CAPITAL REGION -- The Democratic presidential primary set for April 28 will be postponed until June 23 because of the spread of coronavirus, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Saturday.
“I don’t think it's wise to be bringing people to one location to vote," Cuomo said at the state Capitol in Albany, during the latest of what have become daily press briefings since the coronavirus first struck New York state, barely three weeks ago.
The decision, carried out through an executive order, also applies to several special elections for congressional or state Legislature seats also set for April 28. In acting, the governor is heeding calls from county elections commissioners and several good government groups to postpone the primary, as more than a dozen other states have done with their spring primaries. None of the special elections are in the Capital Region.
The Democratic presidential race, now down to former vice president Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, may well be decided before the new voting date. The party establishment has rallied around Biden, who currently holds a significant number of delegates, making Sanders' chances of winning the nomination slim. So far, Sanders has refused to drop from the race.
Cuomo's decision drew immediate praise from the League of Women Voters of New York state, which on Friday said the vote should be delayed.
"The League of Women Voters of New York state applauds Governor Cuomo for his prudent decision to postpone the April election until June," said Jennifer Wilson, the league's deputy director. "Not only will this give election officials more time to prepare for the increase in absentee ballot requests, it will ensure voters do not have to congregate at poll sites during the peak of the infection."
The state Election Commissioners Association also sought the delay, with members this week noting that many poll workers are older, putting them among this most at risk of serious illness or death from exposure to the coronavirus.
Cuomo's announcement came on a day when the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state continued to rise, hitting 52,318, by far the most in the country; there have now been 728 deaths, up 210 deaths in the last day.
Albany County on Saturday afternoon reported its first COVID-19 death, of a male senior citizen with multiple underlying health conditions who died at St. Peter's Hospital. Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy said more details would be provided Sunday morning. It was the second known Capital Region COVID-19 death; the first was former General Electric scientist, inventor and entrepreneur Walter Robb of Niskayuna, who died last Monday at age 91.
Most of the COVID-19 cases are in the greater New York City area, but cases have been reported in all Capital Region counties.
As of Saturday afternoon, the state Department of Health reported the following number of confirmed cases in local counties: Albany, 195; Saratoga, 110; Schenectady, 72; Rensselaer, 38; Montgomery, five; Schoharie, five; and Fulton, one.
Cuomo also announced that President Donald J. Trump has approved temporary 1,000-bed hospitals to be built by the Army Corps of Engineers at large enclosed locations in New York City's four outer boroughs, including at Aqueduct race track in Queens, where racing is currently suspended. Some hospitals will be made COVID-only, which Cuomo said will let medical professionals focus on a single issue and will reduce the risk of infection for people in the hospital for other reasons.
In addition to the temporary hospitals, a 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship is scheduled to reach New York Harbor on Monday. Cuomo also acknowledged the state is stockpiling ventilators, even as it looks for tens of thousands more.
"We are preparing for an apex that could be 14 to 21 days from now," Cuomo said.
The governor on Saturday reiterated that moving some patients to upstate hospitals is a possibility, if the downstate hospital system becomes overwhelmed. AllianceHealth of the Hudson Valley has designated its hospital in Kingston as a temporary care site; the hospital said it will be adding 235 beds.
"We're trying to have facilities all around the geographic location that's experiencing the increase," Cuomo said.
Trump has floated the idea of a quarantine on parts of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut as part of efforts to control virus' spread, but he seemed to back off the idea on Saturday night.
Cuomo was dismissive of the idea, while avoiding direct criticism of Trump.
"I don't think it would be legally enforceable," Cuomo said. "And from a medical point of view, I don't know what you would be accomplishing. I can tell you right now, not knowing what it means, I don't like the sound of it."
In a CNN interview Saturday evening Cuomo called the idea of a regional travel quarantine "un-American," and threatened to sue the state of Rhode Island if it doesn't back down from a policy enacted Friday of stopping all vehicles with New York license plates from entering the state.
There were a number of other developments on Saturday, as officials try to avoid an "apex" of cases that could overwhelm health care systems:
-- The Schenectady Police Department confirmed that one of its officers tested positive for COVID-19.
-- The state Department of Environmental Conservation and Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation on Saturday announced new measures at all state parks and DEC-managed properites. The agencies have closed all park playgrounds, limited access to athletic courts and sports fields, closed all indoor visitor centers and canceled all public programs, implemented use restrictions at golf courses, and closed all DEC-controlled fire towers in the Adirondacks and Catskills.
“New Yorkers are turning to our parks for exercise, stress relief, and a healthy nature break in these difficult times," said state Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid. "To keep these places safe and healthy for everyone, we need to adjust the ways we enjoy our parks. Keep visits short and local, avoid crowds, and practice physical social distancing."
-- McCoy, the Albany County executive, announced that the county has 13 people hospitalized, ranging in age from 25 to older than 75. There are also 539 mandatory quarantines and 234 people under precautionary quarantine. He warned that a precautionary quarantine could be made mandatory if people don't abide by it. On Friday, he said, law enforcement was sent to speak with 16 households whose members hadn't followed quarantine orders. The county also announced a mental health hotline, at 518-269-6634, for those feeling anxiety and stress.
-- Cuomo signed an executive order pushing the filing date for state tax returns back from April 15 to July 15, in keeping with the revised federal tax return deadline set by the Trump administration.
-- Saratoga County announced it had posted signs at Northway Exit 9 in Clifton Park and at the intersection of state routes 9 and 147 in Galway asking out-of-town visitors to self-isolate for 14 days. “It has been reported that people are still congregating outdoors, at parks and golf courses,” said county Director of Public Health Cathi Duncan. “Social distancing cannot be practiced while riding in a golf cart or gathering in groups. There needs to be a physical distance of greater than six feet apart, and individuals should not share things like drinks or towels, it will not help prevent the spread of viruses.”