SCHENECTADY — There’s no single source of the COVID infections piling up in Schenectady County, no cluster that can easily be attacked.
Instead, county officials say, it’s dozens of small-scale personal interactions every day that are spreading the virus.
The county reported 63 new confirmed infections Monday, pushing the positive test rate here above 3 percent for the first time since May, after running at 0.5 percent or even lower for much of October.
Schenectady County in this respect essentially mirrors the state as a whole, which surpassed 3 percent positive Monday (and three other times this month) after staying below 3 percent since May.
Schenectady County lost its 57th resident to COVID over the weekend and its only hospital now has 24 COVID-positive inpatients after dipping to zero in August.
Since the pandemic reached New York in March, 143,548 COVID tests have been administered in the county of 155,000 residents and contact tracers have made countless calls trying to figure out where 2,136 county residents got infected, and who in turn they might have infected.
“I wish I had a much more complicated take on this, except that it’s the same thing everyplace else is seeing,” said Keith Brown, Schenectady County’s interim director of public health.
“There’s no anomaly there. It’s just what the numbers have been indicating, and what we’ve been warning about: At this point, this is community spread.”
COVID would be easier to deal with, he said, if the source of most of the infections was a single big cause-and-effect cluster like the infamous Albany Fourth of Julyblock party, or SUNY-Oneonta, or the Greene Correctional Facility, or any number of nursing homes.
Instead, it’s dozens of little ones that are more labor intensive to track.
“They’re quite literally small clusters,” Brown said. “Which on the one hand is frustrating but on the other hand is good — we’re doing a good job preventing larger clusters.”
He said county residents need to take better infection prevention precautions until a vaccine becomes widely available.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo took to the airwaves Monday to make the same point. The next six weeks, through Jan. 1, are the most social time of the year and comes at a point when the pandemic has regained momentum in a populace tired of dealing with it.
“This is a toxic cocktail of dynamics and facts,” he said, describing a situation in danger of slipping out of control.
The trend of the past three weeks indicates 6,000 New Yorkers will be hospitalized at the end of the next three weeks, he said, but that’s not accounting for all the family Thanksgiving dinners and get-togethers to be held later this week in violation of precautionary guidelines.
“How do you forget all the pain we went through? … we were storing bodies in refrigerator trucks … the emergency rooms and hospitals were like battle zones,” Cuomo said.
“How does that not chasten us and frighten us?”
He said Staten Island hospitals are nearing saturation point and the state would activate an emergency temporary facility there.
If nothing else, fewer people will be going home for the holiday through public transport:
Albany International Airport has been running around 25 percent of last year’s passenger volume lately and anywhere from 20 to 35 percent in the last five days before Thanksgiving 2020. Amtrak is down to about 20 percent of last year’s travel volume and is still declining after the CDC’s recommendation that Americans not travel for Thanksgiving. Greyhound doesn’t share specifics but said it has reduced its bus runs during the pandemic; passenger volume is higher as Thanksgiving nears than earlier this year but not as high as in 2019.
A reporter asked Cuomo about a number of upstate sheriffs saying they won’t enforce Cuomo’s ban on in-home gatherings of more than 10 people.
Cuomo replied that sheriffs have no right to pick and choose what laws they enforce.
“That’s not a law enforcement officer, that’s a dictator,” he said. “And I think it’s a dangerous precedent. The upstate sheriffs, what they’re doing is they’re being political.”
Locally, sheriffs in Fulton, Montgomery, Saratoga and Schenectady counties have made various statements in this direction, though some have clarified that they would not be actively seeking such gatherings, rather than offer a blanket refusal to do any enforcement.
The New York State Sheriff’s Association said in a news release Monday that with his directive Cuomo has foisted on local law enforcement agencies an impossible task that he has exempted his own state police from having to perform.