Monday, May 4 update

NYS update: The governor made his way up to Rochester today, where he held court not at a local hospital (as he did in Buffalo and Syracuse), but at Wegmans headquarters, where he warmly greeted former Lt. Gov. Duffy and the Wegman family. The subject of the day was, basically, reopening the economy; and to that end, he brought with him more new metrics and a score chart.

For those of us with the luxury of time to ponder Upstate’s grocery shopping scene and the people who make it possible, this seems like a… questionable venue. Wegmans has gotten a lot of sour looks, especially in the Rochester area itself, for its foot-dragging on worker protection and communication. In fact, the tarnishing of the company’s image during all this has been one of the most pungent whiffs of change in this whole crisis, at least for those of us living in the Wegmans motherland. I am eagerly awaiting a blog take on this from Wegmaniacal, but here was her initial reaction:

I was wondering if Cuomo was going to Rochester in order to push a theme of “respecting essential workers” (one of his 12 key points), with Wegmans using the appearance for some damage control, since they have started to behave better toward their workers. (You know, they could pretend they were behaving all along, and that would be fine). But there’s a theme to these Upstate Cuomo appearances, and that is that they haven’t got any real theme. When he was in Syracuse last week, for example, I thought he was at SUNY Upstate to talk about the process of restarting elective surgeries and how important it is to keep our basic healthcare (as well as our economy) rolling during the COVID crisis. Nahh… not so much. It was pretty generic for us also.

Wegmans was clearly on display today as a stalwart Upstate business interest. And that’s true enough — they are Upstate New York’s most famous export these days. But it makes you wonder if Cuomo is fundamentally out of touch with things.

As for reopening, every day it seems there are a bunch of new tweaks to the formula, and it’s honestly getting a little exhausting to follow. But this is complicated, so I don’t really blame Cuomo or the state health department for that. (God knows that the daily county briefings are complicated.) There are now four “official” reopening phases, and there will probably be a little grumbling about the social implications of this hierarchy (arts and education go last).

Also debuting today (hopefully to be seen again, unlike many of the Powerpoints) was the “State Leaderboard,” sort of gamifying the regional reopening process. Downstate is still out of it, most of Upstate has got a good run, but watch out for that plucky underdog Mid-Hudson! (Western New York stinks less, but is still behind.)

Onondaga County update: Yesterday’s numbers trend continues, and has deepened. A 37th death was announced (no change in that quietly relentless trend). Except for the elevated community spread number (18 new community-spread cases, trending downward again but still high), the consequences of testing in the senior centers and nursing homes is still blowing up the statistics. New positive cases remained high, for the same reasons stated as yesterday (many returned tests). The pace of recoveries has slowed… because so many of the new cases are seniors, and new guidance from the CDC means they have to wait 14 days instead of 7 days to be deemed “recovered.”

And the hospitalization number has shot up to 51 (up ten since yesterday), because certain nursing homes in the county have begun dropping any and all COVID-positive patients on hospital doorsteps. (An internal communication from one hospital which I saw over the weekend, confirms that these asymptomatic nursing home patients are indeed showing up, so it’s not b.s.)

This of course has to do with the state’s recent hasty turnaround that nursing homes can send patients to hospitals after all, a change that CE McMahon apparently was slow to be updated on (“Apparently they can do this now”). The original nursing home COVID policy was pretty bad. This new policy isn’t worse. But it results in a situation that Onondaga County — being so committed to proactive testing — now has to take responsibility for in the immediate term. (It seems the county is now working to move these low- or no-symptom patients to area nursing homes with dedicated COVID floors, probably at some administrative expense.)

It’s going to be a long, messy two weeks until magical May 15. Nevertheless, McMahon remains very bullish on Central New York’s frontrunner status for reopening, even if he seems to be questioning some of the new requirements, such as the need to have conducted 13,000 tests per month. An impossible mark for most Upstate regions, because they just didn’t have enough sick people to test under the CDC guidelines. Test capacity going forward, however, will not be a problem for Onondaga County, it was asserted. Between private lab capacity and the county’s own test kits, 13,000 a month should be no issue; the problem is… finding enough people to proactively test.

McMahon’s ability to spew numbers is quite prodigious, and I admit I blanked out a bit (the reality-based world can be dull), but my understanding is that the county will need to find at least 9,000 people to proactively test, beyond those needing tests under CDC guidelines. That’s 9,000… a month. My nose already hurts. (It was hinted that neighborhoods may begin to be tested if the data warrants.)

As for the required Tracer Army, the county already has 60 at work, and will be able to boast of an additional 80-100 once other county employees are cross-trained. This doesn’t quite fulfill Onondaga County’s benchmark number of tracers as specified by the state, and it’s an open question whether the other smaller counties in the region will be able to supply enough for a regional team. But McMahon seems to think that the state (Bloomberg) project will fill the gap. (Hope his expectation isn’t misplaced, as with the ongoing wait for federal funding…)

This weekend’s good weather was not just good news, but could potentially change the course of county history, if a new wave of infection results. The CE promised to share new, “eye-opening data points” about community spread later this week in hopes of educating the public in time for Mother’s Day. Hopefully things will turn out all right in the end, and we will all enjoy the “emotional victory” that we deserve, as we continue to live under viral occupation.