Uptick in county COVID-19 cases, two eateries closed

ALBANY COUNTY — Two restaurants were closed by the Albany County Department of Health today after workers tested positive for COVID-19.

The temporary closures came on the heels of Thursday morning press briefings in which both county officials and the governor urged caution over the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

Albany County saw an uptick in COVID-19 cases with 14 people testing positive, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy said on Thursday morning.

“If it spikes, we will be going backwards, so it’s up to you,” McCoy said. Albany County now has a total of 1,915 confirmed cases and 121 deaths from the coronavirus disease 2019.

Andrew Cuomo, while announcing 1.25 percent of tests yesterday were positive and also announcing 10 new deaths, bringing the state’s death toll to 24,877, said, “It is imperative going into this holiday weekend that all New Yorkers remain vigilant and follow state guidance, and local governments must enforce the precautionary measures the state has put in place to keep this virus under control.”

Cuomo also announced that swimming pools at state parks will open this weekend. 

“The virus does not take a holiday, and so I urge New Yorkers who are visiting swimming pools to follow all the social-distancing guidelines in effect to protect themselves and each other,” Cuomo said. “When you’re not in a pool, wear a mask if you can’t socially distance.”

Finally, Cuomo announced that $4.3 million in federal funding is being made available to county emergency management agencies and to the city of New York to support COVID 19 planning and response.

The funding is based on population, and Albany County is slated to receive $66,503.

Closed eateries

Philly Bar and Lounge at 622 Watervliet Shaker Road in Latham has three employees who tested positive for the virus, two from Albany County and one who lives in Rensselaer County, according to a Thursday afternoon press release from the county.

Thursday evening, the county sent out a second release, saying Delmonico’s on Central Avenue in Albany has three employees who tested positive for the virus, two from Schenectady County and one who lives in Albany County

In both cases, the state’s health department will hold on-site testing for the employees on Friday and the restaurants will remain closed until all of the test results come back. 

Both restaurants were fully compliant.

The county’s health department recommends that any customer who has symptoms or concerns related to COVID-19 should be tested by calling for an appointment at the county’s mobile testing sites, calling the state number for testing at UAlbany at 888-364-3065, by calling Priority 1 Urgent Care in Guilderland at 518-867-8040 or going online and scheduling an appointment at Rite Aid in Colonie (www.riteaid.com).

Summer youth programs

Summer employment “gets kids off the street, teaches them a skill,” said McCoy.

While summer employment programs for youth are worthwhile, he said, his first priority is getting county employees back to work and expanding government services. “I don’t have all my workers back,” McCoy said.

Nevertheless, summer youth programs are being rolled out, starting with Summer Fun in Cohoes at Lansing Park. The three-week program for youth ages 7 to 13 will begin on Monday and will feature socially-distanced games like badminton and kickball as well as karate and some “educational opportunities,” McCoy said.

This will be followed by programs in Green Island and Watervliet. “We’re rolling it out slowly and safely and making sure it works,” said McCoy.

There will also be paid internship programs, McCoy said, through the Boys and Girls Club, the YMCA, Capital Region BOCES, and the county’s Department of Recreation.

McCoy credited Cohoes Mayor Bill Keeler and county legislators Gil Ethier, Bill Ricard, and Wanda Willingham for their work on the county programs. Registration for the summer youth programs is through the county’s website.

Caution

Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen said of the 14 positive COVID-19 tests, “Even though today may be a blip, 14 cases is a big concern … This is a direction that can take us backwards.”

Typically, in recent weeks, 500 to 600 residents have been tested each day.

In April, Albany County had as many as 64 residents test positive for COVID-19 in a single day. But the curve had flattened and the last time there were as many as 10 was on June 26; on June 4, the county had 18 positive tests.

Unlike with earlier spikes, the 14 new cases were not largely due to nursing homes, McCoy said. “It’s there; it hasn’t gone away,” he said of the virus.

Whalen noted the “exponentially growing numbers” nationwide and said her department would continue contact tracing as well as educating the public.

