ALBANY — The rate of new COVID infections is holding steady and the number of COVID patients hospitalized continues to drop statewide.
“It is a very good day from a COVID point of view,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday during a conference call with reporters.
Some 586 people were hospitalized with the virus as of Wednesday, 13 died, and only 777 positive tests results were recorded as 73,546 people were tested for infection by the virus. The figures are vastly lower than those recorded during the peak of the pandemic in New York, in April.
With much of the state economy reopened at least partially, Cuomo addressed the continuing lockdown placed on certain industries, such as casinos.
A reporter noted that local governments rely on the tax revenue that casinos generate, and asked the governor why he hasn’t allowed them to reopen.
“It’s an issue of density, the likelihood of compliance [with restrictions] and the essential nature of the business,” Cuomo replied, revisiting the calculus the state used back in April and May to determine which businesses would reopen first: The more vital and less risky an industry sector was judged to be, the sooner it could reopen.
Big-box retail stores and casinos both bring a lot of people into a confined space, but retail stores are essential to life.
“You don’t need a casino to maintain survival,” Cuomo said.
CAPITAL REGION CASINOS
In the Capital Region, Rivers Casino & Resort and Saratoga Casino Hotel have laid off more than 1,400 employees as they await permission to reopen.
Rivers and Saratoga paid $58 million and $48 million in taxes respectively in the fiscal year ending March 31; much of that went to the state, but some went to local cities and counties. The city and county of Schenectady, for example, got $2.9 million each from Rivers and seven nearby counties split $5.8 million.
Management of both casinos have prepared detailed plans to reopen safely, and both summarized them for The Daily Gazette on Thursday.
Saratoga Casino Hotel said via email:
“Our ‘Safe Bet’ plan focuses on preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus through heightening our standards in cleanliness and sanitation; improvements to our HVAC system through the installation of the MERV 13 air filters; enforcing social distancing with floor guides, plexiglass barriers and taking every other machine out of service; requiring masks at all times while on property except when seated in a restaurant; and conducting temperature checks and asking screening questions upon entry. We are also prepared to provide contact tracing through the use of ID scanners if required by the state.
“We feel our plan is very comprehensive and also includes consistent communication reminders throughout the property outlining team member and guest expectations to ensure a safe entertainment experience for everyone.”
Rivers said it would meet or exceed all COVID-19 protocols while operating at a reduced capacity with mandatory social distancing. It provided a list of steps it would take that is too long to be included here; highlights include:
- All 1,150 slot machines and nearly every inch of the facility will be sanitized before reopening.
- The casino, normally open around the clock, would close for daily deep cleaning above and beyond the continual sanitizing performed throughout the day while the casino is in operation.
- Continuous air and surface disinfectant systems have been installed and numerous additional sanitary measures are in place.
- Slot machine seating has been limited and plexiglass barriers installed.
- Table games will be limited to three players at a time.
- Guests would have their temperature taken before entering and be required to cover their faces until they leave.
- Employees would be trained on hygiene practices and on recognizing signs/symptoms of COVID-19.
- Valet parking would not be offered, the event center would be closed and entertainment and dining would be restricted.
Rivers also noted that state casino regulatory personnel are on site at all times, so any departure from protocol would be noticed immediately.
The shuttered casinos in upstate New York are essentially an island in an industry that has returned to operation in nearby states. Indian-run casinos have reopened in central New York and Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey have allowed their casinos to reopen, and the corporate sister casinos of Rivers are back in business in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Non-Indian casinos in New York state are regulated by the state Gaming Commission. Asked for comment for this story, the commission deferred to the governor’s office.
Freeman Klopott, a spokesman for the state Division of the Budget, issued a prepared statement:
“New York state has been following the data and latest science on the virus to re-open the economy safely and we are doing the same when it comes to casinos. Casinos remain closed along with similar activities across the state as they invite social gatherings with customers in proximity to each other while eating and drinking, activities that don’t allow for consistent mask-wearing. Nationwide, states are delaying re-opening plans and rolling them back as COVID cases spike. We’ve already seen casinos in California, Arizona and Miami re-open and then close due to COVID. In New York, we will continue to track the data, the science and activity at casinos around the country, and will make a decision on re-opening them here when health experts determine it is safe to do so.”
In other COVID-19 related developments Thursday:
- Cuomo announced $30 million in funding for counties to boost their contact tracing staff and to prepare for the flu season. The reasoning is that an aggressive stance against the flu will reduce the likelihood of simultaneous public health threats in autumn, COVID and influenza. Grants in the Capital Region range from $830,466 for Albany County to $202,114 for Schoharie County.
- Rensselaer County found itself with another infection cluster at an elder-care facility: 26 staff and residents have tested positive in two days at the Troy Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing. This follows a combined 92 infections and 18 deaths reported for residents at two facilities in Schaghticoke and Castleton, plus additional staff infections there.
- Saratoga County’s Public Health Department is the latest entity to warn of the risk the virus poses to younger people, and of the greater number of infections being reported in that age demographic. For July, 41 percent of positive test results in Saratoga County have been in the 21-39 age group. Cuomo made the same point Thursday, noting that the phenomenon seen in New York is being seen in the rest of the nation as well.
- Cuomo announced $6.9 million in incentives for 12 New York companies to start producing COVID-19 related equipment and supplies for in-state needs. These include three in the Mohawk Valley region: Environmental Composites, Utica, $772,259; Genesis Disposables of Frankfort, $135,000; and HPK Industries, Utica, $1 million.
- State Sen. James Tedisco, R-Glenville, reported that he has gained support of a majority-party Assembly member for his proposal to hold a nonpartisan investigation with bipartisan oversight into the cause of the large number of COVID-19 deaths in New York nursing homes. Assemblyman Ron Kim, a Queens Democrat whose borough has been among the most severely impacted places during the pandemic, has supported other accountability measures as the crisis eased.