ALBANY — As coronavirus ravages the country, New York is not out of the woods, and warning signs are emerging ahead of the holiday weekend.
Albany County reported 14 new cases on Thursday, the largest single-day spike since June 4, when 18 new positive infections were reported.
Officials warned against reading too much into a one-day snapshot, but indicated concern, particularly as cases surge nationwide and as a stir-crazy public prepares for a three-day holiday weekend.
“Even though today may be a blip, 14 cases is a big concern,” said Albany County Public Health Commissioner Dr. Elizabeth Whalen. “This is not the direction we want to be going in. This is a direction that can take us backwards.”
Albany County Executive Dan McCoy said he was “baffled” at people who continue to refuse to wear masks.
Those declining to don face coverings and practice social distancing may jeopardize the launch of low-risk sports, including baseball and cross country, on July 6, he said.
“This could be a setback,” McCoy said. “It’s up to you, everyone out there, how you want to do this.”
Large demonstrations protesting the death of George Floyd and other Black people at the hands of police have not been driving the increase, Whalen said, primarily because attendees are overwhelmingly wearing masks.
“We have not seen spikes related to the protests,” Whalen said. “Where we see spikes is where people gather together, do not distance themselves and are not wearing masks … We are seeing spikes from people on beaches and public places that are gathering together.”
Albany County also announced on Thursday the temporary closure of two restaurants after employees tested positive for the virus.
Three employees tested positive at Philly Bar and Lounge in Latham — two from Albany County, one from Rensselaer County — as did three staffers at Delmonico’s on Central Avenue in Colonie, including two from Schenectady County and one who lives in Albany County.
The state Department of Health will hold onsite testing for employees at both locations Friday and the restaurants will remain closed until all test results come back, officials said.
Schenectady County reported 11 new positive cases on Thursday, the biggest one-day increase since May 19, when the county logged 19 new cases (although the county reported 10 each on June 14 and June 21).
Saratoga County, too, is seeing a modest uptick in positive cases.
The county had 14 active cases last Friday, a number that grew to 24 positive diagnoses by Thursday afternoon, according to its online dashboard.
As travelers flock to Saratoga Springs, officials say they’re monitoring the situation.
“Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve been aggressive in closely watching trends and advising residents on how to stay safe,” said Saratoga County Health Director Catherine Duncan. “When we saw spikes around Memorial Day or after weekends with good weather, we reinforced the need to wear masks, cautioned residents about large gatherings and provided tips for mitigating the spread.”
Despite the red flags, the number of positive diagnoses statewide remains low, with the seven-day rolling average of new infections 1 percent as of Wednesday, the most recent day for which data is available.
In Albany County, the number is 0.9 percent; Fulton, 1.2 percent; Montgomery, 0.6 percent, Saratoga, 0.4 percent; Schenectady, 1.3 percent, Schoharie, 1.1 percent, and Warren, 0.1 percent.
Hospitalizations statewide also remained at low levels, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Thursday.
“It is imperative going into this holiday weekend that all New Yorkers remain vigilant and follow state guidance, and local governments must enforce the precautionary measures the state has put in place to keep this virus under control,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo also on Thursday announced state outdoor pools, including the facility at Saratoga Spa State Park, will open for swimming for the July 4 weekend.
Staff and state police will aid with enforcing social distancing and capacity guidelines.
As cases mount nationwide, the governor issued an order last week requiring travelers coming from hotspots to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Those states include Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.
Saratoga County has asked hotels, motels, campgrounds and other lodging to send public health officials referral information so they “can contact, assess, provide education and actively monitor these visitors.”
“With additional travel restrictions in place and many people traveling in and out of the county, we’ll continue to assess COVID-19’s impact on our community each day and respond accordingly,” Duncan said.
Warren County is continuing to work with state, federal and Albany International Airport officials to monitor possible exposure to county residents after three Warren County residents tested positive after returning from Florida.
As of Thursday afternoon, no county residents other than the three individuals had been found to have been on the flights, officials said.
“Residents of other counties who were on these flights are being contacted as they are identified,” Warren County wrote on Facebook.
Contract tracing is also underway in Albany County, which will also track down passengers flying into the county from states on the quarantine list.
Tracers use lists provided by the state Department of Health, and are also asking people to self-report, Whalen said.
“We have not as this point discussed reaching out to hotels but we’d certainly be willing to hear from any hotels that have concerns about that,” Whalen said.
Nationwide, the U.S. reached a dark milestone on Wednesday when the number of new single-day infections crept past 50,000 for the first time, setting a new record.
Cuomo has repeatedly said it’s up to local governments to enforce the precautionary measures.
But on Wednesday, appearing frustrated at reports of large crowds gathering in New York City and what he acknowledged was “slipping compliance,” he announced the state will create its own enforcement capacity to supplement local enforcement efforts. He provided few additional details.
McCoy stopped short when asked by a reporter on Thursday if he would request additional state resources, but he said the county investigates all complaints submitted through the state website.
Proactive enforcement is simply not possible, he said, a viewpoint echoed by other county officials.
“To have the resources to go out there and do this to every restaurant in Albany County is nearly impossible, so we need the consumers and workers to help us with the complaints,” McCoy said.
Testing is now available to all New Yorkers. To find a location, visit https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/find-test-site-near-you.