Cuomo says schools to open for full in-person learning in September

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

“So we can get back to some sense of normalcy,” says George Manias, president of the FireWolves, as he displays a certificate that will be given to Albany County youths, between the ages of 12 and 15, who get vaccinated against COVID-19. The first 1,000 will get a free ticket to the FireWolves opening game in December.

ALBANY COUNTY — As the infection rate statewide and in Albany County continues to fall, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday that, based on the current trajectory of COVID-19, all schools in the state will open in September for full in-person learning.

“Our children lost so much as COVID struck our state. A year of socialization, a year of memories, and even more,” Cuomo said in a statement, making the announcement. “While teachers and school administrators did an incredible job pivoting to remote learning with virtually zero notice, there's no denying the discrimination students who did not have the right equipment faced.”

He added, “If there is a change in the trajectory of the virus, we will revisit the decision.”

Andy Pallotta, president of New York State United Teachers, responded with a statement of his own, supporting the announcement: “Educators know that being in person is the best way for students to learn and for teachers to teach,” he said. “We support offering full-time in-person instruction five days a week and await formal guidance for the fall on how districts, working with educators and parents, should craft their plans to bring all students back to the classroom.”


Pushing vaccine

While Cuomo was at Jones Beach on Long Island, pushing “a shot in the park” incentive, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy on Monday offered another sports-related incentive for local youth to get vaccinated.

The first 1,000 county residents between the ages of 12 and 15 who get vaccinated at one of Albany County’s points of dispensing, or PODs, will get a free ticket to an Albany FireWolves game for its upcoming season starting in December.

Founded this year, the FireWolves are a professional box lacrosse team that will play at the county’s Times Union Center. The team, owned by former National Lacrosse League player Oliver Marti, is a member of the East Division of the NLL.

On Friday, McCoy had announced free Albany Empire tickets available for those who get vaccinated at the Vax Block Party at the Times Union Center on May 29.

“One-hundred percent, when we came to Albany, we came with the goal of not only bringing a professional sports team back to Albany but also to give back to our community and officially this is our first initiative,” said George Manias, president of the FireWolves.

Two weeks ago, he said, the FireWolves Foundation was announced and “the Pack that Gives Back” wants “to focus on our kids” by encouraging immunization.

Manias thanked Oliver Marti and the ownership group, “scattered around different parts of the world,” which founded the foundation out of their own pockets, he said.

At Jones Beach, Cuomo told New Yorkers that, if they get vaccinated — with either a first dose of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, or single dose of Johnson & Johnson — anywhere in the state between May 24 and 31, they are eligible to receive a free two-day pass to any New York State Park, valid through September 30, 2021.

“Just so we know,” said Cuomo to the crowd at Jones Beach, “it’s not yet time to fully celebrate. Some people want to say, ‘Well, COVID is over now. It’s over.’ It’s not over. It’s managed; it’s not over. Fourteen people passed away yesterday in the State of New York from COVID. And a troubling trend, the number of vaccinations is dropping off dramatically. We're now doing fewer than 100,000 per day. That’s a dramatic decline, 55 percent decline in how many vaccines that we’ve been doing.”

Last week, the state launched a “Scratch & Vax” lottery with a top prize of $5 million. The $20 lottery tickets are given to New Yorkers who get vaccinated at certain state sites.


Memorial Day

Cuomo also announced that the essential workers who died while fighting the pandemic will be honored this Memorial Day.

He directed  flags on state government buildings to be flown at half-staff and state landmarks to be lit red, white, and blue on Sunday, May 30 to honor the essential workers who lost their lives due to COVID-19. Flags will remain at half-staff until noon and landmarks will remain lit on Monday, May 31, for Memorial Day in honor of the service members who lost their lives fighting to defend our country.

The two landmarks in Albany County that will belit are the Kosciuszko Bridge on the Northway and the gateway to Albany International Airport.

“We should remember this past year on Memorial Day, remember the 42,000 New Yorkers who died. 42,000. Remember the 1,000 essential workers who died giving their life, giving their life. Seasons change, but memories have to remain, lessons have to remain,” cuomo told the crowd at JonesBeach.

He went on, “Remember how frightening COVID was when it started. Remember how frightened people were. They wouldn't come out of their homes. Walk into a hospital during COVID and it was like you were landing on outer space. People covered with garb, head to toe, face shields. You couldn't even see a person's eyes or face. They wore name tags with pictures in the hospital, just so the patient could see some humanity.

“Nobody knew how it spread. Nobody knew how, really, it was transmitted. And you had people who showed up every day to fight that disease. It takes a special person to run into a fire to save someone. It takes a special person, when every instinct in your body says, that's dangerous, don't go there, run away, it takes a special person to say, ‘No, I'm going in because I think I can help someone.’”


