Fans — with restrictions — can return to the stands on Friday for college games

— Photo by Paul Cryan, USGS

Insect-eating free-tailed bats, shown here, were one of three species — the others were little brown bats and big brown bats – analyzed in a recent study by the United States Geological Survey.

ALBANY COUNTY — Starting on Friday, fans can return to the stands for college sports competitions, following state guidelines, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Tuesday.

Venues that hold more than 1,500 people indoors or 2,500 outdoors can host up to 10-percent capacity indoors and 20 percent outdoors.

Each person must present proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test or of completed vaccination.

Small-scale college venues can host spectators at either two fans per player to up to a limit of 100 people indoors or 200 outdoors. Capacity can increase to 150 spectators indoors and 500 outdoors if each person presents proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test or of completed vaccination.

The maximum occupancy limit of 50 percent remains in effect. And all spectators are to be screened before entry and must wear masks and stay socially distant.

“The presence of spectators at sporting events has always been a quintessential part of the collegiate experience — both for the athletes and the students, parents, and community members who root them on …,” said SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras in a statement.

“With rapidly expanding vaccine supply, SUNY’s protocol of mandated once-a-week testing, comprehensive protocols for student athletes, SUNY positivity rates below half a percent, warmer temperatures, and a hardened, collective determination to defeat COVID for good — having some spectators can be done in a safe and secure manner,” Malatras said.


Economic recovery

Also on Tuesday, the Capital District Regional Planning Commission announced the release of a new tool to track the pace of economic recovery from the pandemic. The dashboard developed by the commission features data on changes in employment by sector, small-business activity, consumer credit-card spending, and impacts to mobility and migration.

Developed with funding from the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act funding, the dashboard provides specific economic data for Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga, and Schenectady counties.

“Being able to track where we are in terms of unemployment, transportation, and other important indicators is essential to understanding where we have been affected the most by the pandemic and what further assistance is needed to help the region grow back even stronger,” said Michael Stammel, the commission chairman and chairman of the Rensselaer County Legislature, in a statement. 

The state’s labor department on Tuesday released preliminary unemployment rates for February.

New York State’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased from 8.8 percent in January to 8.9 percent in February 2021.

For the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area, the February unemployment rate was 6.3 percent compared to 4.0 percent in February 2020 — before the pandemic caused shutdowns.


COVID and wildlife

A study released Tuesday by the United States Geological Survey found that the risk is low that scientists could pass the coronavirus to North American bats during winter research.

“The virus that causes COVID‐19 likely evolved in a mammalian host, possibly Old‐World bats, before adapting to humans, raising the question of whether reverse zoonotic transmission to bats is possible,” says the abstract of the study.

The overall risk of scientists passing the virus to bats they are studying was found to be 1 in 1,000 without protective measures, which fell to 1 in 3,333 or less with the scientist testing negative for COVID-19 before starting research and then using personal protective equipment.

“This is a small number, but the consequences of human-to-bat transmission of coronavirus are potentially large,” said USGS scientist Evan Grant, an author of the new rapid risk assessment, in a statement. “The virus has not been identified in North American bats but, if it is introduced, it could lead to illness and mortality, which may imperil long-term bat conservation. It could also represent a source for new exposure and infection in humans.”

The origin of SARS-CoV-2, the name scientists use for COVID-19, is not confirmed, but studies indicate the virus likely originated from similar viruses found in bats in the Eastern Hemisphere, according to the USGS.

The agency goes on to point out the value of bats to people. Previous USGS studies found that bats save the U.S. agriculture industry more than $3 billion per year by eating pests that damage crops, reducing the need for pesticides. Bats are currently under duress from white-nose syndrome, a disease that has killed millions of bats in North America.

“The potential for SARS-CoV-2 to infect wildlife is a real concern for state and federal wildlife management agencies and reflects the important connections between human health and healthy environments,” said Jeremy Coleman, National White-nose Syndrome Coordinator for the United States Fish and Wildlife Serviceand an author of the study.

“Natural resource managers need information from these kinds of analyses to make science-based decisions that advance conservation efforts while also protecting the health of people, bats, and other wildlife,” Coleman said.


Newest numbers

Since Monday, Albany County has had 53 new cases of COVID-19, bringing its total to 22,254, according to a release from Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy.

Of the new cases, 32 did not have clear sources of infection identified, 18 had close contact with someone infected with the disease, two were health-care workers or residents of congregate settings., and one reported traveling out of state.

The five-day average for new daily positives has decreased slightly to 71.8 from 73.6. There are now 562 active cases in the county, down from 567 on Monday.

The number of county residents under quarantine increased to 1,414 from 1,392. So far, 70,785 residents have completed quarantine. Of those, 21,692 had tested positive and recovered. That is an increase of 53 recoveries since Monday.

There was one new hospitalization overnight, and there are now 26 county residents hospitalized from the virus — a net decrease of two. There are currently three patients in intensive-care units, up from two yesterday.

Albany County’s COVID-19 death toll remains at 366.

Statewide, 29.9 percent of New Yorkers have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine while 17.3 percent have completed a series, the state’s vaccine tracker reported on Tuesday night.

The tracker reported that 36.9 percent of Albany County’s 307,117 residents have received at least one dose of vaccine. McCoy reported on Tuesday morning that 21.2 percent of the county’s residents had completed a vaccine series.

Statewide, the infection rate, as of Monday, as a seven-day rolling average, is 3.4 percent while Albany County’s rate is 2.2 percent, according to the state’s dashboard.

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