CAPITAL REGION -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency Saturday, announcing 32 new confirmed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus, two of them in Saratoga County.
During a news conference Saturday, Cuomo said the state has been testing people "around the clock" since it received expedited federal approval to use its own COVID-19 test kits at Wadsworth Lab in Albany. He said the purpose of the testing is to find out who has the virus and get them "out of circulation" and into quarantine.
Cuomo provided specific information about the new cases in Saratoga County.
"In Saratoga, [of] the two, one is a 57-year-old pharmacist, one is a 52-year old woman who was in contact with a positive person from Pennsylvania at a conference in Miami," Cuomo said.
Saratoga County Director of Public Health Services Catherine Duncan issued a statement after Cuomo's announcement. She repeated the information released by Cuomo and, like the governor, did not provide a theory as to how the pharmacist may have contracted the virus.
Duncan said the pharmacist works at the CVS Pharmacy at 5 Main St., in Queensbury. She said public health departments are working to determine who worked with the man in order to initiate quarantine.
"Those working directly behind the counter with the pharmacist pose the greatest risk and will be quarantined until March 18, 14 days from last exposure," Duncan said. "Those with or without symptoms will be in mandatory quarantine and public health will monitor daily. Testing for coronavirus is not recommended unless they become symptomatic. Those specific coworkers with symptoms will be in mandatory quarantine and will be tested for coronavirus."
Duncan said the pharmacist most recently worked at the CVS on March 2 and March 4. She said patrons of the pharmacy are considered to be at "low risk and do not need to be tested."
"Those patrons that visited on the specified date and times should monitor for symptoms of fever and cough through March 18 and call their provider ahead to arrange testing for coronavirus if symptoms [are] present," she said.
Duncan described the conditions of the two identified cases.
"Both individuals are displaying minor symptoms and are self-isolating in their residence," she said. "We are still early in the investigation to determine the breadth of contact that these individuals had with others in the community. Anyone who has a fever, with cough or experiencing shortness of breath should contact their health care provider. For general questions about COVID-19 please call the NYS Department of Health COVID-19 hotline at 1-888-364-3065. The county will be contacting individuals and businesses that these two individuals visited and has activated the response plan in place for the threat of widespread illnesses. Our team is working hard, in collaboration with the State Department of Health, to contain and mitigate the impact that this will have on public health and to limit the potential of any further spread."
State of Emergency
New York state now has 76 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus originating from the Wuhan province of China.
The governor's office issued a news release explaining what powers the state of emergency declaration gives Cuomo's administration. The declaration allows the state and local governments to speed up the purchasing process for cleaning supplies and the leasing of lab space. The state of emergency gives the governor the power to authorize "qualified professionals" other than doctors and nurses to conduct testing and to enable EMS personnel to transport patients to quarantine locations other than just hospitals. The state of emergency also provides a "clear basis for price gouging and enforcement investigation."
After Cuomo's announcement, Albany Medical Center, Ellis Medicine and St. Peter's Health Partners issued a joint statement "reinforcing visitation guidelines" the hospitals first enacted on Dec. 11 due to the prevalence of flu cases.
"These guidelines remain in effect as hospitals plan for the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. If you have a fever, shortness of breath, cough, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea, do not visit until you are completely recovered. Respiratory viruses can cause more serious illness in hospitalized patients," reads the statement from the hospitals.
Cuomo's announcement of the new cases included a county breakdown of all 76 confirmed cases in New York State:
- 57 cases in Westchester County
- 11 cases in New York City
- 4 cases in Nassau County
- 2 cases in Rockland County
- 2 cases in Saratoga County
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website Saturday night, the federal government has determined 164 confirmed or presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 based on 1,583 patients tested nationwide. Eleven of those cases have resulted in the patient's death. The CDC is also reporting that 19 states are now conducting their own COVID-19 testing.
"State and local public health departments are now testing and publicly reporting their cases. In the event of a discrepancy between CDC cases and cases reported by state and local public health officials, data reported by states should be considered the most up to date," reads the CDC website.
Of the 164 cases confirmed by the CDC, 36 have been determined to be travel-related, 18 have come from "community spread" and the origin of 110 are still under investigation.
Local quarantine efforts
The governor's statement Saturday comes on the heels of his Friday news conference when he reported that 40 people in the Capital Region are under precautionary quarantine because they had traveled to high-risk areas. Charts shown by Cuomo indicated the number of people placed on precautionary quarantine from each county:
- 12 in Schenectady County
- 11 in Albany County
- 6 in Rensselaer County
- 4 in Saratoga County
- 2 in Fulton County
- 2 in Schoharie County
As of Saturday night, Montgomery County Public Health Director Sara Boerenko said no one in her county is under precautionary quarantine and no one is currently under surveillance. She provided insight into the directives being issued by the state to county health departments.
"We now have to report to New York State Department of Health on the status of our emergency preparedness program and provide a daily report of any person we have under surveillance," Boerenko said. "So, at some point I am hoping to be able to access that data from surrounding areas to develop a better tracking system for our own internal data collection."
During his announcement of the new cases Saturday, Cuomo said the state wants people under voluntary quarantine to follow the rules they are given by the state.
"Violating those rules, is first — I think — disrespectful to the community [and] it doesn't honor your responsibility as a citizen and you can be putting people in danger, so even though it's called precautionary quarantine that is a serious situation," he said. "We expect that [people under voluntary precautionary quarantine] will comply with it. If you do not comply with it, and we know that people are not complying with voluntary quarantine, there are other measures we could take."
Currently about 4,000 people are under mandatory quarantine in New York state. County public health departments have procedures for seeking court orders to require mandatory quarantines for individuals who refuse to do it voluntarily.
During his announcement Saturday, Cuomo also made a crackdown on price gouging for disinfectant cleaning supplies a point of emphasis.
"I was the former [New York state] Attorney General, I want businesses to be aware that you could lose your license for price gouging," Cuomo said. "This is serious, it's not just price gouging, it's price gouging in an emergency situation where you're being exploitative of the public, and there are specific legal provisions for price gouging in an emergency situation."
Cuomo said the state has established a toll-free hotline - 1-800-697-1220 - for New Yorkers to report suspected price gouging.
The governor said he has directed the New York State Department of State's Consumer Protection Division to launch an investigation into reports of unfair price increases of consumer products such as household cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer amid the COVID-19 outbreak. He said all credible complaints will be referred to the New York State Attorney General.
The state Division of Consumer Protection has also created an online consumer complaint form, where New Yorkers can report suspected price gouging or concerns about improper delivery of quantity. Consumers who wish to file a complaint can visit www.dos.ny.gov/consumerprotection.