McCoy calls for support of HEROES as school supers outline reopening plans

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

“We are working fast and furiously,” said Kaweeda Adams, superintendent of Albany City Schools, as her district on Thursday was awarded funds so that every student can have a laptop for remote learning.

ALBANY COUNTY — At his coronavirus briefing on Friday, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy, a Democrat, called for residents to push for the HEROES Act passed by the Democratic House of Representatives as opposed to the HEALS Act put forth by the Republican Senate.

The HEROES [Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions] Act, he said, would allocate $3 trillion to all the states and $1 trillion to local governments. In whatever form the fifth federal stimulus package takes, it will be the last before the current congressional session ends.

“The HEALS [Health, Economic Assistance, Liability protection and Schools], which the Republicans are pushing, gives us no help, gives us no bail-out, gives us no money,” said McCoy.

On Wednesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, 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.”

McCoy on Friday, reiterated that Albany County has already lost $15.6 million in sales-tax revenues since the pandemic shutdown. “It’s going to get worse,” he said.

“People aren’t shopping …,” McCoy said. “The local stores are down 60 to 70 percent.”

During the Great Recession of 2008-09, he said, Albany County was somewhat insulated because of all the state workers. “If we don’t get this bail-out, the governor’s going to have to lay people off,” McCoy said, which, he said, would lead to budget cuts and increased taxes.

Against this backdrop, two local superintendents spoke about their plans for reopening schools in the fall: David Perry who oversees about 5,000 students in the South Colonie Central School District and Kaweeda Adams who oversees about 10,000 students in the Albany City School District.

Like school leaders across the state, they had to submit plans by Friday and are awaiting the governor’s decision next week on whether in-person instruction will be allowed. The plans had to include three models: for in-person learning, for remote learning, and for a hybrid of those two.

(The Enterprise has written detailed accounts of the plans created by Guilderland, Voorheesville, and Berne-Knox-Westerlo.)

Adams, who serves on the Reimagine Education Advisory Council appointed by the governor, said that the various stakeholders on the committee answered the question, “How do you deliver quality instruction in a format that is different than what you may be used to?”

Schools were shut down abruptly in March and forced to scramble to educate students remotely.

“One of the things loud and clear within that council,” said Adams, “was flexibility of plans because we know there are no two districts that are exactly alike so coming out with guidelines that allowed district and schools to meet those guardrails … but still within those parameters be able to address the unique needs of each district and each school.”

Adams went on, “The other piece that was critical is the safety and well being of faculty, staff, and school families … Safety and security are first and foremost. It cannot take a back seat to anything.”

Going forward, Adams said, the council will review the plans school districts have submitted.

“Our Capital Region BOCES has led the charge in uniting our 24 school districts,” said Perry. South Colonie students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade will learn in-person every school day. Students in grades seven through 12 will be on a three-day rotation, with one-third meeting in person and two-thirds learning remotely at home on any given school day.

Perry said his district is working with unions to address concerns before schools open.

Both superintendents said, if a student or staff member were to become infected with COVID-19, the school would work with the county’s health department in mapping and tracing contacts, for example, sharing attendance records.

Adams said her school was awarded funds on Thursday, which will be used to buy more Chromebooks so every student has a laptop computer. “We are working fast and furiously,” she said.

She noted, too, that not every Albany household has internet access so the district has partnered with vendors for enough hotspots to serve all students.

Perry noted that layoffs had already been made at South Colonie and, moving forward, he anticipates additional costs for cleaning and personal protective equipment.

Adams agreed that budgeting is challenging and her district, even without the potential loss of state aid, is “repurposing” resources. 

“The financial impact will not take a back seat to health and safety,” said Perry.

 

New numbers

As of Friday morning, Albany County has 2,282 confirmed cases of COVID-19, an increase of 13 since Thursday.

“I thought we hit the apex,” said McCoy of the spike in April, after which new cases had steadily trailed off until two weeks ago. “One little step can set us back,” he said. “One little ripple in the pond sends us in a different direction or the domino effect.”

Of the new cases, one was a traveler — “someone going to a state they shouldn’t have,” said McCoy. Only 14 states remain from which travelers don’t have to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival in New York State.

Five of the new cases had close contact with someone infected with COVID-19 while five others had no clear source of infection at this point. “So we’re still tracing and mapping that,” said McCoy of the county’s health department.

Two of the new cases are linked to a Fourth of July weekend party on Hudson Avenue in Albany in which about 200 college-age people gathered without wearing masks or keeping six feet from one another.

This brings to 46 the number of COVID-19 cases now linked to the party.

Currently, 755 county residents are under quarantine, an increase from 748 on Thursday. The five-day average for new daily positive cases is up to 12 from 11.8 on Thursday.

Albany County now has 64 active cases, down from 72 on Thursday

So far, 7,159 county residents have completed quarantine. Of those who completed quarantine, 2,218 of them have tested positive and recovered, an increase of 21.

Two county residents are hospitalized with COVID-19, and the county’s hospitalization rate remains at 0.08 percent.

The county’s death toll from COVID-19 remains at 126.

More Regional News

  • “The homeless tend to be very vulnerable to COVID and that’s because there’s a good percentage of them that are older and also have pre-existing conditions — diabetes, heart problems as well as issues with substance abuse and mental health and behavioral issues,” said Albany County Department of Social Services Commissioner Michele McClave.

  • Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen drew a sharp line between “people flying in the face of what is recommended” — for example business owners flagrantly disregarding executive orders who might then face arrest — and what her department does. “What we do at the health department in terms of contact tracing and case investigation has no legal ties whatsoever,” said Whalen.

  • The state has issued a Drought Watch for four regions of New York, including the Upper Hudson/Moh

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