Young adults told to ‘mask up’ to keep grandma alive

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

“A very busy graph” is how Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen described this day-by-day chart of positive COVID-19 test results for Albany County residents. The highest number was around 70 on April 20. After a gradual decline, several spikes have recently occurred. “One day is not a trend,” said Whalen. “We really need to look at data over four or five days.”

ALBANY COUNTY — Paul Rudd is urging millennials to “take the Grandma challenge” — that is, keep her alive by wearing a mask.

Governor Andrew Cuomo asked Rudd — actor, producer, and screenwriter — to encourage young Americans to “mask up.” The ad campaign has been viewed more than 22 million times nationwide, Cuomo reported on Tuesday.

The campaign, meant to appeal to young adults, was launched in the midst of outbreaks on college campuses — including at the University at Albany.

At a press briefing Tuesday morning, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy took up where he’d left off at his last briefing on Friday — urging college students to wear masks, keep six feet from others, wash their hands, and not congregate in large groups.

McCoy on Tuesday reiterated the number of COVID-19 cases among UAlbany students: On Saturday, 23 of the county’s 28 new cases; on Sunday, 16 of the county’s 24 new cases; on Monday, 17 of 23 new cases; and on Monday, 4 of 12 new cases were UAlbany students.

That’s a total of 60 UAlbany cases among the county’s 87 new cases in the last four days.

“We knew this was going to happen,” said McCoy, adding that both the county and university were prepared. 

The COVID-19 tracker set up by the state for its 64 colleges and universities on Tuesday evening showed 68 of UAlbany’s 230 rooms for quarantine are in use. It also reported 67 estimated total positive cases since Aug. 28.

“For freshmen, it’s the first freedom you’ve had ...,” said McCoy. “I get it.” But he also said, “You’ve to be smarter.”

McCoy has long pointed out that the 20-to-29 age group surpasses all other decades in Albany County for positive COVID-19 tests; that number now stands at 567. In less than two weeks, since Aug. 31, the number went up by 36.

Pointing to the county’s COVID-19 dashboard, McCoy noted the next-highest age group, 50- to 59-year-olds went up by just seven in the same timeframe, and is now at 398.

Speaking to young adults, McCoy said, “You’re spreading it to people that can end up in the hospital or worst-case scenario, end up passing away.”

He had started the briefing by announcing the county’s 134th death from coronavirus disease 2019: A man in his seventies with underlying health conditions died of COVID-19 over the weekend.

 

Schools

The county’s health department is working closely with two distinct school communities, said Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen on Friday.

Staff at her department is having “numerous conversations with the students, parents, and particularly the administration of the K-through-12 schools,” said Whalen.

Although she congratulated the schools on their back-to-school plans, Whalen said that implementing them is not easy. 

She described “real-time evolution of adopting programs and protocols that the schools have never used before.”

As with its colleges and universities, the state is requiring schools across New York to post information on COVID-19 testing and infection rates daily.

For colleges and universities, the guidance is that, if 100 people on a particular campus — students, staff, or faculty — test positive for COVID-19 with a two-week period, that campus must move to remote-only learning.

Whalen said that, at UAlbany, “We are seeing the majority of cases in students that live off-campus.” The way her health department defines “off-campus” is for students that not only live off-campus but do not go to campus for class or for any other reason.

The number her department is carefully watching, Whalen said, is the students who live on campus or attend classes on campus.

The state guidance stipulates 100 cases during a two-week time frame and, Whalen said, “From our perspective, we look at this as a rolling two weeks.” She said she knew others look at if as “discrete time periods.”

“From an epidemiologic point of view and from a logic point of view,” said Whalen, “it really makes sense to look at this from a rolling time.”

More important than the number, said Whalen, is working with the school in “identifying communities within the school because it’s a big university.”

McCoy had earlier described UAlbsany as a “small city,” stating that, counting students, staff, and faculty, there are over 30,000 people.

Whalen said her department drills down on the data, asking, “Are there clubs? Are there specific locations? Are there classes? And, if so, how can we modify the risk there?”

She described this time-intensive public-health work as taking place on a scale that is unprecedented.

Whalen concluded, “I appreciate everyone’s patience.”

 

Statewide

For the first time in 38 days, New York’s infection rate for COVID-19 tests reported on Monday was over 1percent, at 1.04 percent, according to a release from the governor’s office.

The Capital Region, of which Albany County is a part, was at 0.8 percent. Central New York, Long Island, Mid-Hudson, Mohawk Valley, New York City, and Western New York were all at or over 1 percent.

The lowest rate for the state’s 10 regions, as usual, was the North Country at 0.3 percent.

 “The rule is you don’t want to go over 1-percent infection rate, okay? That’s the rule,” Cuomo told Jay Oliver Tuesday on Long Island News Radio. “Open as many things as you can to stay at 1 percent and that’s what I’m doing.”

Cuomo went on, “We don't have a lot of flexibility here. Some parts of the state are over 1. And we have 0.9, 0.92, we’re right there, so I have my foot as far down on the gas pedal as I can push it without going over the speed limit. And if we’re good on the social-distancing and the schools don’t explode and colleges don’t explode and flu season doesn’t complicate it, I have my foot on the pedal as far as I can to keep it just at 1. And you’ll see, we’ll go over 1 a little bit, we’re under 1 a little bit, but we’re at the maximum capacity now.”

Cuomo also announced on Tuesday that six states — California, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada and Ohio — have been removed from New York State’s COVID-19 travel advisory. The Northern Mariana Islands have also been removed. Puerto Rico has been added. 

Also on Tuesday, the state changed its guidance for nursing-home visits to conform with new federal standards. Beginning on Sept. 17, visitors are allowed 14 days from the last positive COVID-19 test for a nursing-home worker or resident rather than having to wait, as now, for 28 days.

Visitors must be over 18 and have had a negative COVID-19 test within seven days. They must also wear masks and pass a temperature and symptoms check before visiting. No more than a 10th of the residents can have visitors at the same time and only two visitors are allowed for each resident.

 “This change will go a long way in advancing the physical and psychological well‐being of nursing home residents, their families and our staff,” said Stephen Hanse in a statement. He is the president and chief executive officer of the New York State Health Facilities Association and the New York State Center for Assisted Living , a statewide association representing over 425 long‐term care facilities.

“It has been since early March of this year that nursing home residents have been unable to receive visitors in person because of the COVID‐19 pandemic,” Hanse went on. “While nursing homes and their residents have become highly skilled at using various digital communication platforms to connect with loved ones, digital interaction doesn’t compare to the joy of in‐person interaction.

 

Newest numbers

As of Tuesday morning, Albany County has 2,714 confirmed cases of COVID-19, an increase of 12 since Monday. Of the new positive cases, seven had close contact with people infected with the disease, three reported out-of-state travel, and two did not have a clear source of infection detected at this time.

Albany County currently has 507 residents under quarantine, down from 516. The five-day average for new daily positives remains at 22.

There are now 129 active cases in the county. So far, 10,644 people have completed quarantine. Of those who completed quarantine, 2,585 of them have tested positive and recovered.

Ten county residents are currently hospitalized due to the virus and the hospitalization rate is now down to 0.36 percent from 0.37 percent on Monday.

 

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