ALBANY — State officials Friday announced new resources for victims of domestic abuse, which is on the rise as tempers fray among people stuck at home with each other through the COVID-19 crisis.
The state’s domestic violence hotline has been upgraded with a new text function and confidential online service for victims. The upgrade is important, as victims at risk of further bodily harm often are unable to speak freely without their abusers overhearing.
Calls to the hotline so far this month are up 30 percent over April 2019. State troopers are responding to 15 percent more domestic calls than a year ago.
“New Yorkers are living through an unimaginably stressful period and we’re seeing signs that domestic violence is on the rise as victims are stuck at home with their abusers and unable to access the help they need,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday.
“The reality is that abuse victims are often closely surveilled by their abuser,” said Melissa DeRosa, who is secretary to the governor and also chair of the New York State Council on Women and Girls. “In New York, no one should be at risk because they can’t find a way to make their need for help known.”
Victims can call the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-942-6906, text it at 844-997-2121 or chat online at www.opdv.ny.gov.
Soon after Cuomo gave his daily briefing at the state Capitol Friday, Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort and Sheriff Jeff Smith discussed the same problem 45 miles west, in one of their regular Facebook Live updates.
Since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in New York on March 1, the Sheriff’s Department has responded to 102 reports of domestic disputes, compared with 66 in the same 55-day period in 2019.
Other possible symptoms of discontent also are on the rise, the sheriff said: There have been 50 percent more reports of fights and 100 percent more reports of mental health problems and disorderly persons.
“Please just try to respect each other,” Smith said to the 49,000 county residents. “We assume it’s directly related to everyone being at home more and being cooped up and not having the ability to go to work or go out and do the things that they would normally do. And occasionally you throw some alcohol into that.”
Ossenfort made the same observation.
“Tempers seem to be flaring a little bit,” he said. “I think there’s a wear, a grind that’s happening to people. We need to be better human things. Let’s try to be a little patient, it’s difficult times.”
Ossenfort said some of that rancor has been directed at him and other local officials because they aren’t reopening the economy in Montgomery County, which so far has suffered relatively light impact from the pandemic: 47 residents confirmed infected, four known dead.
“I can’t open if the governor doesn’t say we can open,” he reminded people.
Also Friday, Ossenfort discussed a Cornell University study published last week that found Montgomery County to be the most vulnerable of New York’s 62 counties to illness and hospitalizations from COVID-19, based on the underlying health considerations of its residents.
Montgomery County has the state’s highest rate of cardiovascular disease, second-highest asthma rate, fourth-highest percentage of disabled residents, fifth-highest percentage of smokers and sixth-highest obesity rate, the study noted.
Not mentioned was average age, which is relatively high, Ossenfort said. “I do think our demographics play a role in why we are where we are in that list,” he said. “Frankly, I didn’t need that Cornell study to tell us we’re at risk.”
At his daily briefing Friday, Cuomo reported continued statistical evidence the pandemic is easing in New York: The number of hospitalized COVID patients declined again, as it has every day for more than a week, and number of deaths per day has fallen far below its peak earlier this month.
Still, 1,298 new COVID patients were admitted to hospitals and 422 died in the preceding 24 hours, both terribly high numbers except when compared to the same statistics two or three weeks ago.
Also, the number of COVID patients admitted each day had been declining steadily but has been roughly the same all week, which is worrisome, the governor said.
The state has projected how the infection rate and death rate will decline from here, but they are only projections, Cuomo said. In March, the state also had projections of the virus’ peak that turned out to be wildly off the mark. Those projections weren’t necessarily wrong, Cuomo said, they were based on a reality that changed when New Yorkers started staying away from each other and officials shut down schools, businesses and recreation sites.
Now, the projections of the decline of the pandemic in New York may be proved right or wrong depending on what New Yorkers do in the coming weeks, he added.
“Again, this is a remarkably effective virus at spreading and growing,” he said.
In other words, it’s not yet time to reopen New York or any of its regions, he said.
Asked if New York is one of the 16 states that Vice President Mike Pence said have submitted plans to reopen, Cuomo said no.
New York will produce a statewide plan based on lessons learned in the past two months and analysis of individual regions, he said.
- Cuomo said the state’s loss of tax revenue in the current fiscal year — previously forecast somewhere in the $10 billion to $15 billion range — is now projected to be $13.3 billion. He gave another plea for federal aid and took another swipe at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who suggested New York and other states could just declare bankruptcy rather seeking a bailout.
- Cuomo will order the state Board of Elections to mail every registered New York voter a postage-paid application for an absentee ballot, so they’ll have the option of not voting in person at polls and potentially coming in contact with an infected person.
- School districts statewide, awaiting word on when Cuomo will let them reopen, may get an answer next week. The current shutdown order expires May 15; Cuomo said he’ll decide in the next week or so whether to extend that.
- The state’s tally of the COVID death toll, which currently counts only hospital and nursing home deaths, soon will be revised to include deaths at homes or elsewhere. Cuomo said the tally will not include probable COVID-19 deaths, only confirmed cases.
- Noting that the virus probably was present in New York and California and other places in America well before it was recognized, Cuomo faulted the international efforts to track and fight the virus. COVID is now believed to have come to New York not directly from China but from China via Europe, he noted, implying that he agreed with President Donald Trump’s criticism of the World Health Organization’s early tracking. It’s imperative to find where the failure was and to fix it, he said, and imperative to assume in the future that when an outbreak happens in China it will spread quickly to the rest of the world.
- Cuomo ended with a warm moment, holding a symbol of the COVID crisis and the supply shortages that have plagued efforts to respond: an N95 mask. He read a handwritten letter from the retired Kansas farmer who’d mailed it to him, saying he had four other masks for himself and his ailing wife and asking the governor to give it to a doctor or nurse. “How beautiful is that?” Cuomo said.
In other COVID-19 related developments Friday:
- The cumulative number of confirmed infections statewide reached 271,590 and the number of deaths 16,162.
- In the Capital Region, Albany, Rensselaer and Saratoga counties each reported one new resident death and Saratoga County one new nonresident death — a Brooklyn man who had been staying with relatives in Clifton Park.
- Infection clusters at two local nursing homes continued to grow. Rensselaer County officials reported four new infections and a sixth death at Diamond Hill Nursing and Rehabilitation. Albany County said the cumulative infection total rose to 33 residents and 14 employees at Shaker Place nursing home, which the county owns and operates. A third resident death was recorded.
- Ellis Medicine in Schenectady said it tested 71 people for COVID-19 infections Friday, the second day of the community testing initiative it has begun with Schenectady County. The goal had been 45 tests. Testing is being done at rotating sites to increase community access; it will resume Monday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at William Keane Elementary School, 1252 Albany St. In the event of rain, the test site will move to Ellis’ McClellan Street Campus. No prescriptions or insurance coverage is required.
- Albany Medical Center said the number of COVID patients it has treated with experimental convalescent plasma therapy — infusion of antibody-rich plasma donated by those recovered from the virus — reached 24. The hospital said it remains cautiously optimistic as it monitors these patients’ progress.
- The New York State Canal Corp. said the state canal system will not open as scheduled on May 15, due to suspension of nonessential construction and maintenance activities. It is considering opening the canals on a limited basis for regional use, without operation of the locks.