COVID-19 infection rate remains low while financial picture remains bleak

Recent tax collections for New York State

Recent tax collections for New York State, including New York City, are down, according to data from the state's department of taxation.

ALBANY COUNTY — While the numbers on the COVID-19 infection rate on Friday continued to be good statewide — the governor announced that less than 1 percent of yesterday’s tests were positive — the numbers on finances continue to be worrisome.

Thomas DiNapoli, the state’s comptroller, said that state tax receipts are $3.2 billion lower than last year, as he released the State Cash Report for August. He noted state tax receipts of $4.3 billion in August were $309 million above the latest projections by the state Division of Budget, but $219 million below collections in August 2019.

“Tax revenues continue to fall short of levels needed to fund education, health care and other vital services in this year’s budget,” DiNapoli said in a statement, releasing the report. “The revenue hole the pandemic created is getting deeper.”

Drops were noted in both personal income tax and sales-tax receipts.

Sales-tax receipts totaled $5.1 billion through August, $1.3 billion, or 20.2 percent, lower than last year. August sales tax receipts were $97.2 million, or 7.8 percent, below those a year earlier.

Local government sales-tax revenue declined by 7.8 percent in August compared to the same period last year, according to DiNapoli. August’s sales tax collections totaled $1.3 billion for counties and cities, or $111 million less than in August 2019.

This drop in revenue is similar to the decline in July of 8.2 percent, though much less extreme than the early months of the pandemic when sales tax collections plummeted by double digits.

From January through August, Albany County was down 10.7 percent in sales-tax revenues; the declines were in April (32.3 percent), May (29.5 percent), June (15.6 percent), July (9.7 percent), and August (10.1 percent).

“Since the pandemic hit, local governments have seen a massive drop in sales tax collections. This is hurting their bottom lines and many have few options to plug the hole,” DiNapoli said in a statement. 

Further, DiNapoli said the $150 billion federal Coronavirus Relief Fund could have been better aimed at the localities, especially New York City, that suffered the most severe impacts from the novel coronavirus, instead of being based on the most recent United States Census Bureau population data.

DiNapoli released an analysis that found the communities with high infection rates have spent most of their funds while other communities with low infection rates at the time the aid was given have not.

“Targeting aid to the communities that suffered the worst from the outbreak would have been more prudent than basing the distribution of funds on the population,” DiNapoli said in a statement, releasing his analysis. “As a result, regions like New York City and Long Island are facing significant budget shortfalls.”

The political finger-pointing continued as the president of the Koch-founded conservative not-for-profit Americans for Limited Government, Rick Manning, issued a statement on Friday on the latest state jobs numbers from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

“It should be no surprise that states with Democrat governors who have imposed some of the most draconian economic shutdowns are suffering the highest unemployment rates,” said Manning, citing New York, at 12.5, percent among them.

He went on, “Nebraska, Utah and Idaho, all with GOP governors, have pushed a balanced approach to the Chinese COVID crisis, protecting both public health and their state’s economies. It is a dead certain bet that Democrat governors are sabotaging our nation’s national economic recovery through their misguided shutdowns. Trump economic rebound has been largely accomplished without the participation of Democratically controlled states. It is a crime that Democrats continue to put electoral politics over the well-being of their own constituents. Denying their citizens jobs is hurting their people, economically, physically, and mentally.”

Meanwhile, Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, continued to congratulate New Yorkers on flattening the curve, pointing to the success of the shutdown as New York’s 10 regions have all reopened while keeping the infection rate in check.

In announcing the infection rate of 0.88 percent on Friday, Cuomo said in a statement, “Our numbers continue to remain steady and our infection rate is again below 1 percent, which is great news. We went from the highest infection rate in the nation to one of the lowest, and that’s a testament to the hard work of New Yorkers, who came together and flattened the curve.”

Also on Friday, Democratic Congressman Paul Tonko, who represents the Capital Region, held a video press conference with local officials calling for the Republican-controlled Senate to compromise by embracing the HEROES [Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions] Act which the Democric-controlled House of Representatives adopted in May. It included almost $1 trillion in emergency aid to local governments nationwide.


CDC reversal

On Friday, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reversed its controversial guidance on COVID-19 testing.

In August, the CDC had changed its original guidelines to exclude testing people who do not show COVID-19 symptoms even if they have been exposed to the virus. In Albany County, and across New York State, the focus for months had been on increasing diagnostic testing, especially to identify COVID-19 in people who may be spreading the disease before they show symptoms or who never show symptoms.

