SCHENECTADY — On the day when New York’s COVID death toll surpassed 40,000, a memorial ceremony honored the first victim in the Capital Region and the more than 1,000 who’ve subsequently passed because of the virus.
Niskayuna resident Walter Robb died a year ago Tuesday, early the morning of March 23, 2020, at Ellis Hospital.
The philanthropist, activist, entrepreneur and retired GE executive had been as active and involved as ever in his various interests even in his 90s. His death was noted in local and national media but his life could not be celebrated publicly amid the growing pandemic.
As of Tuesday morning, 1,090 residents of the eight-county Capital Region had died of COVID since Robb passed, and the official statewide death roll stood at 40,023.
The United Way of the Greater Capital Region organized Tuesday evening’s vigil at Congregation Gates of Heaven and presented a mural by local artist Rachel Baxter — “Still Life, With Gratitude” — that will serve as a tribute to the lives lost.
Peter Gannon, CEO of the local United Way organization, said “COVID has had each of us in some level of crisis,” noting the social isolation it has imposed. “For others the loss and the trauma was much much more severe.”
Rabbi Matthew Cutler said Robb was a neighbor of his and a giant in his community.
The level of commitment and involvement that Robb showed is going to be needed on a wider scale as the pandemic ends, Cutler said.
“May his memory be a blessing as we go forth,” he added.
Todd Alhart, spokesman for the GE Research headquarters in Niskayuna, said Robb retired but never fully left the operation he once led.
After his death, Alhart said, “I believed strongly that Walt would have the last word on this terrible virus.”
As former head of GE Research and what is now GE Healthcare, Robb oversaw development of some of the technology being used decades later against COVID, Alhart noted.
“Walt is having the last word, and lives are being saved every day.”
Robb’s son Richard touched on his late father’s efforts to improve his community.
“Let’s all find a way to improve the lives of those around us coming out of this tragic time,” he said. “Honor those you have lost with helping in some way in making our world complete again.”
Meanwhile Tuesday, progress with the metrics of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York continued to be stalled — much lower than early January, but little better or slightly worse than late February.
Since March 1, the seven-day average positive test rate has fluctuated from 3.0% to 3.3% statewide; fluctuated from 1.8% to 2.0% in the Capital Region; and risen from 1.5% to 1.9% in the Mohawk Valley.
At the county level, positive tests in Fulton, Montgomery and Saratoga counties are trending higher over the past week.
The number of COVID patients hospitalized is slightly lower now than two weeks ago statewide, slightly higher in the Capital Region.
Albany Medical Center has seen a halt over the past week to the long, steady decline in its patient census, while Ellis Hospital has seen an increase in COVID admissions over the past week.
This halt in progress comes even as the COVID vaccine is being administered to New Yorkers at a rate of more than 100,000 doses per day — as of mid-Tuesday, 5.29 million people statewide have received at least one dose of vaccine and 2.76 million have received the complete series.
Ellis Medicine Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Liebers said in a video message that an increase of infections in late March had been predicted by some national experts, and there are several potential reasons: The number of vaccine doses administered, while high, is still only a fraction of the total population; people are relaxing their precautions a year into the pandemic; governments are relaxing restrictions; and new variants of the COVID virus are spreading, at least one of which may be more easily transmitted from person to person.
The daily numbers of new infections and hospitalizations and deaths in late March all are quite low compared with the surges of early 2020 and late 2020/early 2021.
However, the state’s infection rate is among the worst in the nation.
If New York City and the rest of New York state each were separate states, they’d have the second- and fifth-highest number of new cases per capita in the nation over the last seven days, federal Centers for Disease Control data show.