands. Don’t be a hero. Stay home if you are sick and get better.”

The district urged families to follow the standard preventative practices for preventing influenza: washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, covering sneezes and coughs with a tissue and then throwing the tissue away; disinfecting frequently touched objects; avoiding close contact with someone who is sick; and staying home when sick.

Wiles noted in today’s update the district had expanded its cleaning and disinfecting protocols in all of its buildings and school buses.

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