Is the micro-cluster approach working?

— Graph from the Empire Center

The Empire Center charted hospitalizations statewide beginning in March and continuing to the present. Early on, the vast majority of hospitalizations were in New York City.

ALBANY COUNTY — As Governor Andrew Cuomo continues to taut the micro-cluster approach to controlling the spread of COVID-19,  the Empire Center on Friday cast doubt on the strategy.

Rather than shutting down any of the state’s 10 regions or the entire state, Cuomo, starting on Oct. 6, identified areas of outbreak and labeled red, orange, and yellow zones where over-testing is done and regulations are imposed.

Red zones are the most severe with schools and nonessential businesses closed and gatherings limited to 10 people.

Zones where the numbers come down have restrictions lessened. Originally, six zones in five counties were designated. Now, there are 23 zones in 14 counties.

Albany County has remained just under the 3-percent infection rate that would designate it a yellow zone, the least restrictive precautionary zone. However, the county continues to have higher rates of infection than in the spring with 87 new cases announced on Friday.

“Although positivity rates have declined within the zones, statewide numbers are still spiking,” writes Bill Hammond in his Empire Center report on Friday. The Empire Center, based in Albany, is a fiscally conservative think tank that plays a watchdog role.

“In the six weeks since the cluster strategy was launched, New York’s rate of new infections has increased by 244 percent, to almost 5,000 per day,” Hammond writes. “The number of people hospitalized has nearly doubled, to more than 2,000. And the seven-day average death rate has increased by 125 percent, to 30 per day.”

He also concedes, “It’s true that New York’s pandemic benchmarks are currently low compared to the rest of the country. At the current rate of increase, however, the state is on track to catch up.”

Hammond notes that, in parts of upstate, the current numbers actually look worse than in March or April, when the pandemic was concentrated in New York City and its nearby suburbs. Cuomo has noted the same trend, too.

“It’s possible, of course, that all of these trends would be significantly worse in the absence of the micro-cluster strategy,” Hammond concludes. “So far, however, the curve has not significantly bent.”

Cuomo, in a conference call with reporters on Friday, noted the state set a new record for testing, at 205,000 and said that the positivity rate with micro-cluster zones was down to 2.6 from 2.7. The statewide rate, including micro-cluster zones, was at 2.66 percent.

Cuomo noted that, based on Johns Hopkins’ analysis, the only states with a lower rate than New York are Maine, Hawaii, and Vermont.

He said that, as chairman of the National Governors Association, he was on a call Thursday with President-elect Joe Biden. “We take action,” said Cuomo.

Cuomo conceded that infection rates in New York State are up but said they are going up more slowly “because the strategy and the rules work.”

“And will they go up?” asked Cuomo, answering himself, “Yes, but they will go up slowly and, if they go up slowly, we are fine. We have 2,000-something people in our hospitals. We had 18,000. We are roughly one ninth of where we were.”

He stressed the value of accountability in focusing on small areas with outbreaks of the disease. Restrictions are triggered early, cmo said, so that clusters are brought under control.

“There’s no ‘we,’” said Cuomo, describing the strategy.

“The micro-cluster says: you, neighborhood; you, community; you, region — small region — you decide your own destiny and, if you follow the rules, you’re fine. If you don’t follow the rules, then you’re not fine and if you’re not fine then the rules change on you but not necessarily the collective.”

He went on, “You have a collective vested interest in your local community. I think that accountability helps. I think the targeting of the restriction to locality means there's less economic disruption.”

 

Hospitalizations

On Friday, Albany County Executive Daniel Mccoy announced that, for the second time this week, the county had broken its hospitalization record — 45 county residents are hospitalized with COVID-19; 10 of them are in an intensive care unit.

The county’s hospitalization rate remains at 0.92 percent.

McCoy had noted on Wednesday that Albany County’s hospitalization rate surpassed the state’s average in October and continues to increase beyond New York’s average.

Also on Friday, Albany Medical Center outlined its plan to continue patient care in the midst of a one-day nurses’ strike.

The New York State Nurses Association has said it will strike on Tuesday, Dec. 1, beginning at 7 a.m., and continuing until Wednesday, Dec. 2, at 7 a.m.

Albany Med has been in negotiation for over two years with the NYSNA, which recently rejected a proposed contract.

The picket line is expected to stay on public property such as sidewalks outside the medical center and patients are to access the main building from the parking garage at 40 New Scotland Ave.

 

Newest numbers

As of Friday morning, Albany County has 4,843confirmed cases of COVID-19, McCoy announced in a press release.

Of the 87 new cases, 24 had close contact with someone infected with the disease, two reported out-of-state travel, 59 did not have a clear source of infection identified at this time, and two are health-care workers or residents of congregate settings.

Currently, 1,962 county residents are under quarantine, up from 1,941 on Thursday. The five-day average for new daily positives rose to 81 from 76.4. There are now 791 active cases in the county, up from 776 on Thursday.

So far, 20,181 Albany County residents have completed quarantine. Of those, 4,052 had tested positive and recovered.

Albany County’s COVID-19 death toll remains at 148.

More Regional News

  • “Data show that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected some populations and placed them at higher risk, including those who are medically underserved, racial and ethnic minority groups, and people living in rural communities,” says the CDC, which awarded the state’s health department $34 million to address inequities.

  • The state’s new rules, for indoors, “strongly encourage” but do not require masks for students or campers and staff who are not fully vaccinated. Outdoors, masks are not required although students, campers, and staff who are not fully vaccinated are “encouraged” to wear a mask in certain higher-risk circumstances. Both indoors and outdoors, students, campers, and staff who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear masks. Finally, schools and camps may choose to implement stricter standards.

  • Flexible grants of $5,000 up to $50,000 will be made available to eligible small businesses and small for-profit independent arts and cultural organizations. The grants can be used for operating expenses, including payroll, rent or mortgage payments, taxes, utilities, personal protective equipment, or other business expenses incurred during the pandemic.

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