COVID-19 spike among UAlbany student grows

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

“We’re at a critical moment here,” Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy said on Friday as he announced a spike of COVID-19 cases at the University at Albany. On Monday, he announced another 17 cases — following 23 on Saturday and 16 on Sunday — of UAlbany students.

ALBANY COUNTY — While the report statewide on COVID-19 continues to be good — the governor on Monday announced the 38th straight day with an infection rate below 1 percent — Albany County’s executive expressed concern about the ongoing local spike largely caused by the University at Albany.

Daniel McCoy announced 23 new COVID-19 cases on Monday morning, with 17 of them connected to UAlbany students.

“This is now the fourth consecutive day where we’ve seen more than 20 new positive cases in the county, the majority of which have been linked back to University at Albany students,” McCoy said in a statement, releasing the day’s numbers.

“We need to reverse this trend before the school is forced to shut down and this outbreak spreads beyond the campus and student housing and into the larger Albany County and Capital Region communities,” he went on.

Once a college or university reaches 100 cases over a two-week period, classes have to be given entirely remotely, according to an executive order.

After more than 500 SUNY Oneonta students tested positive for COVID-19, the campus stopped in-person teaching and sent the students home.

The state has set up a tracker system for its 64 colleges and universities, which the schools are to update daily. According to data posted Monday evening for the University at Albany, as of Sept. 13, the school had conducted 773 COVID-19 tests since Sept. 5 and, since Aug. 28, there have been an estimated 56 positive cases.

“Our Department of Health is working closely with university officials to identify and isolate positive cases and take preventative measures with hopes the fall semester can finish the way it started,” McCoy said.

Havidán Rodríguez, president of the University of Albany, said earlier that this semester 58 percent of students are learning online, 36 percent attend in-person classes, and the remaining courses are a hybrid of the two approaches.

Half of the staff is working on campus, and the other half is working remotely from their homes, he said; 37 percent of the residence halls are occupied.

Rodríguez said at a county press briefing on Friday that the university was taking “strong measures” to enforce the pledge students had taken before coming to campus and had already suspended six students for violations and was investigating others.

At that time, on Sept. 11, McCoy had reported that the university had a spike of 31 cases in less than 48 hours — mostly from athletes and students living off-campus in the Pine Hills area of Albany.

The county’s health commissioner, Elizabeth Whalen, explained that the county’s numbers didn’t jibe with those on the state university tracker — while McCoy reported 31 on Friday the tracker reported an estimated 40 — for two reasons.

Students could live in a different county than Albany and, more importantly, Whalen said, doctors’ offices and urgent-care centers may not be aware that they are required to report positive results from point-of-care nearly-instant testing within three hours to the local health department.

On Saturday, McCoy had reported 23 (of 28) new cases from UAlbany; then, on Sunday, he reported another 16 (of 24) new cases from UAlbany. McCoy’s release on Saturday had noted that the new UAlbany cases were not 23 more than the 40 that had been reported on Friday.

The state tracker says that, of the 230 rooms the university has set aside to isolate students who test positive or to quarantine students who may have been exposed to the virus, 68 of those rooms were in use as of Monday night.


Newest numbers

Statewide, 0.92 of test results reported on Sunday were positive, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced in a release.

The Capital Region, of which Albany County is a part, was tied, with the Mohawk Valley, for the second-lowest rate at 0.4 percent. The lowest rate was in the Southern Tier at 0.1 percent.

Of the state’s 10 regions, four had rates at 1 percent or higher: New York City at 1 percent, Western New York at 1.2 percent, Central New York at 1.4 percent, and Mid-Hudson at 1.6 percent.

Albany County, as of Monday morning, had 2,702 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of the 23 new positives, 20 had close contact with people infected with the virus, one is a healthcare worker or resident of a congregate setting, and two did not have a clear source of infection detected at this time.

County residents under quarantine increased to 516 from 506. The five-day average for new daily positives has increased to 22 from 19. There are now 128 active cases in Albany County.

So far, 10,551 county residents have completed quarantine. Of those who completed quarantine, 2,574 of them had tested positive and recovered.

Ten county residents are hospitalized due to the virus with one of them in an intensive-care unit. The county’s hospitalization rate is now down to 0.37 percent from 0.41 percent on Sunday.

The county’s death toll from COVID-19 rose to 134 when a man in his seventies died of the disease on Friday, Sept. 11.


$100M in food assistance

Also on Monday, the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance announced more than $100 million in additional emergency food assistance to help New Yorkers hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic to avoid food insecurity.

About 700,000 low-income individuals and families enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program called SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, will receive additional food benefits this month to bring them up to the maximum allowable amount for September.

The pandemic has had a pronounced impact on the number of New York households seeking assistance. Statewide, SNAP recipients increased by 9.2 percent from roughly 2.5 million households in March to nearly 2.8 million in June, according to a release from the ODTA.

More than $600 million in emergency SNAP benefits have been distributed since April.

The emergency assistance is issued to any SNAP household that does not ordinarily receive the maximum allowable benefit per month, which varies by household size, and is $194 for an individual and $646 for a family of four.

These benefits will be distributed later this month, after the regular SNAP issuance. About half of all households receiving SNAP will receive additional benefits for September.

The payments will be delivered directly to recipients’ existing Electronic Benefit Transfer account and can be accessed with their existing EBT card. Like regular SNAP benefits, the supplemental benefits can be used to purchase food at authorized retail food stores. Any unused SNAP benefits will be automatically carried over to the following month.

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