As five regions open, Capital Region struggles with discrepancies in numbers

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

“Everyone is arguing about the same thing — where you get the numbers, how you calculate this,” said Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy.

ALBANY COUNTY — The Capital Region has still met just five of the seven metrics required for reopening. Hospitalizations and death rates from COVID-19 still remain too high although there are discrepancies between local figures and state figures.

Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy said that he has submitted the regional plan to the state and that he will release it to the public at Saturday’s press briefing.

Governor Andrew Cuomo divided the state into 10 regions, five of which have met the metrics to begin opening Phase 1 businesses today.

Cuomo announced at his Friday press briefing that, for the five regions not reopening, the “pause” shutting nonessential business and prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 is extended until May 28. He also extended his emergency powers until June 13.

Also on Friday, Cuomo joined with the governors of New Jersey, Connecticut, and Delaware to announce that public and private beaches will reopen, with certain restrictions, on May 22. If local governments do not enforce rules on social distancing, the beaches will be closed, Cuomo said.

He also outlined additional protocols for Phase 1 businesses opening in the Central New York, North Country, Finger Lakes, Southern Tier, and Mohawk Valley regions.

For instance, workers in residential and commercial construction must wear masks when within six feet of each other. Retailers doing curbside pickups must make hand sanitizer available and have purchasers remain in their cars while masked and preferably gloved employees deliver the goods. In-store pick-up must be arranged ahead with patrons and workers wearing masks and hand sanitizer available; social distancing is required in stores, which can’t be over 50-percent of maximum occupancy.

Albany County was grouped with seven other Capital Region counties but, McCoy said at his Friday morning press briefing, Saratoga County has struck off on its own and submitted its own plan. The remaining Capital Region counties, besides Albany, are Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Schenectady, Warren, and Washington counties. 

“There’s problems with the hospitalization rate. They feel we’re holding them back ...,” said McCoy of Saratoga County. “They feel they have different needs than we do … They definitely don’t want to be a part. … They feel we’d hold them back from reopening.”



“The one stone block is the hospitalization rate and hopefully we’ll have the answer this afternoon,” said McCoy.

According to the state’s regional monitoring dashboard, the Capital Region has, as of 6 p.m. on Friday, 18 new hospitalizations when it needs under 15 for a three-day average. It also has six deaths when it needs fewer than 5 for a three-day average.

Alternatively, current state guidelines would allow the region to meet the metrics if daily deaths and net hospitalizations fell for 14 days.

“Everyone is arguing about the same thing — where you get the numbers, how you calculate this,” said McCoy. He gave the example of the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Albany County, which he had reported at the start of the briefing was 1,425, while the state shows 1,538.

“That’s been the frustration for us,” said McCoy. “We want to play by your rules. We want to play on your field. But you’ve got to tell us the rules. … Sometimes I think the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.”

Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen said, “Data collection is complex. It’s not a simple thing.”

She explained the process the Albany County Health Department uses to collect and confirm its data. It starts with data on COVID-positive patients that comes through a laboratory system collecting reportable communicable disease, she said.

“We pull those numbers off of that lab database three times a day and then we start to investigate patients,” said Whalen. “So we may start the day off by saying we have 40 patients we have to investigate based on what we got from the labs.”

As patients are contacted, health department staff may discover they don’t actually live in Albany County. Then, that patient is handed off to the county where he or she actually lives.

Right off the bat, Whalen said, there can be discrepancies between what is on the database and what is discovered by talking to a patient. Since day one, Whalen said, the county health department has contacted and spoken to each person with a confirmed case of COVID-19.

“So we feel comfortable that our data is an accurate representation of disease in the community,” said Whalen. She also said that her department talks daily with area hospitals.

“Now, if you look at the hospital database, it’s how many patients were admitted with COVID, how many patients were admitted to your ICU, etc.,” said Whalen, noting that the hospital database is not necessarily broken down by county. She noted that Albany Medical Center and St. Peter’s are both regional hospitals that draw from a wide area.

“Another reconciliation has to take place there,” said Whalen. Friday’s task, she said, would be “to sit down and go by name, by name, by name” to see where the discrepancy lies between the county data and the state data.

McCoy had opened Friday’s briefing by reporting another county resident died of coronavirus disease 2019 on Thursday, bringing the county’s death toll to 67. The patient was a woman in her eighties with underlying health issues.

He also announced the five-day average of daily new positive cases is now at 16.

Currently, 852 Albany County residents are under mandatory quarantine and 16 are under precautionary quarantine. So far, 3,646 county residents have completed quarantine, with 936 of them having tested positive and recovered.

Twenty-nine county residents are now hospitalized, with six in intensive-care units. The hospitalization rate for Albany County stands at 2.03 percent of those who have tested positive.

Whalen noted, “We are continuing to see a low number of positive cases compared to what we had seen in the past, which is encouraging.”

Whalen also said that the health department is getting a lot of questions about reopening, looking for guidance about what schools, businesses, and others should do to prepare.

She said her department is looking at guidance sent by the state and also at guidance issued Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and would be reconciling these and sharing the information with the public.

Whalen also said, “We’re hearing some concerns with our nursing homes about meeting the deliverables of testing twice weekly.” Cuomo had issued an executive order last week that nursing-home workers and residents be tested for COVID-19 two times each week.

“There are difficulties with laboratory availability,” said Whalen. “This is a huge challenge for our nursing-home partners throughout the county and throughout the state.”

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