Thursday, April 30 update

NYS update: Cuomo’s briefing today was appropriately NYC-flavored again and featured Michael Bloomberg and Bill DeBlasio, talking about the new Contract Tracing Army and the dirty subways. The plan for the subways is to close them between 1 and 5 a.m., apparently unprecedented, to deep clean them every night. If I were an essential worker in NYC, I would be feeling more than dubious about the “free Uber” on offer. (What if you actually don’t have a smartphone? It can happen, especially if you work for peanuts.) But what else can they do down there? No subway, no city.

Come to think about it, it’s really interesting how app builders have been able to contribute virtually nothing of practical use in an actual full-blown pandemic. The University of Buffalo has come up with an app called PocketCare+, which sounds an awful lot like apps being used in South Korea and (gasp) China to track-and-trace people. (It could be useful, but I wish there was just a good app that would help you keep track of where you were anyway. It’s Day 46 of home semi-confinement for me, and as the days keep running together, writing down when and where I go places seems pretty important.)

The Bloomberg group is, according to the governor’s press release, not just going to be a downstate affair: “This nation-leading tracing program will focus on areas with the highest rates of infection and on regions where data shows could be the first to open.” If they are coming up here to help, I hope it’s actually going to be helpful to the local county health departments who are currently experiencing real data-loss thanks to the piling-on of clumsy outside efforts. “As part of this effort, The Bloomberg School – the top-rated public health school in the country – in consultation with DOH, will develop a world-class online curriculum for the State’s contact tracers that includes a training program and an online exam that must be passed to complete the program.” (Because we know the state has had such a good track record lately with other online services like unemployment benefits…? Oy.)

In other news, confusion over the resumption of elective surgeries continues. The governor last night was supposed to release a new executive order with guidance for the hospitals, according to Albany Dude who sat next to Cuomo on Tuesday and said it was coming. (I can’t remember these young guys’ names. I’m just going to call them all Albany Dude.) The hospitals haven’t gotten it.

Patients scheduled for Tuesday procedures were tested late last week for the novel coronavirus to meet the requirement given by Gov. Cuomo last week that all elective surgery patients be tested three days prior to their procedures. Iroquois Healthcare Association communicated with its member hospitals on Monday, Mr. Cayer said, that the health department’s guidance had still not arrived and that no procedures should be performed. “On Monday at 4:30, we pulled the plug here because we didn’t have the guidance,” Mr. Cayer said late Wednesday afternoon. “We were told we’d have it and we’ve been waiting for it ever since.”

The Buffalo area is nowhere near resuming elective surgeries, and there’s another troubling story confirming that Erie County has got problems. (Including frontline workers dying.)

“A lot of people aren’t taking this seriously,” Poloncarz said, “and I’m very, very disappointed to the point where it’s bothering me when I talk to my colleagues elsewhere, and they’re like, ‘You could shoot a cannon down major roads and you won’t find anyone.’ Heck, if you shoot a cannon down major roads here you’ll take out 50 cars.”

I can confirm that in Syracuse you could shoot that cannon safely. It was a surreal sight to see Fairmount Corners denuded of cars for a few moments yesterday at rush hour time as I was coming back from Solvay. I don’t know what’s the matter with Buffalo. Did they just somehow start down a “non-virtuous spiral” because they never got enough test kits at the beginning? Or does it have to do with the kind of self-absorption that comes from years of political polarization? I don’t follow any Erie County briefings and so I don’t know how Poloncarz and health officials are communicating their message, but even if they are doing it well, there are too many suburbanites in the area who just won’t listen. This is not a good historical juncture for Buffalo.

Onondaga County update: Many many years ago, when Star Trek: The Next Generation was in first-run syndication, Syracuse fans were lucky bitches. The new episodes were transmitted to the TV stations on Sundays, in preparation for the week ahead; the stations could choose to air the episode on any day of the week running Monday through Sunday. But Syracuse’s station broke the rules and aired the new episodes on that very Sunday (a week earlier than they were allowed to). During this glorious time, Syracuse Trekkies had all the spoilers first before the entire rest of the nation.

This is actually what the county briefings are starting to feel like sometimes, because usually before Cuomo is set to announce/preach on a particular key matter, we’ll get the first whiffs of it the day before. Tomorrow might be Schools Day, so CE McMahon answered some questions about the shape of things to come (except the date of opening, which he says he doesn’t know). It sounds as if aggressive testing of school staff will happen, and while social distancing measures in the schools are still under discussion, I have a feeling that students will have to stay in a single classroom while teachers circulate, rather than the reverse. It seems to me that opening the schools may not be quite as logistically difficult as opening other things (such as colleges). Keep the students from circulating through buildings, and cleaning and contact tracing gets a lot easier.

The Pizza Fritte craze in Syracuse is only becoming more of a phenomenon, and now that the operation has moved to the State Fair’s Orange Lot, wheels have been turning and some people think this would be an ideal solution for the (currently cancelled) Taste of Syracuse. “Life finds a way,” and you have to wonder if we are developing a drive-through culture, which seems bizarre and hopefully will go away once the virus does… but, well, give the people what they want? Drive-through concerts? Is there some way we can have a complete drive-through State Fair experience? Should the llama barn be one-way or two-way? (I bet someone is brainstorming that right now.)

There was some good news from the data front — Walmart finally turned over their full testing data to the county, not just the positive results. Good reporting by the paper, and McMahon thanked them as well.

Today’s major focus in the county briefing, though, was nursing home testing. There were three deaths announced, and it was strongly implied that they were all nursing home patients. (The female skew in the ratio continues, as all those who passed were women.) The fine points of the testing in senior centers were exhaustively discussed. Sitting through such “wonkery” every day, it is easy to forget that these discussions just don’t happen in other parts of the country.

The initial epicenter of the pandemic in the United States was a nursing home outside Seattle, where at least 40 residents have died of COVID-19. Yet following that outbreak, health officials did not prioritize the residents and staff of such facilities in the rest of the country to receive lifesaving testing and equipment.

Whatever happens to Central New York after COVID has gone away, and left us bankrupt for years, and maybe never again what (little) we were, at least one thing we will have: the knowledge that the above will never be said about us.