“It is essential the public realize this is an individual mandate on everyone in this county and everyone in this state and everyone across the country,” said Whalen. “If we don’t do what we’re supposed to do, things will slide backwards.”

She went on, “We are seeing evidence of cases that are being acquired in people that socialized … The driver of infection appears to be that group between 19 and 35 … This group is generally healthy. They are fond of socializing.”

Whalen stressed the importance of wearing masks to prevent the spread of the disease. “Surgical masks should not cause impairment to your breathing. Surgical masks are light … They can prevent droplet inhalation,” she said, noting the coronavirus is usually transmitted through droplets and to a lesser extent in an airborne manner.

“A surgical mask or a handmade mask prevents those droplets from being inhaled by you. It also prevents you from spreading droplets if you are infected,” she said.

Whalen said that, on her way to work on South Pearl Street in Albany, she saw one or two people wearing masks and “many, many people not wearing masks.”

Whalen also said, while patrons remove masks to eat at a restaurant they should wear them when entering or leaving or when getting up from their table to go to the bathroom, for example.

“We do have staff that is checking up on restaurants as always,” said Whalen.

McCoy advised, as he has before, “If you don’t want to wear your mask, don’t go into a store.” He advised online shopping or curbside restaurant pick-up.

“It’s about the health and safety of people around you,” he said.

McCoy also said that police “have enough to handle with everything going on” and urged residents to call 1-833-789-0570 with complaints on matters that need enforcement.

Travel

Whalen encouraged people not to take trips to states with high rates of COVID-19.

“We’ve already seen … cases coming into the Albany airport on the 25th and 26th of June and are now testing positive in Warren County. We can see evidence of cases being imported from these high-risk states so don’t travel there unless you need to.

If someone travels to one of the high-risk states for a holiday, as opposed to essential travel, Whalen said, “You will not be given paid sick leave for a quarantine.”

On Wednesday, Cuomo named eight more states, bringing the total to 16, with high rates of COVID-19. Travelers from those states — Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah — need to self-quarantine upon arrival to New York State.

While traffic at Albany International Airport  dropped by nearly 95 percent in April, McCoy said on Thursday that he had recently spoken to Phil Calderone, the airport’s chief executive officer, who expected by August that 80 percent of flights would be restored.

Albany International Airport received a Department of Transportation grant totaling $4,150,000 through the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, which will be used to replace passenger boarding bridges to maintain the efficient movement of passengers at the airport.

Referring to the self-quarantine directive, McCoy said, “Now this will put a damper on aviation.”

Travelers arriving at Albany International Airport from targeted states are given a copy of the state’s COVID-19 Travel Advisory and the state’s Traveler Health Form, which they are asked to complete.

The form asks for the names and addresses of those arriving; whether they have traveled to states designated as having a significant community spread of COVID-19; if they have experienced fever, chills, cough or difficulty breathing; and their final destination in New York State.

“We’re going to track you down and make sure you’re identified,” McCoy said.

Newest numbers

As of Thursday morning, Albany County has 224 people under quarantine. The five-day average for new daily positive cases is now 5.4. There are currently 39 active cases of COVID-19.

So far, 5,768 county residents have completed quarantine, with 1,876 of them having tested positive and recovered.

Five Albany County residents are hospitalized, with one in an intensive-care unit. The hospitalization rate remains at 0.26 percent.

“The governor has opened testing for all New Yorkers whether you have symptoms or not,” said Mccoy, encouraging people to get tested, particularly the group most likely to be infected, and not know it, those in the 20-to29 age bracket.

“It can save someone’s life,” said McCoy.

More Regional News

  • The Albany County executive and the governor today called for aid to states and localities in the fifth federal stimulus package as the county continued to see more COVID-19 cases.

  • Governor Andrew Cuomo said of televised Major League Baseball games, without fans in attendance, “I think it would be good for the economy, I think it would be good for the psyche, I think it would be good for the nation’s soul.”

  • Albany County COVID-19 cases, starting in the beginning of March, appeared to reach an apex in mid-April, then continued to largely decline through the four phases of reopening the economy. But now, over the last two weeks, new cases, followed by hospitalizations and deaths, are on the rise.

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