Lewis to act an ambassador to the Black community, getting residents involved

ALBANY COUNTY — On the day before Thanksgiving, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy alternately scolded and pleaded with residents to protect themselves and each other from COVID-19.
He also introduced Dion Lewis, an Albany native who played 10 seasons in the National Football League, as the county’s Community Health and Wellness Development coordinator, a new position created by the legislature.

His job will be to act as an ambassador to the Black community, getting residents involved in county programs.

“He never forgot where he came from,” said McCoy who, like Lewis, was raised in Albany’s South End. McCoy praised Lewis for “coming back and taking care of people.”

McCoy said that, as the county coped with the coronavirus, he learned that some people are skeptical of government.

“We need trust,” he said, asking, “Who is more credible than Dion Lewis?”

Last year, Lewis had served as a spokesman for an Albany County program to help youth stay safe in the midst of the pandemic.

“We have to change the face of government,” McCoy said.

The Black community, he said, still has low vaccination rates and other health issues like diabetes and cardiac problems.

As an athlete, Lewis understands the importance of exercise and nutrition, McCoy said. The county, he said, is seeking “true health equity” for its residents.

“I’m nobody special …. I just happened to get a little lucky,” said Lewis, who is 31 and retired from his football career.

Lewis said he was “raised by great parents in a great city” and was schooled at Albany High and Albany Academy.

He went on to graduate from the University of Pittsburgh and was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010. He then played for the New England Patriots, winning Super Bowl LI in 2017. He also played for the Tennessee Titans and the New York Giants.

Lewis spoke on Wednesday about how a lot of the gun violence in Albany is from young kids. His goal, he said, is to give them hope.

“If I can do it, anybody can do it,” said Lewis of succeeding in life.

Everybody gets caught up in bad things, Lewis said, but the important part is to learn from it, not to repeat the mistakes.

Lewis said he’s been working with kids on probation and has this advice, “Believe in yourself.”


Vigilance urged

“People think now they’ve got an ‘S’ on their chest,” said McCoy near the start of Wednesday’s press briefing.

He bemoaned going into stores and seeing no one wearing a mask.

Albany County has for months had a “high” rate of COVID-19 transmission, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which means that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, should wear a mask indoors in public.

“Everyone’s done with COVID … but there’s still people dying,” said McCoy.

He announced the death, on Tuesday, of a man in his sixties, bringing the county’s death toll from the virus to 440.

McCoy used many of the statements he had used during his once-daily press briefings on the virus: “This is a marathon not a sprint” and “We can’t stick our heads in the sand” and “Be part of the solution, not part of the problem,” and “We need to work together.”

McCoy also gave figures from a year ago — Oct. 24 to Nov. 24 — before the first vaccine was authorized, that showed better numbers in Albany County than the same time period this year.

Last year, in that time period, there were 1,756 new COVID infections, 113 new hospitalizations, and eight new COVID deaths.

This year, Albany County had 2,764 new infections, 136 new hospitalizations, and 19 new COVID deaths — a difference of more than 1,000 infections, and more than two times the number of deaths, year over year.

McCoy predicted that infection rates will increase after Thanksgiving where many people gather indoors. “It’s alarming,” he said.

In a Thanksgiving address on Wednesday, Governor Kathy Hochul had this advice: “Limit gatherings to only vaccinated family and loved ones. If you can, get tested prior to seeing anyone who is at high risk. If the weather permits, open the windows and doors. Think about ventilation. If you feel sick, stay home. Wear a mask when in public indoor places.

“And if you’re already vaccinated and got the booster,” Hocul went on, “I have one more request for you: I want you to think about the person in your life who isn’t vaccinated yet. Reach out to them. Tell them why you chose to get the vaccine and encourage them to do so, too. Tell them not to wait. Don’t put it off.”

McCoy bemoaned the mental-health problems exacerbated by the pandemic and how badly the solation affected people with addictions.

“We all need to do our job …. We can’t wish it away,” said McCoy.

He noted the high rates of infection in upstate New York — Western New York is the highest at 9.88 percent, as of Tuesday, as a seven-day average, according to a Wednesday release from the governor’s office. The Finger Lakes are next worse at 8.56 percent.

The Capital Region, of which Albany County is a part, has an infection rate of 7.04 percent. Albany county itself is at 5.0 percent, according to the state’s tracker.

In noting the 5-percent figure, McCoy recalled how last year, the county required a rate lower than 4 percent to allow team sports.

In May 2020, the World Health Organization advised governments that, before reopening, rates of positivity in testing — out of all tests conducted, how many came back positive for COVID-19 — should remain at 5 percent or lower for at least 14 days.

McCoy noted that, among the eight countries in the Capital Region, Washington County has the highest infection rate at over 12 percent.

Rather than having individual counties put in restrictions, as iS happening in Western New York, McCoy said, “I would prefer the governor to act rather than Albany County act alone.”

Hochul, in her Thanksgiving address on Wednesday, said that, over the weekend, she held calls with county executives in every region of the state.

“I let them know that the state will provide any resources and support they need to combat this deadly virus,” she said. “I want to thank local officials, like Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who are taking strong actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their community. That’s the kind of leadership we need to see.

McCoy said he did not want to do what New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio did, issuing a mask mandate and requiring patrons of restaurants and other indoor venues to show a card verifying their vaccination status in order to enter.

McCoy did issue a directive that people in county buildings must be asked.

Workers who weren’t vaccinated wanted to take their masks off and get everyone sick, he said. “So I had to punish everyone.”

McCoy also said that testing has become an issue. The out-of-pocket cost for a PCR test is $125, he said. A polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test is more accurate than the faster antigen test since a PCR test detects genetic material from the virus.

McCoy described encountering an angry father who spent $375 — for three tests — to get his child back in school after a required quarantine. He suggested a partnership with the state to get free testing clinics set up again.

As of Tuesday, 75.0 percent of Albany County residents have received at least the first dose of vaccine, and 67.5 percent have been fully vaccinated. The first-dose vaccination rate for the county’s adult population is now up to 84.6 percent.

Statewide, 77.3 percent of New Yorkers have received at least one shot and 90.2 percent of those 18 and older have.

McCoy announced 115 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the five-day average of new daily positive cases down to 104.2. 

There are now 611 active cases in the county, up from 604 on Tuesday. The number of county residents under mandatory quarantine increased to 1,116 from 1,069.

There were eight new hospitalizations since yesterday, and there are a total of 41 county residents currently hospitalized with the coronavirus; four of those hospital patients are in intensive-care units.

More Regional News

  • “This is an opportunity in this post-pandemic world to let people know, get the skills, go into apprenticeship programs, get trained,” said Governor Kathy Hochul, speaking from the county’s airport on Monday enroute to the White House for the signing of the infrastructure bill. “There’s jobs waiting for you to help rebuild this great state after we were knocked down so far.”

  • Albany County suffered three COVID deaths this week: a man in his seventies died on Thursday, a man in his sixties died on Friday, and a woman in her nineties died on Saturday. Albany County’s COVID-19 death toll now stands at 439.

  • “We enter Thanksgiving week and yes, as Americans, we are thankful. We’re thankful to live in this great country and to live in this state. But with that gratitude comes a sense of responsibility to others….,” said Governor Kathy Hochul as she signed a bill on Saturday making the Nourish New York program permanent. “This war against poverty is going to continue until no child goes to bed in the State of New York with a hungry stomach, never again in our state.”

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