ALBANY — New York ends the second full month of its battle against COVID-19 with more than 300,000 New Yorkers confirmed infected and more than 18,000 dead from the virus, but with key measuring points continuing to show the pandemic ebbing.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo listed signs for optimism and grounds for caution during his daily briefing Wednesday, and laid the groundwork for a restart of the economy that will come nowhere near a return to where the New York that existed March 1, when the first COVID case was confirmed in the state.
“We can’t go back to where we were, where we overwhelmed the hospital system,” Cuomo said, explaining the need to move cautiously based on data rather than emotion.
The data Wednesday were mostly good: The number of new COVID hospitalizations each day is far below the peak in early April though still nearly 1,000. The daily death toll has similarly declined, even as the list gained 330 new names Tuesday.
Total numbers of hospitalizations have been on a downward slope for the last 16 days now.
Cuomo took one small step toward normalcy Wednesday, issuing an executive order allowing resumption of elective surgeries, which had been halted to conserve hospital space and resources.
But the list of locations and circumstances under which such procedures still cannot be performed is quite extensive. In the greater Capital Region, elective surgery cannot even be considered in Albany, Columbia, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Schenectady and Warren counties.
Infections and deaths among residents at nursing homes and adult care facilities — and the lack of information about them — remain an issue without an immediate solution. A state Department of Health online tally of elder-care deaths by county and by facility is far out of date; meanwhile many counties and most facilities refuse to publicly report infections and deaths.
Also, widespread complaints by residents’ families indicate some facilities are not complying with orders to notify relatives of infections at their loved ones’ facilities.
Cuomo continues to assert that nursing homes are private facilities that have to deal with the problem themselves or hand off their residents to some other facility — even as his economic shutdown puts over 1 million New Yorkers out of work and he spends billions of dollars to fight a virus that he acknowledges heavily targets the elderly.
In the Capital Region, multiple COVID deaths have been reported recently at Shaker Place in Colonie and Ingersoll Place in Niskayuna. On Wednesday, Rensselaer County officials said an 11th resident had died of COVID at Diamond Hill in Schaghticoke and Warren County officials said a fifth nursing home resident there had died.
Asked by a reporter Wednesday whether the state would set up overflow facilities for COVID-positive residents that nursing homes cannot care for, Cuomo said it already has, but the nursing homes must set in motion the transfer process.
Asked by a reporter about a state policy allowing COVID-positive nursing home staffers to care for COVID-positive residents, Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said these staffers must be equipped with personal protective equipment. He did not know how many of these asymptomatic COVID-positive staffers are currently working across the state, but said the state is gathering that data.
Another Capital Region County launched an online COVID-19 dashboard Wednesday. Saratoga County’s new database offers details on the pandemic’s cumulative impact there, including hospitalization rates, deaths, quarantines and town of residence of infected persons.
The towns of Day, Edinburg and Hadley and the villages of Corinth, Galway, Stillwater and Victory are the holdouts, each with zero confirmed cases. The highest incidence, not surprisingly, is in the more heavily populated places — Clifton Park (72 cases), Halfmoon (49) and Saratoga Springs (39).
Also this week, Schenectady County launched an online map showing positive cases and quarantines by ZIP code.
As of Wednesday, the cumulative count of positive cases was highest in Schenectady, Niskayuna and Rotterdam: 92 in ZIP 12304, 79 in ZIP 12309, 57 in ZIP 12306, 52 in ZIP 12303 and 50 in ZIP 12308.
Schenectady, Glenville and Rotterdam ZIP codes had the most quarantines: 136 in ZIP 12304, 127 in ZIP 12308, 124 in ZIP 12302, 122 in ZIP 12303 and 112 in ZIP 12306.
The number of quarantines and infections drops off sharply in ZIP codes farther from the city and its inner suburbs. In Duanesburg, for example, ZIP code 12053 is home to just a single infected person and 12066 has zero known cases.
As with nursing home deaths and infections, the amount of data provided and the frequency of updates varies considerably by county, with some being placing priority on the privacy of those infected, others going further to inform the public of the situation in greater detail.
Albany County, the region’s largest municipal entity at 305,000 people, was among the first to mount a public information campaign when COVID-19 reached the region and now maintains one of the most detailed online dashboards.
It also has had the most known infections, hospitalizations and death of any county in the greater Capital Region.
It surpassed 1,000 confirmed cases this week.
Thirty-nine of its residents have died of the virus, including three on Tuesday, and additional non-residents have died within county borders, including a Saratoga County resident Tuesday.
In other COVID-19 related developments Wednesday:
- A reporter managed to elicit a smile and a chuckle from Cuomo by asking him about the hashtag #ExtendTheLockdown, which was trending on Twitter. “Last week your question was, we had the protest outside, people wanted to go to work, and I was oppressing people by keeping them in lockdown. This week we have people protesting because they don’t want to work.” Serious again, he said both sides are speaking on emotion but neither would way him — he’d act on facts.
- Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan warned that another protest against Cuomo’s societal shutdown is planned outside the Capitol on Friday, without a city permit. She warned motorists to steer clear of the congestion and urged workers and residents to avoid the area, as mass gatherings are a health threat.
- The state Department of Labor said missing or incorrect Federal Employer Identification Numbers are a primary reason why applications for unemployment insurance are being stalled at the state level. It ordered more than 320,000 businesses statewide to provide the data to all employees.
- The few passengers flying in and out of Albany International Airport must now wear masks or face covering in the airport or at Million Air, the airport’s fixed based operator. Some of the airlines serving the airport are imposing similar requirements on their planes: JetBlue starting May 4 and Frontier starting May 7. Also, Frontier will start checking passengers’ temperatures before allowing them to board starting May 7.
- The Morris J. Edwards American Legion Post 168, marking its 100th anniversary this year, canceled its Memorial Day Parade in St. Johnsville.
- The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office and the United Way of Montgomery County said it will hold a drive-through food pantry at the Fonda Fairgrounds on Friday, May 8. The event will start at 11 a.m. and continue while supplies last. The event is drive-through only and face coverings are mandatory.