Phase 4 will bring only partial, not full, reopening

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

“Just walk away,” Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy urged those who are upset to see others without masks. “You’re not going to solve the issue by getting in a fight with somebody.”

ALBANY COUNTY — On Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Albany County officials congratulated residents on following protocols to contain COVID-19 while at the same time warning that easing up could reverse progress.

At his press briefing Tuesday morning, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy spoke enthusiastically about the Capital Region beginning the fourth and final phase of reopening on July 1.

However, on Tuesday afternoon, McCoy reported that, at the daily 2 p.m. control-room meeting, in which representatives from the region’s eight counties talk with state officials, he learned only outdoor and lower-risk indoor activities will be authorized to move forward when Phase 4 begins.

“After our Capital Regional Control Room call today with Budget Director Robert Mujica, we now know that Phase 4 will not allow for the reopening of all remaining businesses at the outset,” McCoy said in a statement.

If the Capital Region’s metrics hold, movie and film production can start again on July 1 and museums, aquariums, and zoos can open at 25-percent capacity. Other industries will be authorized on an individual basis dependent on associated risk levels and the current health data. Outdoor theme parks, indoor malls, gyms, and movie theaters have not yet been cleared to reopen at the beginning of Phase 4.

This announcement comes against a backdrop of some southern and western states seeing large increases in coronavirus disease 2019 with 23 states seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases.

On Friday, the World Health Organization had warned the pandemic was entering a dangerous new phase as countries around the world reopen their economies, increasing risks.


New York State “on track”

On Tuesday, Cuomo cited a study by Covid Act Now, a multidisciplinary team of technologists, epidemiologists, health experts, and public policy leaders working to provide disease intelligence and data analysis on the coronavirus in the United States.

“New York State is one of only three states that are on track to contain the COVID-19 according to a study by Covid Act Now,” Cuomo said. “We went from one of the highest infection rates to one of the lowest and we did it by making decisions based on the science, the data and the facts — not on politics. 

 “New York is finally coming back and I can’t stress enough how important it is that we don’t blow this incredible progress now. To all New Yorkers — wear a mask, get tested, socially distance, wash your hands and be smart.”

The study is called “America’s warning system,” and is based on four indicators, some of which overlap with the metrics New York State is using for reopening. The four indicators are:

— Are COVID cases decreasing? Is the number of infections and deaths going down?

— Are we testing enough? Is COVID testing widespread enough to identify new cases?

— Are our hospitals ready? Do hospitals have capacity to treat a surge of COVID hospitalizations?

— Are we tracing fast enough? Are we finding and isolating most new cases before COVID spreads?

In a map of the nation, only three states — New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts — are designated as “on track to contain COVID.” All three of those states were hard hit with the disease in March as New York City was the epicenter.


On hold

The original Phase 4 guidelines from the state had included arts, entertainment, recreation, and education. McCoy on Tuesday morning went over some of those guidelines before learning the openings would be delayed.

Colleges and technical schools will have to develop and submit reopening plans to be reviewed — for state schools to the Chancellor’s Office; for private colleges and universities to the New York State Department of Health.

Plans for the now-delayed openings are to include reopening of campuses, monitoring health conditions, containing potential transmission of the virus, and a shutdown strategy in case of a serious outbreak. Institutions of higher education will also, according to state guidelines, have to address class sizes, using a combination of in-person classes and virtual lessons.

McCoy said he’d talked with the presidents of Siena college and the University at Albany about matters ranging from COVID-19 testing to the numbers of students allowed in dorms, cafeterias, and lecture halls.

“School’s gonna be different,” he said.


Different from Florida

Albany County Health Commissioner went over the latest data displayed on the county’s dashboard and the state’s COVID-19 Tracker.

“We’re flattening out,” Whalen said, noting, “Yesterday and today, we did not have any reported cases in Albany County.”

This trend is holding despite a large number of residents getting tested — 900 on June 22.

