SCHENECTADY — With a surging caseload, county Manager Rory Fluman said Schenectady County is bracing to enter the first tier of state-mandated restrictions designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“We could be in for yellow zone designation sometime in early December,” Fluman said on Tuesday.
An area is designated a yellow zone if the seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate is above 2.5 percent for 10 consecutive days.
The county’s seven-day average was 2.7 percent as of Tuesday, according to the state’s COVID dashboard.
Fifty-three county residents tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday, down slightly from the 63 the previous day.
At present, the county conducts between 80 to 90 tests daily, and tested 150 last Thursday at the SUNY Schenectady location – 50 percent more than the average high, officials said.
Interim Public Health Director Keith Brown, who appeared with Fluman at the county’s first press briefing since August, said the county will shift their testing strategy in December and will pivot to a rapid testing model that county officials believes will be more efficient in identifying and responding to community spread that may result in clusters.
Community testing will be reduced from twice weekly to once.
“We don’t anticipate the overall number of tests will go down significantly, but it will allow us to do it in a more focused way,” Brown said. “It’s about the allocation of resources and also what makes the most clinical and epidemiological sense.”
Brown urged county residents to cooperate with the contact tracing process.
“People should feel comfortable being honest,” he said. “We want people to be forthcoming with us”
Yellow zone status wouldn’t shutter businesses, but would limit indoor dining to a maximum of four people per table, and gatherings to 25.
The capacity limit for houses of workshop would remain unchanged at 50 percent.
Yellow zone rules do not require school closures, but require them to conduct more testing.
Under the designation, schools must test 20 percent of students and staff within two weeks of the designation. If the positive rate is lower than the seven-day average, additional testing is not required. If not, the district must continue to test 20 percent of the population every two weeks.
“We believe based on data, schools can and should stay open,” Brown said.
The county recently did prohibit visitors to the county-run Glendale Home after a visiting dental worker who tested positive came in contact with eight residents. No residents of the home were positive on Tuesday.
Those eight residents will be tested three times, he said.
Albany County reported 101 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, putting the seven-day rolling average at over 3 percent for the third consecutive day as of Sunday, metrics that are also bringing the county close to the 10-day time frame for yellow zone status.
Just 22 of those could be traced back to a source, county Executive Dan McCoy said on Tuesday.
“I’m asking everyone to remain vigilant and do everything you can to stop the spread of the virus from spiraling out of control,” McCoy said. “This is the only way we will be able to prevent businesses from being shut down again and schools reverting back to remote learning.”
Saratoga County reported 37 new positive cases on Tuesday, bringing the seven-day rolling average to 2.2 percent.
As New Yorkers prepare for Thanksgiving, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday also continued to reiterate that the onset of the holiday season will likely bring a steady increase in infections, hospitalizations and deaths if current trends continue.
The state could see positive tests reach 12.46 percent in the coming weeks if residents aren’t cautious with their holiday gatherings, he said.
That’s based on experts predicting an infection rate of 20 percent above the current rate of increase during the holiday season.
Hospitalizations could top 6,000.
“It’s a pure function of what people do,” Cuomo said.
Forty-seven people died of COVID in the state on Monday, the highest number since mid-June.
Cuomo pleaded with New Yorkers to limit their gatherings, and said he downsized his own Thanksgiving plans, disappointing his 89-year-old mother and bringing one of his daughters to tears.
“It’s not a normal holiday season,” Cuomo said. “This Thanksgiving is more profound and special than most Thanksgivings.”
Both Cuomo and Brown said it’s too late to receive an accurate test before Thanksgiving due to the two-week incubation period of the virus, which means people can initially test negative due to low virus levels that are undetected.
Cuomo, who briefly donned a “Don’t be a turkey” face mask during his two press briefings on Tuesday, said New Yorkers should observe the holidays by remembering the front line workers who lost their lives during the pandemic.
“New York set the standard for the nation for how people respond,” Cuomo said.