Week XXI: Weariness and impatience set in as COVID-19 carries on

“Here’s a virtual hug for everyone,” says Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy.

— Still frame from Aug. 5, 2020 Albany County press briefing

“Here’s a virtual hug for everyone,” says Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy.

ALBANY COUNTY — “I wish I could hug you,” said Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy during his Wednesday morning coronavirus press briefing.

Spreading his arms out wide, he said, “Here’s a virtual hug for everyone.”

As hospitalizations and deaths across the state and in Albany County remain low this week — two deaths were announced Tuesday in Albany County — McCoy spoke of the weariness and impatience that has set in.

“I know you’re tired of this ...,” said McCoy at the end of the county’s 21st week of coping with the pandemic. “Everyone is tired.”

He also said, “The temperament is getting higher … I think people feel like the prison door was opened up a little bit and it’s not opening up enough to let them feel their freedom.”

The county’s cases of COVID-19, which had spiked at the end of April, had fallen steadily to just a few each day until several weeks ago, when the numbers increased to the 20s, but this week ranged between 6 and 13. McCoy reported 12 news cases on Wednesday morning.

McCoy and Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen throughout the week continued to stress the importance of staying six feet from others, wearing a mask when you can’t, washing your hands, and not gathering in large crowds.

Whalen said her staff has more work now than at the peak of infections because in April most people were home. Now, people are out at work and shopping as well as seeing friends and family. So, when someone tests positive for COVID-19, there are many more contacts to trace.

The key to stemming the spread, she said, is to test and isolate those contacts.

“We are trying to be more aggressive with the testing ...,” said McCoy on Wednesday. “The virus is still here.”

The “million-dollar question,” he said, is: “Are we going to get back to some type of normalcy and how long will it take?”

On Monday, McCoy revealed for the first time that he had been sick with COVID-19 himself although he said he didn’t know at the time it was COVID.

Although he said he had “tested negative every time” for COVID-19, McCoy said that an antibody test he’d had done at Priority 1 Urgent Care in Guilderland showed he had antibodies.

“So I had the COVID back in December, January … before it even broke here when I was traveling with County Executives of America and traveling with the military all through Texas,” said McCoy.

He added, “It doesn’t mean I can’t get it again … so I am cautious.”

McCoy also said, “You have to lead by example.” He noted his daughter had twice postponed her wedding from May to August, and now is planning a scaled-down event for October.

“I can assure you, as much as a lot of people think the governor likes being a dictator, he doesn’t. He’s just trying to do the right thing,” said McCoy of his fellow Democrat. “And when you put your head on your pillow at the end of the day, you hope every decision you made was the decision that didn’t cost someone their life.”

McCoy concluded, “The decisions I have to make, I go to bed every day saying, ‘Please, God, please; hopefully I did the right thing.”

For her part, Whalen sternly reported on Monday, “We are getting pushback from people.”

She informed residents that, if they get a call from the health department because they have been identified as a contact of someone who has COVID-19, “This is a serious thing and with it comes a legal quarantine.

“If you are going to hang up on my staff, if you are going to be difficult,” Whalen went on, “the next step will be to have law enforcement at your door. So please take this seriously … We are working to stem the spread of this disease … We want to help you.”

Whalen said on Tuesday that, while schools and businesses had been cooperative, most of the pushback was coming from people in the 20-to-29 age group. That age group continues to have the most cases in the county.

“Nobody’s getting in trouble here,” said Whlen, explaining that reporting is needed to protect the elderly and vulnerable.”

 

Enforcement

The state’s task force, led by the State Police and State Liquor Authority, continues to make thousands of compliance checks at bars and restaurants to see if they are following coronavirus restrictions. Businesses face up to $10,000 per violation while egregious violations can result in liquor-license suspension.

The vast majority of charges have been downstate.

However, one local bar was named this week as having its license suspended — the New Elbo Room at 170 Delaware Ave. in Albany. A July 30 undisclosed compliance check by the state’s task force found “the bar crowded with patrons mingling, drinking and walking around the premises without facial coverings,” according to a release from the governor’s office.

