Friday, April 17 update

NYS update: I have been following Cuomo’s briefings via Twitter lately, via the commentary of a handful of good Albany journalists who sometimes even ask great questions that Cuomo typically refuses to answer or is puzzled by. Today’s head-scratcher for the governor was a question about what sort of data there was available on infections and curves for Upstate. No, of course it would be too hard to tease that data out. Whatever. (Remember the time Spitzer actually came up here and gave a “State of the Upstate” speech? And had an “Upstate Czar”?) Cuomo then spent several minutes engaging in a running live battle with the Moron in Chief. Now you know why I don’t bother watching these things very often.

Given that the very first whiff of viral disaster on American soil was a nursing home tragedy in Washington state, you would think that it wouldn’t have taken six weeks for rampant death and infection at New York’s nursing homes to finally be the top story of the pandemic. The only reason why the state has exclusive access to nursing homes (whatever the companies running these facilities deign to give them), is ostensibly to provide the residents special protection. Where was the protection? What is even the point? (I find myself asking this question more and more about so much to do with many of the “services” that Albany allegedly provides to people of all geographic persuasions.)

Onondaga County update: Some of the questions I’ve had about how the county got its drive-through testing facility in downtown Syracuse up and running so quickly last month, are answered by this Sean Kirst profile of Dr. Stephen Thomas, who’s been the face of SUNY Upstate Hospital in the media during all this.

Thomas spoke passionately about “protecting the castle,” which he equated to local emergency rooms. What was needed in the Onondaga region – where 17 people had died of the virus as of Thursday – was a “sieve” to filter those at greatest risk, Thomas said. Maria Lumbrazo, a family nurse practitioner at the health center, said there were so many “walk-ups” on the first morning it threatened to overwhelm the place, before she and Murry agreed on a fast shift. By that afternoon, they were greeting cars in the parking lot. Lumbrazo, still masked last week until she stepped away for a quick interview, watched as cars pulled up and her colleagues leaned toward open windows to administer more tests, which at one point climbed as high as 250 in a day.

When all is said and done, there will be quite a story to tell, I’m sure.

I also should have realized, before seeing it laid out in a list, that Buffalo and Rochester’s high death rates compared to Syracuse’s were largely due to clustered nursing home deaths that Syracuse luckily hasn’t experienced. What’s really frustrating about the state oversight of the nursing homes (or should we call it, an overlooking) is that even though Onondaga County is prepared to test asymptomatic nursing home workers through the Walmart/Quest parking lot facility, the best we can hope for is that nursing home workers will be “encouraged” to get tested by their employers giving them gift cards as an incentive. (Why aren’t nursing home workers being required to get tested? Because it’s a state thing and the state doesn’t care?)

The county is doing what it can do, by planning to go in to test seniors in assisted living facilities and senior apartments. (But nursing homes are off limits.) The downtown triage site will test seniors in independent living who can get themselves to the site, while Nascentia Health will take the tests to seniors in assisted living.

Today’s big news was that the Greater Central New York regional restart coalition (confederacy?) is in the final stages of being assembled. The counties signing on are Onondaga, Oswego, Oneida, Cayuga, Madison, Herkimer and Cortland. (Herkimer was a surprise, though I’m guessing Oneida County probably wanted it included.) Participating city governments include Syracuse, Oswego, Utica and Auburn. (Looking at a map it seems that Tompkins might be a logical addition, but I don’t know if they’ve been approached.) This will be a council of county executives and administrators, and an attempt will be made to coordinate health departments, hospitals, emergency management divisions, “strategic economic sectors,” and “possibly” schools. It was stressed that the forming of this group doesn’t mean that anyone thinks the region is anywhere near opening at present.

The initial work of the coalition will be to produce a restart plan (“a living, breathing document” — wonder which of the CEs will be the one with the gigantic signature?) The plan will be presented to the state as a road map for regional opening if, and only if, the various health officials in the region all agree that they have the capacity to test-and-track in “real time.” (This means adequate tests, staff, PPE, and so on.) Should the state think a regional reopening council is too impious and if Cuomo wants to be obstinate about “One New York size fits all,” it’s not as if the state doesn’t already have regional economic councils. So, they’re a thing, as McMahon pointed out during the briefing. The question is whether the state will buy into it. So I guess at the end of all this planning, the document will be presented to the governor, like Dorothy and friends bringing the Wicked Witch’s burnt broom to the great and powerful Oz — who sent them on such an impossible errand of saving their cities and counties in the first place.

I don’t know what will happen. Will Cuomo see reason — if the plan is indeed reasonable — or will he just obstinately say no, thinking only of what De Blasio would ask for next? And if the state says no to a (hopefully good) regional reopening plan, do these newly hyper-engaged county leaders then just stop thinking expansively and go back to hoeing the dust?