Tuesday, May 5 update

NYS update: Cuomo was back in NYC today, but again, for no obvious reason. Today’s homily was on “Reimagining Education,” a topic which may not command as friendly an audience as he might think. After going on two months of this, I don’t think anyone out there — kids, college students, their parents, teachers, professors — are going “Yay! We don’t ever have to go to school again!” (More likely they’re starting to lawyer up…)

I’ll be blunt. The only place this kind of imagineering is going, is down the familiar road of being piloted in wealthy school districts first, with the intention of sorting it all out later “somehow” for the lesser kids. Unless Bill and Melinda Gates are coming to Syracuse and doing something about the fact that 40% of kids in city schools don’t have adequate Internet, I really do not care to listen to the governor muse generically at his leisure. Next.

When there isn’t a lot of content in Cuomo’s briefings, I tend to fixate on the howlers. Today, he reminded us that all of our troubles over the recent decades means “we came back better and more united as a state,” citing 9/11 and Superstorm Sandy, but of course mentioning nothing about Shitstorm NAFTA. (We have become a bit more united as a state — even as we’re busy breaking into 10 pieces — but that’s because of nurse corps and farmers and small industry and local leaders making connections.)

Not a howler, but an eyebrow-raiser for those of us who follow the local maneuverings, was his commentary on slow reopening and the many intricacies and considerations that are necessary. “This is a conversation we should have openly,” he said, even as Central New York is quietly opening its car showrooms after many discussions with the state. Indeed, what people say in public and what they do in private are two very different things

Public beaches up and down the Atlantic Coast have closed on various time lines. New York City does yet not have a plan to open. But in Delaware and Massachusetts, state-run coasts are open for “passive recreational activities that only involve transitory movement” and “solitary beach fishing,” although most parking areas are closed. Golf courses and marinas — now aligned in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut — have opened and closed on various time lines. A widespread testing and tracing effort — financed in part by former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg — has been announced for New Jersey, Connecticut and New York to help restart New York City’s commuter-dependent economy. But there is no similar plan for Philadelphia, which attracts workers from Delaware and New Jersey in addition to Pennsylvania.

It would seem that Upstate America’s individual duchies are having a better time of coordination. This article on some of the ESDC regions is a good read as it points out the surprisingly different issues that each region has with reopening, from cross-border commerce (North Country) to starting up the machinery of state government again (Capital). In a weird trend, it seems that Upstate counties naturally gravitate together in groups of seven. CNY/Mohawk has seven counties. Greater Hudsonia has seven. And there are the Seven Metrics. The North Country is getting together its own heptad (yeah, I had to look that up), although they seem to be waiting for orders.

Clinton County Administrator Michael Zurlo told CNHI the leaders of the seven county governments in the North Country “are in active conversation” in formulating a coordinated approach to reopening. Questions remain as to what information state officials will require from local officials, he said. “We want to know what the process is going to be,” Zurlo said. “Is something going to have to be submitted? Is somebody supposed to be leading the region? Do we come up with that ourselves? Those are the kinds of questions we have.”

While nursing homes are in the news when it comes to hot spots, Madison County (which had suspiciously high numbers early on in the crisis, if you recall) is now demonstrating that it’s not only Midwestern states that can have outbreaks in food facilities. In Oneida County, Turning Stone is trying to figure out how to safely reopen. These represent more logistical complications for the Central-Mohawk Confederacy. (That’s what I’ve decided to call it for today. Check back tomorrow.)

Onondaga County update: With the state-released figures today showing that almost half of all county deaths in fact came from nursing homes, the three additional deaths announced today immediately fell under reporters’ suspicion. However, the county doesn’t have access to new figures as the state’s only run until last week. As predicted yesterday, the rate of new positives is beginning to tick down. Hospitalizations were also down, but mainly because seniors were being transferred out into, presumably, local COVID-capable senior facilities. Community spread numbers were also down (8 new cases today compared to 18 yesterday).

Every few days, we get a new placard at the briefing, and the new one today does seem pretty helpful in visualizing what the different positives actually mean:

The (apparently legit) news that Onondaga County gets to open its auto showrooms again was reported this morning. (CE McMahon’s letter to the auto dealers’ association can be read here.) This has come from a lengthy process of communication with the state which other regions around NY are only just beginning to figure out. As local businesses clamor to the county to be allowed to open, the CE collects their opening plans, reviews them and then makes generic suggestions to Cuomo’s people about how to open these businesses in general. Is the state relying on Onondaga County’s guidance? Who knows, but McMahon says that he tells local businesses to “Think about how your plan would work in denser areas like Long Island and NYC.” At least he seems convinced they are.

The nursing home issue is still being discussed. How to resolve the “hospital dumping” situation? McMahon seems to think that allowing the homes to do this (per Cuomo’s recent reversal) is not good, but there’s nothing the county can do about it but work to improve communications and make the flow of patient transfers more smooth. The county is being very persistent in its Quest to Test, with a few facilities initially balking, but as of tonight there is only one holdout.

Mark Farchione, owner of Peregrine Senior Living facilities in Onondaga Hill and Skaneateles, said he was initially hesitant about testing because there are no residents with COVID-19 symptoms at the sites. He worried that testing might unnecessarily disturb his residents, many of whom are in memory care. But Farchione said he has since learned from other operators that the testing is “discreet’’ and “not scary.’’ He said he wants to cooperate with County Executive Ryan McMahon’s agenda for fighting COVID-19, which includes blanket testing at facilities that house frail elderly patients.

One of the challenges of writing up these daily updates is that the landscape of issues in our county is so different compared to the rest of the state right now. Onondaga County is at least a few weeks in the future not just on metrics, but on grappling with the whole difficult basket of new consequences that have presented themselves. The future is not really about brainstorming. As we are seeing here, it’s about debate and persuasion, about new controversies and above all, about how to live and govern (and self-govern) confidently in a changed world. It’s too bad that Bill and Melinda Gates’ money can’t be better spent on New York State’s struggling localities than on Cuomo’s glittering generalities.