Governor launches action plan to quell outbreaks of COVID-19

— Still from from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Albany press conference on Oct. 6, 2020

“You see clusters now across the state,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo at his press conference in Albany on Tuesday. 

ALBANY COUNTY — While Albany County announced 15 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo, talking to the press in Albany, announced the Cluster Action Initiative to try to quell the hotspots emerging largely downstate.

For the last week, Cuomo has talked about COVID-19 clusters in Orange and Rockland counties — in the Mid-Hudson Region — and in Brooklyn and Queens in New York City. On Tuesday, he also added Binghamton in Broome County, in central New York near its southern border. Cuomo mentioned, too, “colleges upstate” and Nassau County on Long Island

The coronavirus disease 2019 “seeps and grows” from a cluster almost in concentric circles, Cuomo said. “Drop a pebble into the pond, the pebble goes in, then there’s one ring, two rings, three rings, and the rings continue across the pond. When you see the cluster, you have to stop it at that point,” he said.

The new initiative has three steps: dramatic action within the cluster, further action surrounding the cluster to stop the spread, and precautionary action in the outlying communities

With the help of national public-health experts, maps were developed with protocols for the regions with clusters. The map for Brooklyn, for example, shows a large red cluster zone in the center with a narrow orange band around it, which is the warning zone; and then a large outer yellow precautionary zone.

Each zone has its own rules. In the center cluster zone, for example, mass gatherings are prohibited, only essential businesses are open, restaurants can serve take-out only, and schools must teach only remotely.

In the warning zone, only 10 people can gather, high-risk businesses such as gyms and hair salons are closed, only outdoor dining is allowed, and schools must teach remotely.

In the precautionary zone, up to 25 people can gather, businesses are open, restaurants can serve diners indoors and out but only four to a table, and schools are open with mandatory weekly testing of a percentage of students and staff.

“Erring on the side of caution means closing school buildings when there is serious risk of spreading COVID-19, and we believe the state is taking the right steps by seeking to close schools in these hotspots,” said New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta in a statement on Tuesday.

“At the same time,” Pallotta went on, “we are seeking additional details on the state’s testing plan for students and staff in an in-person setting in the outlying areas of these hotspots.”

Leading up to Cuomo’s announcement of the plan, there had been contention between Cuomo and New York City’s mayor, Bill De Blasio, who released his own plan on Sunday. Cuomo noted at Tuesday’s press briefing that no mayor or county executive has the authority to institute closures.

The enforcement of the new rules can go into effect as soon as Wednesday but no later than Friday. The fines for sponsors of mass gatherings in violation of the rules will be increased to $15,000, Cuomo announced.

“Local governments must enforce the law,” Cuomo said during the briefing. He has long chided local governments for their lack of enforcement.

“I understand these are all difficult acts to enforce. These are state laws. Blame me. I have no problem with that,” said Cuomo.

He also said, “You have a lot of tensions with law enforcement in some of these communities.”

Further, Cuomo said, “We’re all citizens. It’s not government’s job to catch you. It’s the citizen’s obligation to do the right thing.”

Many of the communities with clusters have large Orthodox Jewish population.s “I spoke to members of the Orthodox Jewish community today. I spoke to the leaders myself this morning,” said Cuomo. “We had a very good conversation. These rules will apply to all houses of worship.”

Houses of worship in the cluster red zones are allowed 25-percent capacity with a 10-person maximum. In the orange warning zones, 33-percent capacity, with 25 people maximum, is allowed. In the yellow precautionary zone, houses of worship are at 50-percent capacity.

Cuomo went on about his Tuesday conversation with Orthodox leaders, “I said to them that I’m doing this for a very simple reason, because I have such respect and love for the Orthodox community … The Torah speaks about how certain religious obligations can be excused if you are going to save a life. This is about saving a life.”

Cuomo spoke, too, about President Donald Trump’s recent messages on COVID-19. Cuomo noted that, on hearing of Donald and Melania Trumps’ diagnosis, he had wished them both a speedy recovery and sent a care package from New York State.

However, Cuomo was critical of Trump’s recent messages that he was doing well and the public shouldn’t worry about COVID-19. He noted that the average citizen sick with COVID-19 doesn’t get the sort of care the president received, and the disease has killed over 210,000 Americans.

“Be afraid of COVID. It can kill you. Don’t be cavalier ….,” said Cuomo. “Denial doesn’t work … Acknowledge the problem. It’s a frightening virus. Be smart. Be careful. Don’t hide under your bed.”

Cuomo also announced that New Mexico has been added to the state’s COVID-19 travel advisory; no areas have been removed. Travelers from places in the list must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival to New York.


Newest numbers

The testing in hotspots, Cuomo reported, shows an infection rate of about 5.5 percent. The state, not including those hotspots, has a positivity rate of about 1.2 percent. Altogether statewide, the rate is 1.4 percent, he said.

The Capital Region, of which Albany County is a part, has a positivity rate of 1.0 percent based on Monday’s test results. It joins six other regions with a rate of 1 percent or greater.

Of the state’s 10 regions, the lowest rate, as usual, is in the North Country, at 0.3 percent. The highest rate is in Mid-Hudson, at 2.5 percent, home to Orange and Rockland counties.

As of Tuesday morning, Albany County has 3,077 confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to a release from Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy’s Office.

Of the 15 new cases, 10 had close contact with someone infected with the disease, two are healthcare workers or residents of congregate settings, and three did not have a clear source of transmission detected at this time. Separately, six of the reported positives for today are associated with the University at Albany.

Albany County now has 941 under quarantine, up from 912. The five-day average for new daily positives remains at 19.2. There are now 103 active cases in the county, up from 97 on Monday.

So far, 13,053 county residents have completed quarantine. Of those who completed quarantine, 2,974 of them had tested positive and recovered.

One new hospitalization occurred overnight, so four county residents are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. The county’s hospitalization rate increased from 0.09 percent to 0.12 percent.

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

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