Counties push back on Cuomo’s crackdown

— Still frame from July 17 Albany County press briefing

 “New York counties need $5 billion over a two-year period just to make them whole from the injury that we will have sustained in 2020 and 2021,” said Stephen Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties, at an Albany County press briefing in July. 

ALBANY COUNTY — None of the ZIP codes in Albany County are among the top 20 in the state for COVID-19 infections; the county announced just 17 new cases Sunday morning.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan statewide association of counties pushed back on Sunday against the governor’s announcement that the state will directly enforce guidance in hot spot ZIP codes.

Those hot-spot ZIP codes are in Rockland and Orange counties, and in Brooklyn and Queens in New York City.

“Local governments have not done an effective job of enforcement in these hot spot ZIP codes. The state will be doing aggressive enforcement starting tomorrow,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement on Sunday, announcing the crackdown.

The new effort is modelled on the State Liquor Authority and State Police Task Force that has been enforcing state guidance at bars and restaurants in New York City and on Long Island; only a very few offenders have been cited in the Capital Region.

Cuomo said, though, that the state can’t take over enforcement in every jurisdiction.

“If a local jurisdiction cannot or will not perform effective enforcement of violating entities, notify the state and we will close all business activity in the hot spots where the local governments cannot do compliance,” he said.

In discussing the hot spots over the last week, Cuomo has repeatedly said that wearing a mask and keeping social distance is the law and violators should be ticketed by local police. 

On Friday, Cuomo said the state’s health department would “have people on the ground in those ZIP codes today” and also that the department was sending a “Section 16 letter to the local governments, advising them that they have to step up the compliance, that it is the law and, if the local governments don’t step up the compliance, they will actually be in violation of the law and they can be fined.”

Failure to adhere to the order can result in penalties of up to $10,000 per day, according to the state’s Public Health Law.

On Sunday, Cuomo also said he is concerned about the lack of testing in schools.

“If the localities do not do testing immediately in the schools in those areas, the state will close them immediately …,” said Cuomo of schools in the hot-spot zones. “Without testing, we can’t assure parents and teachers of the safety of that school.”

The New York State Association of Counties responded with its own statement, saying that running school COVID-19 tests is beyond counties’ capacities, and calling on the state to organize and fund such testing.

“Counties across the state refuse to accept any blame for spikes in COVID-19 in schools when there has been inconsistent testing protocols or guidance coming from the state,” said the statement, noting that school reopening plans were sent to two state departments — health and education — and not to county or local governments.

“It is the State of New York that has declared this public health emergency. They are in the position to provide clear and coordinate testing protocols,” the county association statement says.

The association also asserts that the state received more than $5 billion in federal funds through the CARES [Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security] Act: “Unlike in most states, none of this has been allocated to New York’s counties, which have been charged with leading the local response to this pandemic. It is beyond the capacity of local governments to administer tests on behalf of schools.”


Newest numbers

Statewide, Cuomo announced on Sunday, 1.10 percent of diagnostic test results for COVID-19 came back positive on Saturday. The goal is to keep a positivity rate at or below 1 percent.

Within the top 20 ZIP codes, the average rate of positive tests is 4.8 percent. The rate for the rest of New York State, without those top 20, is 0.91 percent.

The Capital Region, of which Albany County is a part, had a rate of 0.8 percent.

Four of the state’s 10 regions had positivity rates over 1 percent: Mid-Hudson, New York City, the Southern Tier, and Western New York.

 The North Country, as usual, was the lowest at 0.3 percent.

Albany County now has 3,050 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of the 17 new cases, 14 had close contact with someone infected with the disease, and three did not have a clear source of transmission detected at this time. Separately, seven of the reported positives are associated with the University at Albany.

As of Sunday morning, 948 county residents were under quarantine. The five-day average for new daily positives increased to 18.8 from 17.6 on Saturday. There are now 101 active cases in the county, up from 99.

So far, 12,893 county residents have completed quarantine. Of those who completed quarantine, 2,949 had tested positive and recovered.

Three Albany County residents are now hospitalized with COVID-19 and the county’s hospitalization rate has decreased to 0.09 percent from 0.13 percent on Saturday.

Albany County’s COVID-19 death toll remains at 135.

More Regional News

  • This year, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic shutdown, the need for donated toys will be much greater but, at the same time, collecting the toys will be more difficult, according to Marine Corps Reserve Staff Sergeant Patrick Lurenz.

  • Albany County had 34 new cases of COVID-19 overnight since Wednesday, one of the largest single-day upticks since early August.

  • Two more Albany County residents have died of COVID-19, the county’s executive, Daniel McCoy, reported on Monday, bringing the death toll to 138. He also said that, since the start of the pandemic, suicides and deaths from drug overdoses in the county are “through the roof.”

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