Week XX: Cutbacks loom as NY pushes for federal aid

ALBANY COUNTY — This week, the 20th since the pandemic hit Albany County, focus was on the economic crisis as well as the health crisis.

Albany County continued with a second week of upticks in cases as numbers improved across most of the state. On Wednesday, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy announced two more deaths from the virus as well as 20 new confirmed cases.

The men who died — one in his eighties and the other in his nineties — were both residents of St. Peter’s Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Albany, and both had multiple underlying health conditions.

This brings the county’s death toll for coronavirus disease 2019 to 126. Although the age group with the highest rate of infection is people between the age of 20 and 29, they frequently have mild symptoms or none at all. The vast majority of deaths in the county have been of people over the age of 70.

Albany County had seen new cases peak in April, followed by a steep decline, so that, by early July, there were just a couple of new cases daily. “Lately, we’ve had between 13 and 20,” McCoy said on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, McCoy, who  serves as president of both the County Executives of America as well as the County Executives Association of the New York Association of Counties, said he had canceled a planned trip to Washington, D.C. to lobby for aid to local government as Congress works on the fifth federal stimulus packages.

After Governor Andrew Cuomo this week added D.C. to the list of venues from which travelers arriving in New York have to quarantine for 14 days, McCoy said he decided the responsible thing was to stay home.

On Tuesday, Cuomo had added three states — Illinois, Kentucky, and Minnesota — to the list of 32 along with Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. There are now just 14 states considered safe for travel: Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.

“We’re gonna be in a lot of trouble when that money doesn’t come in,” said McCoy of federal aid. He reiterated the many county programs that have had extra costs because of the pandemic and predicted layoffs and renegotiating union contracts if federal aid is not forthcoming.

Because Albany County has just over 300,000 people, it was not eligible for the aid from the CARES [Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security] Act that went to counties with over 500,000 people.

McCoy urged residents to fill out the federal census, which determines both representation in Congress as well as federal funding, based on population. Currently only 62 percent of Albany County residents have filled out the census survey, McCoy said.

Speaking of the Republican Senate’s proposal for the fifth federal stimulus package, McCoy on Tuesday had said, “If the state of New York doesn’t get bailed out, the governor is going to have to make tough decisions and it’s going to be a ripple effect.

“It’s going to come down to counties. Counties have to make tough decisions and it’s going to affect the way we do business for towns, cities, and villages … We’ll all be crying, I don’t want to say ‘bankruptcy,’ but close to it.”

McCoy noted that some mayors and supervisors are already laying off workers.

Cuomo, a Democrat like McCoy, called it “pure politics” as he described, during his Tuesday conference call with the press, Republican Senators proposing a bill that has no state local aid funding.

“This is going to determine people’s property taxes,” said Cuomo. He also said of the HEALS [Health, Economic Assistance, Liability protection and Schools] Act, “If they don’t provide school aid — state aid — your school aid will be roughly 20 percent less of what it was.”

Cuomo called the Senate’s plan not providing state aid “totally hypocritical” because “their professed goal is to help the economy, create jobs, right?” He went on, citing several prominent economists and financial leaders, “Every economist says, if you do not provide state and local aid, you will hurt the economy.”

He referenced Harvard University economist Gabriel Chodorow-Reich, saying “that the stimulus, for every dollar in state spending that is cut, it hurts the overall economy by $1.50 to $2 dollars.”

On Wednesday, Cuomo released a letter he had sent to Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, and the state’s congressional delegation, writing, “As you know the past CARES Act distributed aid by a funding formula that was politically driven to favor Republican states and painful for New York. New York State received $25,000 for every COVID case from the federal government and Alaska received $2.5 million for every COVID case.”

He also wrote, “New York State has a $14 billion revenue shortfall in the current fiscal year and $16 billion in 2022 as a direct result of the pandemic and without additional federal aid we will need to reduce funding for hospitals, schools and local governments by 20 percent.”

Also on Wednesday, Cuomo, who is vice chair of the National Governors Association, released a joint statement with Maryland’s governor, Larry Hogan, a Republican, who chairs the association.

“Goldman Sachs analysts assert that the measures that Congress has passed to date will cover less than half the expected state shortfalls, even when combined with state rainy day funds …,” they wrote. “We stand firm in our request for federal aid in the amount of $500 billion over the next three years. This will ensure a strong recovery for our nation.”

Also on Wednesday, Cuomo continued his outreach to cities in hard-hit states — New York has offered help to Atlanta and Savannah in Georgia and to Houston, Texas in recent weeks — by announcing that a testing site is being set up at Pinellas Community Church in St. Petersburg, Florida.

“Widespread testing and the subsequent protocols remain key to getting on the other side of this health crisis,” said St. Petersburg’s Democratic mayor, Rick Kriseman, in a transcript released by the governor’s office. Kriseman said his city was one of the first to have mask mandates and a safer-at-home initiative.

“We’re not getting good, clear, concise factually-based communications from Washington, a lot of state capitals it’s not coming from, but we’ve gotten it from you,” Kriseman told Cuomo.

Cuomo also announced on Wednesday that driving schools, licensed by the Department of Motor Vehicles, can now conduct distance-learning pre-licensing courses for new drivers.


