State announces new ways to detect COVID-19

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Analusette Shaello, who owns DNA BodyWorx, a fitness boutique studio in Albany, did not know when she spoke Friday morning that the governor would announce the state will put out protocols on Monday for gyms to open. She survived “a very trying time” by using grant money to reshape her business, providing training online virtually and outdoors in parks and at the Empire State Plaza. She also used the time to earn a life-coaching certificate. “What better way to not only inspire people to do some physical movement but help them change their lives along the way and rediscover what their ‘why’ is?” she asked.

ALBANY COUNTY — On Friday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced several new initiatives to help the state detect COVID-19 and control its spread.

Cuomo also announced that, on Monday, bowling alleys will be allowed to open and the state will put out protocols for gyms to open.

One of the new initiatives is a pilot program — including Albany — to detect the presence of COVID-19 in wastewater, which is designed to set up an early indicator system to forecast the virus spread in communities.

“Believe it or not, you can find the presence of COVID-19 in wastewater,” Cuomo said during a conference call with the press.

Early in the pandemic, scientific studies showed that the genetic material of the virus causing the disease could be detected in the feces of up to 40 percent of people who were infected. Although wastewater is not believed to be a source of transmitting COVID-19, the thought is that it can be traced through wastewater just as poliovirus was decades ago.

A half-million dollars will expand the initial wastewater sampling in Onondaga County. In addition to Albany, water in Newburgh and Buffalo will also be sampled. These communities have features that will allow for specific monitoring of smaller geographic areas such as residential, industrial, commercial, or resort areas.

Up to 12 locations, or sewersheds, will be identified within each community and sampled three times per week over a four-week period. The relationship between wastewater virus data and COVID-19 cases within the corresponding area will be analyzed.

In a second initiative, mobile testing teams from the state’s departments of health and of agriculture are being sent to farms in rural counties across New York. This initiative was spurred by several new clusters at farms linked to seasonal workers who recently traveled to New York, Cuomo said.

The program will also help with finding housing for farm workers who test positive for the disease so that they may be isolated. Congregate housing facilities that some farms provide for workers pose a higher risk for virus transmission.

The third new initiative is pooled surveillance testing, developed by the State University of New York Upstate Medical laboratory, which will use saliva samples, pooled in batches ranging from 10 to 25 samples. People being tested take the samples themselves.

Their samples are combined into one, which is tested for coronavirus. A negative test means all 10 to 25 people in the pool are thought to be free of the virus. A positive test for the pool means every individual would then have to be tested separately.

Outlining the rules for bowling alleys opening on Monday, Cuomo told the press that 50-percent occupancy is required. “You must have a face covering,” Cuomo said on the conference call. “Every other lane closed. The parties stay with their party at the lane that they’re bowling. The establishment has to have cleaning and disinfecting protocols in place, especially on the shared and the rented equipment.

“Food service, alcohol service: Only by wait service at the party’s location. You’re at a lane, you’re bowling, you can order food, you can order alcohol, they come to you. You don’t go to a bar, you don’t go to a food concession. They come to you.”

Overall, Cuomo said, “While the other states are seeing real trouble, we are doing very well — we have to protect the progress from outside our borders and continue to enforce compliance within our state among establishments.”

He also said, “We are doing a tremendous number of tests. New York State has averaged 87,000 tests a day over the past three days. So, 0.8 is a great number and it’s based on a very large sample size.”

The most recent results, from Thursday, announced by the state, put the Capital Region at 0.6 percent positive on test results reported over the last three days.

Among the 10 regions in New York, that means the Capital Region, which includes Albany County, tied for third lowest along with the Mohawk Valley and the Southern Tier.

The North Country remains the lowest at 0.3 percent. The two highest are New York City and Mid-Hudson, both at 0.9 percent.

Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy at his press briefing on Friday continued to urge residents to get tested, stressing that symptoms of the disease are no longer required for a test. “Please get tested … it’s available; it’s free,” said McCoy.

Referring to Florida having 276 deaths in a day, breaking its former record, McCoy said, “We’re seeing this all over the country. It’s clear we’re setting ourselves apart.”

The county’s health commissioner, Elizabeth Whalen, also continued to stress the importance of testing.

She also said her department is receiving many inquiries from schools in the county on testing students. Whalen said she’s in the midst of “an active planning process,” working both with the state’s health department and area school superintendents, to “hammer out a process” for testing, which will be publicized once it is determined.

Unlike many counties, Whalen said that Albany County is “very lucky in that we do have availability of testing.” Testing, she said, will be the “backbone” of a safe return to school.

She also urged parents to be sure their children are up-to-date with required vaccines and also with pediatric visits, which may have been neglected during the shelter-in-place period of stemming the coronavirus.

Whalen said, too, that it is important for “all of us” to get the flu vaccine once it becomes available.

McCoy continued to stress difficulties with the economy.  He said he’d talked to a sandwich shop owner that has been losing $2,000 a week and will close by November if things don’t pick up.

He surmised that the governor takes every COVID-19 death personally as he makes decisions on what reopens when.

County government, McCoy said, is hurting, too. “We’re going to be offering incentives very shortly for people to retire, to leave government,” McCoy said.


Newest numbers

As of Friday morning, Albany County had 2,406 confirmed cases of COVID-19, an increase of 10 since yesterday. One of the new cases is of a healthcare worker or resident of a private nursing home, five had a close contact with other positive cases, one reported traveling out of state, and three do not have a clear source of transmission at this time.

The number of county residents under mandatory quarantine has gone up from 425 on Thursday to 467 on Friday. The five-day average for new daily positives has increased to 11.4 from 10.6.

Currently, Albany County has 44 active cases. So far, 8,368 people have completed quarantine. Of those who completed quarantine, 2,362 of them had tested positive and recovered, an increase of six.

Seven county residents are hospitalized with COVID-19 with one in an intensive-care unit. The county’s hospitalization rate is 0.29 percent. 

Albany County’s death toll from COVID-19 remains at 129.



On Friday afternoon, the county put out a notice looking for patrons of two different hair-braiding businesses for possible exposure to COVID-19.

Anyone who was at these businesses at these times is asked to call the Albany County Department of Health at 518-447-4640:

— Annie African Hair Braiding at 355 Central Ave. in Albany on  Monday, Aug. 10, and Tuesday, Aug. 11, from 4 to 4:30 p.m. or Wednesday, Aug. 12, between 4 and 6 p.m.; or

— Adja African Hair Braiding at 622 Central Ave. in Albany on Thursday, Aug. 13 between 4 and 7:30 p.m.

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