College leaders pleased with progress containing COVID-19

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

“We don’t have walls,” said said Marcia White, interim president of The College of Saint Rose. “Our sidewalks are the city sidewalks … During the pandemic, our location gives us even more responsibility.”

ALBANY COUNTY — “COVID fatigue” was discussed today at both the county’s press conference — where two college presidents reported no positive test results among 218 students in the Pine Hills neighborhood — and by the governor in a conference call with the press.

“This is not the time to be complacent … This is life and death,” said Marcia White, interim president of The College of Saint Rose.

Last Thursday and Saturday, 218 students from Saint Rose and the University of Albany took rapid tests for COVID-19.

Elizabeth Whalen, the county’s health commissioner, always precise with her data, noted that four of those tests were indeterminate and would need to be conducted again. Nevertheless, she praised the partnership among the two schools, and the state and county health departments as well as Albany Medical Center and Saint Peter’s.

White, a Saint Rose graduate and former registered nurse, took on a leadership role at her alma mater just at the start of the pandemic.

“We don’t have walls,” she said. “Our sidewalks are the city sidewalks … During the pandemic, our location gives us even more responsibility.”

She considers Saint Rose students to be heroes because, she said, they have the values of Saint Joseph of Carondelet, one of which is “‘Care for your dear neighbor’ — and they’re doing that,” she said.

So far this semester, Saint Rose, with a student enrollment of about 4,000, has had only three cases of COVID-19, she said.

Rodríguez Havidán, president of the University at Albany, had similar praise for the partnership and said he was “very pleased with no positive test results.”

He noted that UAlbany continues to ramp up its campus testing and just passed “a major milestone with our pool surveillance testing program with over 11,500 saliva samples since September 1.”

Analysis showed a 0.56 percent positivity rate, he said. Next week, Rodríguez said, UAlbany is moving from bi-monthly to weekly tests for all students, faculty, and staff coming to the campus.

The public university, part of a sprawling state system, has three campuses serving about 18,000 students: an uptown campus in Albany and Guilderland, where free state testing for COVID-19 has been ongoing for months; a downtown campus in Albany; and a health-sciences campus in Rensselaer.

According to the SUNY COVID-19 Tracker, UAlbany has had an estimated 176 since COVID-19 cases tracking began on Aug. 28. Currently, 10 of the school’s 230 rooms set aside for quarantine are in use.

Rodríguez made two points about the first eight weeks of the UAlbany fall semester: The campus is not immune, and, he said, “We have the ability to manage the situation if we act responsibly and we work together.”

He noted there are just five weeks left in the fall semester as students will leave before Thanksgiving and not return until Feb. 1, for a delayed start to the spring semester. White said Saint Rose, like most local colleges, are looking at a similar schedule.

Rodríguez said the greatest challenge may be ahead with colder weather coming and “COVID-19 fatigue” setting in.

 

Two more deaths

Two of the state’s 14 deaths from COVID-19 yesterday were of Albany County residents. One patient was a woman in her seventies who lived in a nursing home; the other was a man in his eighties. Both of them had multiple underlying health conditions, said Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy.

Sunday’s two deaths bring Albany County’s COVID-19 death toll to 138.

McCoy had other grim news as well. Without giving statistics, he said that, since the start of the pandemic, the rate of suicides and deaths from drug overdoses in Albany County was “through the roof.”

McCoy again urged troubled residents to call the mental-health hotline at 518-269-6634, which is free and was set up by the county in March. Mental Health Support Line is available seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

McCoy also urged, “Reach out to somebody … Let them know … you’re there for them.”

He noted, too, an uptick in county hospitalizations for COVID-19; 10 county residents are currently hospitalized with the virus with two in intensive-care units. “We’ve had at least one patent in the ICU every day since October 7,” he said.

The county’s positivity rate from Thursday was 0.7 percent; for Friday, 0.6 percent; and for Saturday 0.9 percent, McCoy reported.

“The governor has indicated we need to stay below 1 percent,” said McCoy, stating he didn’t know what the governor would do if the county spiked over that — perhaps another shutdown, McCoy speculated.

The Capital Region, of which Albany County is a part, had a positivity rate from Sunday test results, of 1.1 percent. Only two of the county’s 10 regions — the Mohawk Valley and Western New York — were below 1 percent.

 

“Good news”

Meanwhile, in his conference call, Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke about the state having one of the lowest positivity rates in the nation. “We’re like the second or third lowest depending on the day,” said Cuomo, naming other low states: Maine,Vermont, and New Hampshire.

Cuomo then went on to name states with much higher rates of positivity, like Iowa at 50 percent, Nevada at 37 percent, Idaho at 29 percent, and Wisconsin at 24 percent.

He credited his “sophisticated way” of zeroing in on “red zone” areas for overtesting and restrictions to quell upticks.

“Why are we doing well?” Cuomo asked, answering himself, “Because we’re very aggressive about it and when we see a flare-up or a hotspot we jump all over it, as you know because you are subject to our aggressive action.”

Just as McCoy a few hours earlier had said, “We can’t be getting relaxed … You have to stay vigilant,” Cuomo warned against “COVID fatigue.”

“People are tired and there’s very little tolerance for reduction of economic activity,” said Cuomo, noting that, in most states with only state-wide or region-wide data, to stop the spread, entire states and regions are closed, unlike just the hotspots in New York.

Cuomo also noted that New York’s unemployment rate had been as high as 16 percent during the pandemic and is now down to 9.7 percent. 

“We have a long way to go but it’s moving in the right direction so that is good news,” he said.

Also on Monday, the state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance announced that more than $100 million in additional emergency food assistance will be disbursed to help New Yorkers avoid food insecurity during the ongoing pandemic.

About 700,000 low-income individuals and families enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, will receive additional food benefits this month to bring them up to the maximum allowable amount for October.

This marks the eighth month that all New York SNAP recipients have received the maximum benefit, bringing an average of $145 mre per household per month.

Finally, the state’s Board of Regents, which oversees education in New York, on Monday adopted a sixth series of emergency regulations to provide flexibility for schools dealing with pandemic-related issues. The amendments apply to early learning as well as higher education.​

More Regional News

  • Governor Andrew Cuomo

    Since the springtime surge of COVID-19, the length of hospital stays for COVID patients has been more than cut in half, says the governor, and the death rate of hospitalized patients has gone from 23 percent to 8 percent.

  •  Schools can stay open in yellow zones but 20 percent of students and staff must be tested each week for COVID-19. Houses of worship are limited to 50 percent capacity, mass gatherings are limited, and no more than four people can dine at a restaurant table whether inside or out.

  • ALBANY COUNTY — On Thanksgiving Day, the county sheriff said he wasn’t enforcing the 10-person re

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