Fifth case of COVID-19 confirmed, county declares emergency

The Enterprise — Michael Koff
“If you experience price gouging … or peddling of fraudulent products, we want you to contact law enforcement,” says Albany County District Attorney David Soares. He is flanked by county executive Daniel McCoy, at right, and Peter Gannon, president and chief executive officer of United Way of the Greater Capital Region, at left​

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 Friday’s 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.”


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:


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