Wednesday, April 29 update

NYS update: I was cranky today. The governor was cranky today. The winds across New York are cranky today. And although Cuomo showed a map of all the counties which are (allegedly) allowed to have elective surgeries now, there is still a lot of confusion about it locally. Another executive order, on this subject, is supposed to come out later today. (As for the Masks of Love display, it reminded me of an AIDS quilt, which doesn’t inspire confidence.)

Cuomo was mostly ranting (righteously) about various disgusting situations, from the state of the subways to the famine of federal funds. A day where Cuomo feels boxed in doesn’t always make for the most illuminating or inspiring fireside chat. But it definitely feels like we’re entering a murky and helpless stretch.

One of the most annoying aspects of the whole COVID experience, in New York at least, is the squishy definition of the word “enforce.” Now Oneida County is coming out with a $2,000 fine against business owners who don’t enforce the governor’s mask rules in their establishments. If a regional reopening is going to initially depend on businesses holding up the social distance rules, at some point there has to be teeth behind the regulations. (Oneida’s CE Picente is known to talk to Onondaga’s CE a lot, so I wonder if this approach will be showing up over here as well?)

Onondaga County update: A 30th death was announced; again, another elderly female patient, and I keep wondering why the gender pattern is different here and if other non-big-city locations are seeing this too. One eye-popping statistic given out today was that 65% of all currently active COVID cases in the county are traceable to nursing homes and other senior facilities (either patients themselves, or facility workers or their contacts).

CE McMahon was not cranky today, although he admitted he was earlier in the week (people noticed). Perhaps contributing to a better vibe today is news that Joanie Mahoney is on the governor’s (116-person) economic recovery team. (At last, Joanie has a real job!) County officials feel confidently prepared to meet all of the criteria laid out by Cuomo in his visit to Syracuse yesterday, from isolation facilities (i.e., hotels, which the county is apparently already quietly using for some quarantine purposes) to a “regional control room” (the Emergency Management nerve center should suffice).

McMahon did admit that earlier rosy predictions of cooperating with the Walmart testing site have not exactly borne out, as Walmart is dragging its feet on reporting the total number of tests being performed (which messes up the “percent positive” metric, no longer able to be reliably reported at the briefings). “There are probably communities out there that aren’t asking for the data, they’re just so desperate to have testing. We use this data to make a lot of decisions. So for us, when we don’t have all the data, we break out in rashes and get very anxious.”

A reporter questioned if the aggressive senior cluster testing was distorting key numbers that the state was looking at in order to make decisions about restarts. The response:

You can’t tell counties, if they go out and do the right thing and find dormant COVID, that we’re going to hold that against you in a restart. Or else you know what everybody does? They don’t go test. So you can’t hold red curves against us. It’s about our ability to find it in real time, to identify it, isolate it and quarantine it. If we are being held to a standard even if all of the cases are identified [coming from] one building, who’s going to go test the cases?

According to him, Ulster County is now also doing senior center testing, and Dutchess may soon follow. But you have to wonder when the pressure will be turned on to “cook the books.” So far, the state has been reluctant to go into the nursing homes and test (though they are doing it now), and even less interested in the prisons. If McMahon is really interested in more correct data, maybe Jamesville should be next.

(An as aside, I find the daily county briefings fascinating in how they sometimes open the curtain on the nitty gritty of actually keeping New York State running, and how much the state — and now nation — are really run in manorial fashion. McMahon and his colleagues at the county level seem like barely noticed vassals in our great democratic system, where we have regular elections, but not regular communication between the governmental levels. This reality is usually only noticed in the context of county-level corruption, but in true emergency times like these, the ridiculousness of this isolation stands out. Should these officials really be required to sift through Cuomo’s tea leaves every day?)

But the Onondaga Nation has never been enfeoffed. The question asked by a reporter at today’s briefing about why they’re still at zero cases, was faintly disturbing — is someone trying to pursue some sort of “we don’t trust them Injuns” narrative here? (McMahon noted that he had received a suspicious number of e-mail queries about this matter all in one day.) Although I would be surprised if county officials really grasped the issues at play here, it’s satisfying to hear the evidence of how much the Onondaga LRA probably had lasting effects on public discourse.

We have not been on the Nation territory doing testing… We’re communicating with [the leaders], we value this relationship, but I couldn’t tell you how many people from the Nation have gotten tested. It’s very complicated. They are our friends, they are our neighbors, they are a sovereign country. So they have specific rights.