Wednesday, May 6 update

NYS update: It’s a big story around here, and it even made the governor’s radar — the big virus outbreak at Madison County’s Green Empire Farms. It was a useful bullet point for Cuomo in his daily briefing today on how the density factor is not just an urban problem. Naturally, he did not have time to go into the details of this episode, which have caused controversy. No one’s sure whether the viral spread was happening in the Madison County greenhouse itself (which is extremely spacious, and said to be clean and responsibly socially distanced) or in the Oneida County motels where the greenhouse workers (not undocumented migrants) were being housed.

It’s an awkward when two neighboring counties in two “official” regions (Central and Mohawk) that are supposed to be in lockstep, are suddenly bristling defensively and pointing fingers. The reopening is so close, the metrics so important, and everyone in the state is suddenly watching…

In the meantime, down on Long Island today, the governor seemed oblivious to the poor reception his musings on education reform have had from just about everyone. He followed up by bringing out the former CEO of Google to further “imagineer” public health. Let pretend, for a moment, that this isn’t all just the same kind of flimflam that gets inflicted on New York State even in normal times. Let’s consider that they really might be serious about it, and that we’re going to have all kinds of public-private partnerships that will “reimagine” the health-care systems. Is this really the time to talk rosily about what health care privatization can do, when we haven’t even dealt with what it has done?

The Villages of Orleans nursing home (scene of all 14 of Orleans County COVID deaths) was owned by the county until 2015, when it was sold to the same private group whose network of nursing homes have had a combined total of 365 COVID fatalities. According to one former worker there, conditions at this home did not improve after the sale and only got worse once the virus struck.

“Employees are wearing the same masks for days, trying to keep them washed and sanitized. If we gown up we are to save that (contaminated) gown and share it with the next aide,” she said in an email to the Democrat and Chronicle in mid-April, shortly before she quit. “Aides are being assigned to almost 30 residents by themselves because we lack aides so bad. Residents were crying and saying how they just wanted to die. They were begging me not to leave so that they would get proper care and not be left alone or get their call light turned off on them and ignored,” she said.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not in the mood for another blue-ribbon corporate “dream team” just now.

In other news, as of this morning, Cuomo seemed resigned to the Democratic primary continuing on after all (this was before the Democrats decided to fight the decision), and spoke about how elections might take place. He also spoke about reopening — nothing new — and I couldn’t help noticing that he instinctively corrected himself when talking about Upstate (“different regions of Upstate, I mean”) and… even clarified that there are Upstate cities! Let’s acknowledge his enlightenment.

Onondaga County update: “The strategy has changed.”

No new placard today, but a change to the usual numbers ritual at the beginning of the CE’s daily briefing (except for the announcement of a 41st death). Instead of going straight to the new positives and hospitalization data, as has been routine for weeks, this time we got the “tests administered” number straight up, including an eye-popping figure: 790 tests returned since yesterday. This is the CE’s way of getting everyone’s attention off the big “positive” number and signaling that we have now arrived at the new reality of relentless community testing. We are to now pay attention to the (best-guessed) percentage of positive tests (still hovering around 8%), and not the positive number itself.

(The reason why the percentage has be somewhat guessed is because of the “Wild West” testing scene, where the county no longer has easy access to all of the testing data – just most of it. McMahon sounded like the county was still going to try to “dictate the strategy” by trying to nag everyone to turn in their numbers, however.)

One number we do still have to pay attention to, though, is the community spread case numbers — which are still not good, but still basically a third of the entire new-positive figure. We are slipping “back to where we were, the week before last.” Hopefully the Pizza Fritte lines had nothing to do with that, because (as I predicted) that really is becoming a drive-by State Fair.

What does the future of Onondaga County look like, now that the state has mandated 14,000 tests a month? The health department will fight this virus on the beaches, in the fields and streets, on the hills, in the dense city housing projects, in the villages, in the burbs. Do not think that your lily-white skin will save you from the swab. CE McMahon is expressly looking for Caucasians to test, especially those who live in “municipalities with that sort of [dense] housing stock” (I’m guessing he’s thinking of Solvay or the North Side, or the student neighborhoods). Eventually, he mused, everyone might wind up being tested — if only because the state’s mandate is so onerous. No whining, though. It shall be done, costly though it may be (and, we will keep track of 5-day rolling averages, not those wimpy 7-day averages that the state wants).

Yes, this is Sparta. And this commitment to testing will have repercussions. McMahon hinted that there will be some kind of new “lab grab” — as Onondaga County will need to have adequate lab support for all of the increased testing, so that the rapid turnaround time will be preserved. While the county and local hospitals do have test kits stocked up, additional private labs’ resources will have to relied upon. The tracing army will also have to be beefed up, although it is hoped that clustered pockets of the virus will be found, easily traceable and monitorable.

As auto dealerships in the region continue to open, and Onondaga County prepares to open its libraries on a limited basis on May 26, the CE was asked by a reporter, “As regional leader (sic),” what did he think about the Madison County situation? His opinion was that it was caused by the motels, and he seemed unconcerned that it would affect the state’s view of Central New York’s numbers. The local media are making quite a big deal out of it though, and if I was in Oneida or Canastota I’d be pretty unnerved by the long list of contact alerts generated by the Green Empire Farm cases.

Lastly, it was mentioned that the county had been talking to the grocery stores. The CE mentioned that according to them, only beef and pork seem affected locally by the meatpacking plant issues, and that chicken and seafood supply lines remain stable. Good news, since an army travels on its stomach.