Whalen and McCoy had been concerned that the number of cases would spike after several weeks of people congregating to protest for racial justice and police reform in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

Whalen compared this to a state like Florida where people are congregating on beaches and the number of COVID-19 cases is increasing. 

“What are we doing here that is preventing us from having spread?” asked Whalen. She answered herself, “I believe masks make a difference.”

In looking at pictures of the protests, Whalen saw that most of the demonstrators had worn masks “and tried to be respectful of social distance — this does make a difference,” she said.

McCoy also stressed the importance of wearing masks.  “We have gotten complaints of customers not wearing masks,” he said, as businesses have reopened. Cuomo issued an executive order that businesses can turn away customers not wearing masks.

“Just walk away,” McCoy urged those who are upset to see others without masks. “You’re not going to solve the issue by getting in a fight with somebody.”

He urged those who don’t want to wear masks to shop online. “We need to keep the numbers low,” he said, to get to Phase 4.

“Despite these numbers, COVID has not gone away and there is not a significant portion of Albany County that is immune, that has antibodies,” Whalen said. Aside from the “very low percentage,” which earlier antibody testing put at less than 3 percent in the Capital Region, Whalen said, “We’re not sure what protective significance that represents.”

She also said, “If we do have clusters, every case that gets reported to the county health department is followed up actively. If you get a call that you were a contact with a COVID case, please realize the importance in following the instructions that are provided to you about quarantine so you can prevent further spread in the county. It’s going to be essential.”

Finally, Whalen congratulated the public on following guidelines to wash hands, stay six feet from others, and wear a mask in public.

She also urged those with chronic health problems like diabetes or asthma to keep up with medical appointments and prescriptions, and she urged parents to make sure their children are current with vaccinations.


New numbers

McCoy opened his Tuesday briefing with “some good news” — no county resident has died of COVID-19 since June 15. Albany County’s COVID-19 death toll remains at 120.

“It’s the first time since the first case we had no positive cases overnight,” said McCoy. Albany county’s first two cases were announced on March 12.

So the number of confirmed cases for Albany County remains at 1,864 with 147 county residents under mandatory quarantine and none under precautionary quarantine.

The five-day average for new daily positive cases is now 4.6. There are currently 25 active cases of COVID-19 in Albany County.

So far, 5,630 county residents have completed quarantine, with 1,839 of them having tested positive and recovered. That brings the recovery rate to 98.6 percent.

Eight county residents are hospitalized, with one in an intensive-care unit. The hospitalization rate is now 0.42 percent.

As of June 21, there were 42,772 Albany County residents tested, with 2,060 testing positive for COVID-19. That’s an additional 5,900 people tested in just over a week.

The percent positive has dropped down to 4.8 percent from 5.5 percent on June 13.

Those in the 20-to-29 age bracket continue to lead all others in terms of total positive cases of COVID-19 with 326. They are followed by 50- to 59-year-olds who have a total of 311 positive cases in the age group. 

As he frequently has over the last several months, McCoy admonished those in the 20-to-29 age group, “I’m not trying to scare you. You don’t have signs or symptoms. You’re carrying it … You’re not getting tested.”

McCoy urged all residents to get tested, particularly residents in at-risk neighborhoods where mobile walk-up testing sites have been established.

So far, 2,145 residents have been tested at the walk-up sites. “We’d like to have that number higher,” said McCoy, noting the data could be useful both now and in the future to track and deal with underlying health issues.

Finally, as a sign that the crisis may be subsiding, McCoy said the mental-health support line, which had been set up to help residents deal with stress and anxiety, has been getting fewer calls. The line — at 518-269-6634 — is still operational seven days a week, but the hours have been reduced; the line is now open from 8 a.m. t 5 p.m.

Knocking on the table in front of him, McCoy concluded, “We’re getting through this.”

Joined: 01/01/2015 - 10:51
Excellent summary of what’s possible with the virus in our area!

As per usual, the editor has summed up what we all need to know as our region opens up further.

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