Complex COVID ‘micro-cluster’ calculations so far exclude Capital Region

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ALBANY — The state’s “micro-cluster” strategy to slow the spread of COVID-19 began in early October with six designated zones of concern, all in and around New York City.

As of Thursday, there were 29 such zones from Brooklyn to Buffalo.

The majority of these zones are still in and around New York City; the closest to the Capital Region are in Newburgh and Syracuse. Officials in four counties in the greater Capital Region — Albany, Montgomery, Schenectady and Schoharie — have said recently they fear their counties are sliding toward yellow zone status, and the restrictions on public life that they entail.

The three color codes — yellow, orange and red — are assigned based on the number of residents and percentage of positive COVID tests in a Census tract or ZIP code. None of the 29 current zones includes an entire county.

So a restaurant in one town might be limited to takeout and delivery while a nearby restaurant in a neighboring town might still be able to host sit-down dining.

On an 11-mile stretch of the Genesee Turnpike, for example, there’s Syracuse (orange zone), Fayetteville (yellow zone) and Chittenango (clear).

Further complicating the calculations, the trigger points differ based on population.

And Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday the state is going to add more factors to the micro-cluster calculations for the winter.

So those interested in knowing where their community stands would best be served in the coming weeks by checking the state website or their favorite media outlet to see if a zone has been designated near where they live, work or shop.

The fundamental stumbling block for the general public in trying to predict these zones is that while the state apparently knows the test results in each ZIP code and Census tract, it is publicizing only the statewide and county-level results, which isn’t what it uses to designate micro-clusters.

Some municipalities, including Albany and Schenectady counties, maintain an online rolling database where the public can see cumulative positive tests in each ZIP code within their borders, but that’s not enough — the state is using more and different data to designate zones.

Here is the summary offered by Cuomo’s office of how the state designates the zones:

ALL AREAS

All of the following must be present for any color zone designation anywhere in the state:

  • Minimum 5 new COVID cases per day on a 7-day average for geographic areas with 10,000 or more residents, or 3 new cases for areas with fewer than 10,000 residents.
  • Clear evidence of community spread rather than a single large cluster.
  • State Department of Health review and determination that a zone designation is appropriate.

TIER 1 AREAS

Tier 1 areas are located within a county of 900,000 or more residents or within a city of 90,000 or more. In the Capital Region, this is only the city of Albany.

  • All colors: 10 or more new daily cases per 100,000 residents on a 7-day average.
  • Yellow: 7-day rolling positive test average above 2.5% for 10 days.
  • Orange: Above 3%.
  • Red: Above 4%.

TIER 2 AREAS

Tier 2 areas are located within a county of 150,000 or more residents (but not in Tier 1). In the Capital Region, these are Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Schenectady counties.

  • All colors: 12 or more new daily cases per 100,000 residents on a 7-day average.
  • Yellow: 7-day rolling positive test average above 3% for 10 days.
  • Orange: Above 4%.
  • Red: Above 5%.

TIER 3 AREAS

Tier 3 areas are located within a county of 50,000 or more residents (but not in Tier 1 or Tier 2). In the greater Capital Region, these include Columbia, Fulton, Warren and Washington counties.

  • All colors: 15 or more new daily cases per 100,000 residents on a 7-day average.
  • Yellow: 7-day rolling positive test average above 3.5% for 10 days.
  • Orange: Above 4.5%.
  • Red: Above 5.5%.

TIER 4 AREAS

Tier 4 areas are located within a county of fewer than 50,000 residents. In the greater Capital Region, these include Greene, Montgomery and Schoharie counties.

  • All colors: 15 or more new daily cases per 100,000 residents on a 7-day average.
  • Yellow: 7-day rolling positive test average above 4% for 10 days.
  • Orange: Above 5%.
  • Red: Above 6%.

COUNTY CONCERNS

Each color code brings a tighter set of restrictions on public gatherings, private gatherings, business operation, restaurant dining and public school operation. (Places of worship also have been limited; it was unclear Thursday if a U.S. Supreme Court ruling late Wednesday would alter that.)

Red zones, of which there were none in the state as of Thursday, approach full lockdown, with schools and nonessential businesses ordered to close and public and private gatherings of any size banned.

Local leaders want to avoid any color designation — because of the suffering they connote, obviously, but also because of the disruption to everyday public life.

Albany, Montgomery, Schenectady and Schoharie county leaders have separately voiced concern in late November that rising infection rates may mean a local yellow zone.

Of the four, Albany County has the lowest threshold (3%) but it has been running at a 3.0% rolling positive test average for five days, so it was halfway to a potential yellow as of Thursday. A single day below 3.0% would reset the 10-day countdown.

Montgomery County is dealing with wide community spread from numerous sources and has the region’s highest rolling test average, though it also has the highest threshold to cross to enter yellow. County Executive Matt Ossenfort told The Daily Gazette on Wednesday that county leaders are preparing for a yellow zone status as the county’s metrics continue to trend in the wrong direction.

Schenectady County also has an ongoing problem with community spread, though not severe enough that it has started the clock ticking on a 10-day stretch of too-high test results.

Schoharie County officials were concerned that the positive rate would jump when SUNY-Cobleskill students — who had been testing negative in great number, bringing the countywide average down — left campus at the end of the semester last weekend. As of Thursday, the county seven-day rolling average was 2.5%, still below the statewide average (3.0%) and lower than the Mohawk Valley region (3.3%), of which it is part.

Categories: -The Daily Gazette, News

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