County cases climb

As with most days this week, the Capital Region has the highest percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19. In Tuesday’s testing results, reported on Wednesday, the Capital Region was tied at the top with the Mohawk Valley at 1.8 percent. Most frequently, as was the case on Tuesday, the North Country had the lowest percentage at 0.3 percent. Statewide, the rate was 1.14 percent.

On Saturday, McCoy  stressed the fallacy of a theory he’s heard — the county’s rate is up because more people are getting tested now. Although the testing rate in Albany County has remained fairly steady, McCoy said, the number of residents currently getting tested is fewer than a couple of weeks ago.

Throughout the week, McCoy urged all county residents to get tested, listing the many sites.

Monday afternoon, Albany Medical Center announced that one teacher and seven children in the center’s Albany Med Kids daycare have tested positive for COVID-19.

“The majority of these cases were asymptomatic and, at this time, they have not required hospitalization,” said a release from Albany Med.

Sixty-two children were tested and the children have been asked not to return to the program until after the recommended 14-day incubation period from the last date of possible exposure. The program was suspended on Monday and will remain closed through Friday, Aug. 7.

On Tuesday, Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen had stressed the importance, particularly with the possibility of school reopenings on the horizon, of the community to continue to follow protocols of hand-washing, staying six feet from others, wearing masks, and not gathering in crowds.

“COVID is a very, very difficult and mysterious illness and we cannot predict based on who gets infected with COVID how serious the illness will become,” said Whalen. The likelihood, based on statistics, is that children and young adults will have a mild illness, she said.

“It is not something that we are willing to take a chance on so we continue to tell people to do what they need to do,” said Whalen. She noted that some young people have become seriously ill with the disease and some have succumbed.

In parts of the country where residents are not required to wear masks, Whalen said, they have been “burdened with more severe disease; hospital rates are higher; people have surge-capacity issues in states like Florida, Texas, and Arizona that are very real … The only way we can prevent that happening at this juncture is for people to follow the recommendations.”

Whalen concluded, “If we let our guard down, we will continue to see our numbers increase. We will likely see more severity of illness and we will likely see more hospitalizations and deaths.”

As of Wednesday, Albany County has 2,261 confirmed cases of COVID-19, an increase of 20 since Tuesday, 759 residents under quarantine.

The five-day average for new daily positive cases is now down to 14.2 from 14.6 Tuesday. There are currently 84 active cases, up from 82.

So far, 6,972 Albany County residents have completed quarantine, a decrease from 7,081 due to removing people who actually lived outside the county. Of those who completed quarantine, 2,177 of them have tested positive and recovered, an increase of 18.

Three county residents are now hospitalized, and the hospitalization rate remains at 0.13 percent.

Among the 20 new cases, four had close contacts to people ill with the disease, two had reported traveling out of state, five are health-care workers, and six did not have a clear source of transmission.

“They’re working on that, doing the mapping and tracing,” said McCoy of the county’s health department.

Three of the new cases are linked to people who either attended a Fourth of July weekend party on Hudson Avenue in Albany or were with the same group of people on July 3 or July 5. The total for that group now stands at 43.

About 200 college-age people attended the party without wearing masks or staging six feet with one another. Gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited.

“They’re doing the right thing now,” said McCoy, commending students for coming forward to be tested.

McCoy went on to comment on the long-term effects of COVID-19 for people who have survived a severe bout of the virus. He concluded, “It’s something that cripples you for a long time.”


Syndrome affecting children

Cuomo, in a conference call with the press on Friday, updated New Yorkers on the multisystem inflammatory syndrome that has affected 240 children in the state and is similar to Kawasaki disease. On June 29, the state’s health department published a study of children with the syndrome in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The study says the syndrome is associated with coronavirus disease 2019 and that, as of May 10, a total of 191 potential cases were reported to the health department.

Of those patients, 40 percent were Black and 36 percent were Hispanic. Thirty-one percent were younger than 5 years old, 42 percent were 6 to 12 years old, and 26 percent were 13 to 20 years old.

All had fever or chills; 97 percent had tachycardia, a fast heartbeat; 80 percent had gastrointestinal symptoms; 60 percent had a rash; 56 percent had conjunctival injection, or pink eye caused by extra blood in vessels in the outermost white of the eye; and 27 percent had mucosal changes.

Eighty percent were admitted to an intensive care unit, and two died. The median length of hospital stay was six days.

“The number of cases in New York has gone up slightly; we’re at about 240 cases now, said Cuomo on Monday. “That was about 15 or so more in the past month. But, New York is not a good gauge for this because the number of cases is coming down across the board, right?

“We are seeing the numbers increase in other states where the cases are increasing, and what we’re seeing is the more you look for it, the more you find it. If you're not aware of it, you don't see it.”

Cuomo said he was proud of the study published in The New England Journal of Medicine. “So, we’re getting the word out to the other health departments that they should look for this,” he said.

“And, as they’re looking for it, they’re finding more across the country,” Cuomo said, concluding, “But we have not seen it increasing significantly in New York, but then again we haven’t seen the cases [of COVID-19] increasing significantly in New York.”


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