Sunday, April 26 update: An Empire, if you can keep it

NYS update: The governor began giving tentative details of New York’s reopening plan today, and it was basically what was mentioned at the Onondaga County briefing the other day — Phase 1 would involve restarting construction and opening “low-risk” businesses. (It’s been nice getting the scoop on the shape of things to come every day at 3 p.m., but there was no county briefing today.)

As recently as a few days ago, Ryan McMahon was faintly alluding to some kind of zone of Phase 1 possibility that existed between April 30 (Trump’s date) and May 15. (Local reporters were skeptical about that, and I was too.) That clearly isn’t going to happen, as Cuomo seemed very firm on two points — the “decreasing hospitalizations” metric, and May 15 as the earliest start date even for those lucky regions that may qualify. (Unfortunately, in Rochester, at least one local restaurant owner has dangerously taken Trump’s April 30 date to heart.)

Unsurprisingly, Cuomo finally came out and named Central New York, the Mohawk Valley and the North Country as the most likely candidates. It’s a little annoying to read media coverage of this and see it being characterized as “CNY not being hit hard.” The truth is that CNY actually worked hard to prepare, both for the virus and for this moment, when decisions would begin to be made about opening the statewide economy. This is why it’s a little stunning to read that NYC’s leadership is only just now assembling their own economic restart exploratory group which will meet… next week?

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Sunday announced that a number of different groups — advisory councils, task forces and a commission — would form to help imagine New York City’s future after the coronavirus outbreak… Advisory councils, divided by industry and sector, will begin to meet in early May, he said.

I realize NYC is a huge behemoth with all kinds of competing interests, but our county and probably a few others have had such things already chosen and convened and working for a month already. The opening down there is going to be very, very, very slow. It’s been surreal as it continues to dawn how fundamentally unprepared NYC’s leadership was for this crisis, how unable to quickly pivot, how almost every egg in their basket has been smashed. The scary thing is that I don’t think New York City has experienced its Wile E. Coyote moment yet, which is when citizens actually come out of their homes and stop waiting for orders.

Italy is also preparing to reopen, and is proceeding even more slowly than New York State (for example, Italy does not even allow restaurant meal takeouts yet, just deliveries). This NYT story points out how critically important Italy’s mayors have been during the crisis, and really New York’s county executives and health departments have had to fill the same role — another unfunded mandate, if Congress does nothing about that.

It’s good, or at least very interesting, to live in CNY, Mohawk or the North Country right now — but our Wile E. Coyote moment is coming too, when the full pain of the bullet begins to be felt. Here’s an ominous preview:

In 2018, Lewis County paid $43,404 for one person with mental health issues going through County Court to receive treatment in a state in-patient facility so they could understand and participate in their legal proceedings. In Jefferson County, it took one person 313 days of in-patient treatment to make it back to court that year. The county’s bill amounted to $179,729.

If cases identical to those in 2018 happened this year, they would cost Lewis County about $87,000 and Jefferson about $360,000, 100 percent of the cost, after the increase from 50 percent was added to the 2021 executive budget by the state Office of Mental Health in an administrative action and passed in the budget’s final version.

It is not science-fictional to wonder just how long the current governing arrangement of this state is going to survive, the longer you juxtapose a prostrated center of economic and political power (New York City) with massive budget anvils being dropped on small, relatively poor counties like Lewis. Even if you think these social services vitally necessary (and I am a fan of social services), this is not going to end well. For one thing, the counties talk to each other a lot now, and probably aren’t going to stop soon. And the “crumbs from the master’s table” model of administering the state doesn’t work very well when the crumbs stop falling.

An Empire… if you can keep it.

Onondaga County update: In lieu of a briefing, the usual set of numbers were released by the health department:

More than half of Onondaga County’s newest confirmed coronavirus cases were found in senior living facilities, according to a county spokesman. The county currently has 798 cases, up 24 from Saturday. Of those new ones, 15 were discovered as part of the county’s efforts to go into senior living centers and discover whether the virus is there. Another four newly diagnosed were in contact with a person who’d already tested positive.

While critical patients have declined to 10, there were 3 new hospitalizations — which, according to Cuomo’s formula for reopening, would mean that Onondaga County is now set back to the start of another 14-day waiting period to see if hospitalizations steadily decline. (Hopefully they will be using rolling averages and not daily fluctuations.)