Albany County continues to use an approach of educating business owners who aren’t following COVID-19 protocols.

“These businesses are hurting,” said McCoy on Monday, adding that business owners have cried in explaining their desperate situations to him. “They don’t know if they’ll survive the next 30 days.”

 

Travel

On Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that Rhode Island has been added to the list of states from which travelers, arriving in New York, have to quarantine for 14 days. At the same time, Delaware and Washington, D.C. have been removed from the list.

So now there are 35 states listed as well as Puerto Rico. The 14 states considered safe for travel are: Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.

Whalen explained on Wednesday that anyone classified as an essential worker has a modified quarantine upon returning to New York from one of the listed states. Every day for 14 days, the essential worker is to be screened by his or her businesses and will also be followed by state tracers. When not at work, the essential employee is to remain quarantined at home, said Whalen.

 

Schools

The over 700 school districts in New York were to submit reopening plans by Friday. Cuomo is to decide by Aug. 7 — based on metrics for each of the state’s 10 regions, if the schools will re-open for in-person learning.

“Just because a district puts out a plan, doesn’t mean that, if we reopen the school, parents are going to come or teachers are going to come,” said Cuomo on Tuesday.

In its extended-school-year program, housed in Shaker High School, the North Colonie school district had a positive case of COVID-19, Whalen reported on Tuesday, noting the superintendent had been “incredibly pro-active.”

“We identified all contacts of the individual,” said Whalen. The school was closed on Tuesday “out of an abundance of caution,” Whalen said. The state’s Department of Health would do expedited testing on the 19 contacts, she said.

On Wednesday, Aug. 5, New York State United Teachers and the United Federation of Teachers put out a joint statement, demanding that state health officials issue clear protocols for how and when school districts must close their buildings, and how health officials will perform contact tracing and initiate quarantines.

In the event of a positive COVID-19 case, the unions are calling for the immediate closure of that school building and a return to remote learning for 14 days before revisiting whether it is safe for the building to reopen. In addition, the unions are demanding clear statewide directives for how immediate contact tracing is to be conducted and for how mandatory and precautionary quarantining for those who may have been exposed in schools is to be implemented by local health officials.

McCoy said on Wednesday that it will be a problem for people returning to work if schools aren’t open, terming it “a real logistical nightmare.” He called on the federal government to step in with money for daycare.

 

Newest numbers

As of Wednesday morning, Albany County has 2,322 confirmed cases of COVID-19, an increase of 12 since Monday. Two of the new cases are of healthcare workers or those who live in congregate settings, six had close contacts to positive cases, and four did not have a clear source of transmission.

Five more county residents are under quarantine since Monday, bringing the total to 580.

The five-day average for new daily positives has dropped to 8 from 8.2 Monday.

Albany County now has 37 active cases, up from 31. So far, 7,625 county residents have completed quarantine. Of those who completed quarantine, 2,285 of them had tested positive and recovered, an increase of six.

Two Albany County residents are hospitalized due to the virus, with one in an intensive-care unit. The hospitalization rate remains at 0.08 percent.

The COVID-19 death toll for the county stands at 128. The two new deaths announced on Tuesday were women in their eighties who were residents of St. Peter’s Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Albany. One died on July 28 and the other on July 31. While the deaths were reported, as required, to the state, the county’s health department had not learned of them until later.

More Regional News

  • “Albany County departments provide many of the services LEAD uses and this money is a game-changer during a financially challenging time and one in which mental health and addiction issues have increased,” said Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy.

  • While Governor Andrew Cuomo is still being criticized for large numbers of nursing-home deaths during the height of the pandemic in New York, an association of long-term care facilities is pushing for less restrictive regulations for testing and for visitors.

  • “A rifle is more targeted than a shotgun, right?” said Governor Andrew Cuomo on the value of thorough testing for COVID-19. “Other states see the statewide number increase, and then they have to do statewide closings because they can’t target the clusters.”

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