ROCHESTER — In the last three days, residents at elder care facilities have accounted for almost all of the COVID-19 deaths reported in the greater Capital Region, with a dozen dead over the weekend and Monday.
For Saturday, Sunday and Monday, Warren County reported four such deaths, Rensselaer County three, Albany County two, Columbia County two and Washington County one.
Hardest hit has been Diamond Hill in Rensselaer County, with 14 residents dead through Monday. Pine Haven in Columbia County has also seen numerous deaths, and Shaker Place in Albany County now has reported six.
Only one COVID death reported in the region over the three days was not connected to an elder-care facility — in Washington County on Saturday.
Meanwhile, scores of employees at numerous facilities across the region are infected, and likely hundreds of residents.
As of Friday, 3,733 deaths are listed statewide on a state Department of Health online list that undercounts the actual number by an unknown percentage.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has noted repeatedly the great danger the virus poses to residents of nursing homes and adult care facilities.
“The nursing homes have seen in many ways the most intense issue here,” he said during his daily briefing Monday in Rochester:
But he also reiterated his stance that the state has no role in caring for residents in elder-care facilities, many of which are private and for-profit.
It’s the state’s job to regulate nursing homes and investigate those that don’t follow the rules, he said. Unless a nursing homes reaches out to the state Department of Health and asks it to take a resident it can’t care for, the state is not involved in that person's care, the governor said.
Cuomo repeated Monday that the state has overflow facilities to accommodate COVID-19 patients that nursing homes can’t care for, but he has not offered details during his briefings.
Meanwhile, the full scope and specifics of the situation are not being disclosed publicly.
Most nursing home operators won’t discuss how many residents are infected or dead, and family members say some facilities are not updating them as required by state order.
The state’s online list of nursing home and adult-care facility deaths is inaccurate and/or outdated — it lists just one such death in Rensselaer County, for example, where 16 have died.
Counties can be a source of information, but that depends heavily on the mindset of the county administration: Albany County for example provides daily updates on the nursing home it operates but not on the many others within its borders; Rensselaer County provides a running tally on nursing home deaths with name of facility, plus age and gender of deceased; Schenectady County discloses very little; Warren County provides only general details such as “a nursing home in the southern part of the county.”
The state has granted hospitals and nursing home operators broad but not unlimited immunity from civil and criminal liability during the COVID crisis.
REOPENING THE ECONOMY
Also Monday, Cuomo laid out in detail the conditions he will attach to reopening the economies in regions across New York.
The statewide shutdown has thrown more than 1.6 million New Yorkers into unemployment and profoundly disrupted everyday life for many others. Getting the economy running again is considered critical to limiting the health and societal problems that come with massive unemployment, but Cuomo has said keeping COVID-19 in check will take precedence over the economy.
These are his conditions for reopening a region’s economy:
- There must be at least 14 days of decline in total net hospitalizations and deaths on a three-day rolling average; regions less affected by COVID cannot exceed 15 new hospitalizations and five deaths; the region must have fewer than two new COVID patients admitted per day per 100,000 residents.
- The region must have at least 30 percent of its total hospital beds and ICU beds available, and hospitals must have at least 90 days of masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment stockpiled.
- The region must have capacity to take samples for at least 30 diagnostic tests for each 1,000 residents per month.
- The region must have a baseline of at least 30 infection contact tracers for every 100,000 residents, plus additional testers based on projected COVID cases in that region.
Cuomo also listed the sequence in which he will allow businesses to reopen, which follows the progression from low risk/high need first to high risk/low need last:
- First: construction, manufacturing, select retail with curbside pickup.
- Second: Professional services, retail, administrative support, real estate.
- Third: Restaurants, food service, accommodations.
- Fourth: Arts, entertainment, recreation, education.
Cuomo also listed the safety precautions businesses must put in place to reopen:
- Adjust hours and shifts to reduce workplace density;
- Enact social distancing protocols;
- Restrict non-essential employee travel;
- Implement strict sanitation standards;
- Enact continuous health screening of those who enter the workplace;
- Track, trace and report infections;
- Develop liability processes.
Cuomo offered no estimate at his briefing Monday on how long all this might take or how much it might cost, nor did he say what would happen if a region missed any of its six statistical requirements for a day or a week.
He suggested local leaders now start gathering their facts and data to show their region meets the criteria to reopen.
His shutdown order — New York on Pause — currently expires May 15. The governor said last week he expects to decide this week whether to extend it yet again.
In other COVID-19 relate developments Monday:
- The state Department of Health said it passed the 1 million mark on diagnostic testing. Of the 1,007,310 tested, 318,953 had been confirmed positive and 19,415 had died as of Monday morning.
- Albany Medical Center executives said the region’s largest hospital has been holding steady at 53 to 57 COVID inpatients each day for the last two weeks; it hopes this will bolster its case that it should be given a waiver and allowed to resume elective surgery. (Cuomo has banned elective surgery in most of the Capital Region to avoid a shortage of beds for COVID patients.) Since the pandemic reached New York, Albany Med has admitted 233 confirmed-positive patients; 144 have been discharged, 32 have died and 57 were still inpatients as of Monday.
- Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan projected a revenue shortfall of $17 million to $20 million as a result of the pandemic; she said if the federal government does not provide financial assistance to state and local governments, the city will undertake significant budget and service cuts.
- U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer announced $9 million in emergency federal funding for housing assistance in upstate New York through the CARES Act Housing Choice Voucher Program. Forty municipalities and agencies across the greater Capital Region will receive grants; most are worth only a few thousand dollars, a handful are larger. Top recipients are the Albany Housing Authority, $404,998; Glens Falls Housing Authority, $108,746; and Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority, $203,754.
- National Grid announced $500,000 in grants for 48 community organizations across Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island to help support hunger relief and human services for those impacted by the pandemic; Capital Region recipients are Unity House, City Mission of Schenectady and Capital City Rescue Mission, at $10,000 each.