Cuomo at the time said, “I’ve spoken to health experts from around the globe. None of them will say that this makes any sense from a health point of view. The only plausible rationale is they want fewer people taking tests because, as the president has said, if we don’t take tests, you won’t know that people are COVID-positive and the number of COVID-positive people will come down. Yes, that is true.

“That is his policy of ‘deny the problem.’ If you don’t take your temperature, you won’t know that you have a fever. Yes, that is true. But it totally violates public-health standards and rationale, and just fosters his failed policy of denial.”

Both New York State and Albany County stayed the course, continuing to test asymptomatic people.

The New York Times reported on Thursday that the new guidance was published against scientists’ objections. The Department of Health and Human Services did the rewriting and then “dropped” it into the CDC’s public website, flouting the agency’s strict scientific review process, The Times reported.

On Friday, Cuomo issued a statement saying, “Today the CDC has reversed itself — that is not enough. How do they compensate for the lives lost and the millions in expenses and who was responsible for distorting the truth and jeopardizing the health of millions of Americans?”



Also on Friday, the state’s Department of Labor announced that New York has paid nearly $1.9 billion in Lost Wages Assistance benefits to 2.26 million New Yorkers this week, representing retroactive payments of $300 for the weeks ending Aug. 2, 9, and 16.

In total, New York State has now paid $44.5 billion in benefits to New Yorkers during the COVID-19 pandemic — representing more than 21 typical years’ worth of benefits paid in just six months.

In addition, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved New York for the second and final round of funding for Lost Wages Assistance. This round of funding provides three additional weeks of benefits, paid retroactively for the weeks ending Aug. 23, Aug. 30, and Sept. 6. New Yorkers will begin to receive these payments next week.

Also on Friday, the United States Department of Agriculture announced that up to an additional $14 billion for agricultural producers who continue to face market disruptions and associated costs because of COVID-19. Sign-up for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program will begin Sept. 21 and run through Dec. 11. 

A complete list of eligible commodities, payment rates and calculations can be found on



Cuomo on Friday reported on further enforcement of protocols at bars and restaurants. He announced that, with the return of college students for the fall semester, he has directed the State Liquor Authority to increase efforts to make sure places where students gather are enforcing the rules.

While most violations since enforcement started had been downstate, Friday’s release included violations in nine counties outside of New York City, including one in Albany County.

An SLA investigator saw 17 patrons without facial coverings “milling about” inside Clubhouse at 325 Central Ave. in Albany, the release said. “The investigator ordered an alcoholic beverage and was not offered or required to purchase any food, a violation of Executive Order, from a bartender without a facial covering.”


Newest numbers

The surge of COVID-19 cases among University of Albany students continues with 27 new cases reported by the county on Friday morning among the 32 new cases county-wide.

The State University of New York COVID-19 Tracker, which daily updates cases across the state’s 64 colleges and universities said on Friday evening that UAlbany had an estimated 54 positive cases in the two-week period beginning Sept. 12.

By executive order, if a campus has 100 cases in a two-week period, it must move to remote-only learning for two weeks.

The state is counting these cases in discreet two-week periods, rather than in rolling two-week periods, which Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen said would make more sense from both an epidemiologic and logic point of view.

Altogether, since Aug. 28, the tracker says, UAlbany has had 103 cases.

Whalen said on Thursday that UAlbany continues to have a “low number of cases on campus compared to overall cases.”

The county’s health department is tallying the cases of students, staff, or faculty that work or live or attend classes on campus.

As of Friday morning, Albany County has 2,782 confirmed cases of coronavirus disease 2019. Of the 32 new positive cases, 28 had close contact with someone infected with the virus, one is a healthcare worker or resident of a congregate setting, and three did not have a clear source of transmission detected at this time.

Currently, 710 county residents are under quarantine, up from 620 on Thursday. The five-day average for new daily positives ticked up to 20.6 from 19. There are now 129 active cases in the county, up from 115 yesterday.

So far, 10,978 county residents have completed quarantine. Of those who completed quarantine, 2,653 of them had tested positive and recovered.

For the third day in a row, there were no new hospitalizations overnight. The number of county residents currently hospitalized with COVID-19 remains at seven and the hospitalization rate is still 0.25 percent.

The county’s COVID-19 death toll remains at 134.


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