Masks to be required in county buildings

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Last spring, Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen demonstrated the proper way to wear a mask to stem the spread of COVID-19. Starting Monday, anyone in an Albany County building — vaccinated or not — will be required to wear a mask.

ALBANY COUNTY — On Friday, the county announced that, with the Delta variant spreading quickly, face masks will be required in county buildings starting on Monday.

In his daily report on the new COVID-19 cases — 63 more since Thursday — Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy said, “There is no doubt that COVID is still a serious threat and that we need to get more people vaccinated. That much becomes clear when you look at our recent spike in infections and hospitalizations.”

As of Thursday, 67.1 percent of Albany County’s 307,117 residents had received at least the first dose of vaccine, and 62.3 percent had been fully vaccinated while 77.9 percent of the county’s adults had received at least one dose.

“Today’s 63 new cases of COVID is the highest single-day increase since April 22,” McCoy went on. “We also have the highest number of residents in the hospital since June 3 and we now have someone in the ICU for the first time since July 9.”

At the same time, the Capital Region continues to have the highest infection rate — 3.94 percent — of any of the state’s 10 regions.

Albany County’s rate, since Thursday, as a seven-day rolling average, is 4.5 percent, according to the state’s dashboard. Statewide, the rate is 2.8 percent.

McCoy also reported 259 active cases in the county, 455 residents under quarantine, and 10 patients hospitalized with the virus.

In Guilderland, Supervisor Peter Barber, in his daily emailed COVID-19 update to residents, said on Friday that, for the first time since May 22, the town’s ambulances this week transported four positive COVID-19 residents to area hospitals. 

“As a general rule, hospital transports are a lagging indicator of the spread of the virus in our community,” Barber wrote. “Based upon this data, and understanding of local conditions, the Medical Director and EMS Director are strongly encouraging the wearing of facemasks in indoor settings regardless of vaccination status.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data tracker on Friday evening, Albany County continues to have a “substantial” rate of transmission, meaning between 50 and 99 cases per 100,000. More counties in the state have moved to the “substantial” and “high” categories — for which masks are recommended indoors in public, even for vaccinated residents.

Only one New York county, Schuyler, is labeled “low” transmission.

The announcement on the rules for masking in county buildings, starting Monday, states, “This applies to all employees, vendors and visitors, regardless of vaccination status. Masks must be worn when in common office areas, at workstations and throughout any County building including in all elevators, office entrances, break areas, restrooms and when navigating hallways and stairs. They must also be worn in meetings when another person is present.”


No state guidance for schools

As local school districts were awaiting state guidance on their plans for opening safely in September, a bombshell was dropped on Thursday.

Howard Zucker, the state’s health commissioner, released a statement saying, “With the end of the state disaster emergency on June 25, 2021, school districts are reestablished as the controlling entity for schools. Schools and school districts should develop plans to open in-person in the fall as safely as possible, and I recommend following guidance from the CDC and local health departments.”

The State Education Department responded with a statement of its own, noting that Commissioner of Education Betty A. Rosa sent a letter asking  Zucker to consider the state health department’s statutory responsibilities.

“The Public Health Law provides that the Department of Health is charged with exercising control over and supervising the abatement of nuisances affecting or likely to affect public health as well as supervising and advising any local unit of government and the public health officials thereof within the state in the performance of their official duties,” said the statement. “Currently, there is no greater nuisance affecting public health and safety than COVID-19.

“There is an urgent need for timely advice and supervision flowing from the State Department of Health to local and school officials as they navigate these uncertain times. The circumstances enveloping the Executive Chamber this week should not prevent the Department of Health from the execution of its responsibilities to the public, as has been promised by the Governor’s office for months.”

The last sentence is a reference to the attorney general’s report, released on Tuesday, stating Governor Andrew Cuomo had broken state and federal laws, harassing 11 women by “among other things, engaging in unwelcome and nonconsensual touching as well as making numerous offensive comments of a suggestive and sexual nature that created a hostile work environment for women.”


Empire Pass Plus launched

On Thursday, Cuomo announced the launch of Excelsior Pass Plus, which enables compatibility between New York State's Excelsior Pass platform and SMART Health Cards Framework. The Excelsior program, a release from the governor’s office said, has generated 3 million passes and provides digital proof of vaccination or negative test results.

Users of the Pass Plus, the release said, can securely upload their verified COVID-19 vaccination credentials to VeriFLY, and travel through American Airlines to a number of countries. The pass can also be used at businesses that require proof of vaccination.

More Regional News

  • ALBANY COUNTY — The Albany County Soil and Water Conservation District has awarded over $145,000

  • Assemblyman Chris Tague was joined by Congresswoman Elise Stefanik and Congressman Lee Zeldin at Stanton’s Feura Farm to speak out against what they viewed as the negative impact of reducing the farm-laborer overtime threshold from 60 hours to 40 hours. 

  • New York State’s first-ever pollinator survey, conducted over a three-year period, found, by conservative standards, that 38 percent of the state’s native pollinators are viable to be wiped out of the state completely, and that it could be as high as 60 percent of species when considering those that are known only by historical records.

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