Siena poll

A poll by Siena College released on Monday morning found that registered New York State voters think Cuomo should not resign by a 49-41 percent margin, compared to a 51-37 percent majority who said he should not resign last month.

Cuomo’s favorability rating is 44-48 percent, up from 40-52 percent last month. His job performance rating is negative 42-55 percent, from 42-56 percent in April. Right now, 37percent are prepared to re-elect Cuomo if he runs next year, compared to 53 percent who prefer “someone else.”

“By a nearly two-to-one margin, 42-24 percent, voters continue to say that Cuomo has committed sexual harassment, little changed from 44-22 percent last month,” said Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg in a release. “Democrats are divided, while Republicans and independents think he hascommitted sexual harassment.

“Overall, when it comes to the job he’s continuing to do during the pandemic, his numbers remain strong thanks to Democrats. On every pandemic measure other than nursing-home data, at least two-thirds of Democrats give Cuomo a positive rating. However, at least 64 percent of Republicans give him negative grades on all the pandemic questions, and independents give him either negative or at best break-even grades,” Greenberg said.

Voters support a law, 62-32 percent,to require college students to be vaccinated for COVID-19 before returning for fall 2021 semester.

By a 69-19 percent margin, voters say the worst of the pandemic is over rather than still to come, up from 60-27 percent in April, 65-23 percent in March, and 46-36 percent in February.

Sixty-six percent of voters now say they have been vaccinated, with another 15 percent planning to. Seventeen percent of voters say they don’t plan to get vaccinated, up from 14 percent last month but still down from 21 percent in March and 25 percent in January.


Airport vaccination

Starting on Monday, May 24, through Friday, May 28, under a program announced by Cuomo, vaccinations will be provided free of charge at Albany County’s airport to travelers and the general public.

The vaccination site, located in the airport’s baggage-claim area will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Johnson & Johnson vaccinations will be administered by members of the Colonie Emergency Medical Services Department. Free parking up to 30 minutes will be provided in the airport’s short-term parking lot.


Newest numbers

“The numbers are going in a positive direction,” said Albany County Health commissioner Elizabeth Whalen on Monday morning. “We’re seeing less cases of COVID in the community. We’re seeing higher rates of vaccination.”

She also said more people need to be vaccinated.

According to the state’s vaccine tracker, as of Monday evening, 60.8 percent of Albany County’s 307,117 residents have received at least one shot; among those 18 and older, 71.6 percent have received at least one dose.

Statewide, 52.0 percent of New Yorkers have received at least one dose and 44.1 percent have completed a vaccine series; among New Yorkers 18 and older, 63.7 percent have received at least one dose and 54.9percent have completed a series.

“There is a tremendous amount of misinformation about the vaccines on the internet, on social media,” said Whalen. “Don’t get your information from Facebook. Please get your information from a trusted source.”

She listed physicians and her health department as reliable sources and also said her department is working with a number of school districts.

Whalen also stressed, “Dropping this mask mandate was for those that are fully fascinated.” That means two week have elapsed since the second shot of Pfizer or Moderna or since the single shot of Johnson & Johnson.

McCoy announced 17 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday morning, bringing the county’s tally to 24,269.

Among the new cases, 12 did not have clear sources of infection identified and five had close contact with someone infected with the disease.

The five-day average for new daily positives remained at 17.6. There are now 105 active cases in the county, down from 106 on Sunday.

The number of Albany County residents under quarantine increased to 306 from 298. So far, 79,201 residents have completed quarantine. Of those, 24,164 had tested positive and recovered. That is an increase of 19 recoveries since Sunday.

There were no new hospitalizations overnight, and 10 county residents remain hospitalized from the virus. There are still four patients in intensive-care.

Albany County’s COVID-19 death toll remains at 379.

According to the state’s dashboard, Albany County’s infection rate, as of Sunday, as a seven-day rolling average, was 1.1 percent.

Statewide, the infection rate, also as of Sunday, as a seven-day rolling average, was 0.9 percent.

More Regional News

  • While statewide, New York reached the 70-percent mark of adults with at least one dose of vaccine, lifting restrictions, vaccination rates vary across the state. On Friday, the state’s vaccine tracker started listing the rates according to ZIP code.

    In Albany County, the lowest rate of residents who have received one dose is 1222 in Albany at 7.7 percent and the highest is 12007 in Alcove at 100 percent.

  • Following President Joe Biden’s lead, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy said, the federal funds will be used “to make sure kids are back in the classroom.” With the funds, he said, schools will be able to test for COVID-19 without raising taxes or diverting money from other school programs.

  • “A lot of these folks out this way do not want to go down into the city to get services so here we’re bringing services to them and I think this is just going to grow and grow,” said Sheriff Craig Apple of the new program to have social workers and trained EMS crews answer some emergency calls in rural Albany County.

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