Cuomo set to stamp out hotspot embers with task-force enforcement

— Still frame from Oct. 5, 2020 press briefing

“Picture those hotspots as embers within the field of dry grass,” says Governor Andrew Cuomo of COVID-19 hotspots in downstate New York. “The only course,” he said, “is to run to those embers and stamp them out immediately and dramatically.”

ALBANY COUNTY — On Monday, the county announced 13 new cases of COVID-19; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated guidance on how the virus spreads; and the governor continued to focus on areas with outbreaks, saying schools will close tomorrow in nine hotspots in Queens and Brooklyn.

During a lengthy press conference Monday morning, Governor Andrew Cuomo noted that, outside of the 20 hotspot ZIP codes, the state’s positivity rate for infections is 1.01 percent. Including the hotspots — in Orange and Rockland counties and in Brooklyn and Queens in New York City, where the average rate of positive tests is 5.5 percent  — he said the statewide rate is 1.2 percent.

The Capital Region, of which Albany County is a part, has a positivity rate of 0.7 percent — below the goal of 1 percent, and tied for second lowest among the state’s 10 regions.

“Beware the fall,” Cuomo said. “Weather gets colder. More people move indoors. Flu season. Schools open. Schools opening are almost a predictor of increased infection rate.”

He went on, “All over the globe, the infection rate is going up ... Countries that were doing remarkably well are now seeing spikes. U.S.A. overall is going up.”

Pointing to a map of New York State’s hot spots, Cuomo likened it to a map of dry grass and the hotspots as embers in a field of dry grass. “The only course,” he said, “is to run to those embers and stamp them out immediately and dramatically.”

The attack, Cuomo said, would start with testing, then contact tracing, then enforcement.

“Enforcement is kind. You know why?” he asked, answering himself, “Because enforcement saves lives.”

Schools are the top priority, Cuomo said, because the virus mainly transmits in schools as different communities come together. Next, he said, is religious gatherings. “Orthodox Jewish gatherings are often very, very large,” said Cuomo.

Third are public spaces, he said, and fourth are businesses where consumers may interact.

Gatherings statewide are to be limited to 50 people. “You’re only supposed to have 50 outdoors; they had 1,000,” Cuomo said of pictures taken over the last few weeks in hotspot areas.

Religious institutions will be able to stay open on two conditions, Cuomo said. 

“One, the community must agree, whether it’s the Jewish community, whether we’re talking about Black churches, whether we’re talking about Roman Catholic churches, the religious community has to agree to the rules,” said Cuomo.

Second, once agreement is reached, the rules have to be enforced, he said. “If the rule is no more than 50 percent of the people in a Black church, I want someone at that door when 50 percent enter the church,” Cuomo said. “A person there who says to the pastor, ‘You agreed to follow the rules. That’s 50 percent, that’s it, or we close it down.’”

He went on, “If the religious leaders do not agree to abide by these rules, then we will close the religious institutions, period.”

Asked if he has the legal authority to close down religious institutions, Cuomo said he believes he does although he would rather not get “into a litigious situation with the religious community.”

He also said he would be talking to religious leaders in the hotspot areas on Tuesday. “I have to say to the Orthodox community tomorrow, if you’re not willing to live with these rules, then I’m going to close the synagogues,” said Cuomo. “I have had a 30-year relationship with the Orthodox community. It goes back to my father. I have a very close personal relationship with them.

“This is the last thing I want to do. Forget the politics, I don’t care about that anymore. Personally, I don’t want to have this conversation. It’s a difficult conversation. And you’re right on the line of government intrusion on religion. So it’s hard.”

Cuomo said that a better template for defining hotspots will have to be developed rather than using ZIP codes, which often don’t accurately define community clusters.

He likened the enforcement in hotspots to the state task force that has enforced regulations for restaurants and bars, which has succeeded where local enforcement did not.

“Here we’ll have a task force put together, run by the department of health and the state police. And local governments will need to assign people to that task force who are supervised by that task force, deputized by that task force to give out state summonses as directed by the supervisors of that task force,” said Cuomo.

Asked why local police would enforce now if they hadn’t before, Cuomo said, “Oh, because they’re not doing it in their name. It’s my name that they’re doing it in. And that makes all the difference.”

 

CDC update

The new CDC guidance says that coronavirus disease 2019 spreads mainly from person-to-person contact rather than through touching contaminated surfaces.

“People who are infected but do not show symptoms can also spread the virus to others,” it says.

In addition to people spreading respiratory droplets to others standing within six feet of them, as has been widely publicized, the disease can also be spread by airborne transmission.

“Small droplets and particles ... can linger in the air for minutes to hours,” says the CDC. “These viruses may be able to infect people who are further than 6 feet away from the person who is infected or after that person has left the space.”

The CDC cites cases where transmissions occurred within enclosed spaces that had inadequate ventilation and says, “Sometimes the infected person was breathing heavily, for example while singing or exercising … The people who were infected were in the same space during the same time or shortly after the person with COVID-19 had left.”

The CDC is aware, it says, of a small number of pets worldwide, including cats and dogs, reported to be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, mostly after close contact with people with COVID-19. “At this time, the risk of COVID-19 spreading from animals to people is considered to be low,” it says.

Asked at Monday’s press conference if the six feet reporters stay from each other at such events is safe, in light of the recent finding on aerosols, Cuomo said, “The CDC’s rule is six feet, the state law is six feet. If there’s new data, and we should come up with a new law, then the CDC could do that. The department of health could do that. But the law is six feet. That is the law.”

He also said, “The law says a mask, not ear muffs because we don’t believe the virus goes in your ear. Maybe somebody will do an article saying it can invade your ear and then we’ll have a new mask with ear muffs.”

 

Newest numbers

According to a Monday morning release from Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy, the county now has 3,063 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Among the 13 new cases, 10 had close contact with someone infected with the disease, and three did not have a clear source of transmission detected at this time.

Separately, four of the new cases are associated with the University at Albany.

Currently, 912 county residents are under quarantine, down from 948. The five-day average for new daily positives has increased slightly to 19.2 from 18.8 on Sunday. There are now 97 active cases in the county, down from 101.

So far, 12,954 people have completed quarantine. Of those who completed quarantine, 2,966 of them had tested positive and recovered.

Three county residents remain hospitalized due to the virus and the hospitalization rate remains at 0.09 percent.

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

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