Thursday, May 7 update

NYS update: Cuomo was in Westchester today, where he announced further eviction freezes and shared encouraging statistics on antibody testing among frontline medical personnel. They turn out to have far less exposure to COVID than the population at large, which proves that masks really do work!

Meanwhile, New York’s prison inmates are making masks, but aren’t allowed to wear the masks they’re making. (Same deal as the hand sanitizer they didn’t get to use.) If true, this is one of the most WTF things I’ve read so far, and needs an upfront explanation by the state.

State officials told CNHI the prison system plans to distribute surgical masks to all 40,000 inmates across the state by the end of this week. Those masks are being manufactured by inmates at the Clinton and Coxsackie correctional facilities, they said… The state agency’s policy on masks for inmates has been evolving, the officials acknowledged. Inmates are being encouraged to use their state-issued handkerchiefs as masks.

Monroe County has launched an online symptom tracking tool. You don’t have to register to use it, and I thought of putting in my Syracuse zip code and reporting how I feel… but I don’t want to mess up their data.

Onondaga County update: I think this was supposed to be a more triumphant county briefing today than it turned out to be. The good news today was really pretty brilliant. Remember all that talk from the governor about making the state’s hospital system work in tandem, and making them work more as a unit in ways never done before? And coming up with a smart “flex and surge” response when dealing with increased COVID cases — where those hospitals that could, would take on another hospital’s noncritical patients if needed, cutting across public and private lines?

Onondaga County has apparently just done that with its nursing homes. Anxious to stem the tide of asymptomatic or not-very-sick nursing home patients being dropped off at the hospitals and driving up the county’s hospitalization rate, the county has gotten its nursing homes to agree to adopt what is basically a flex-and-surge protocol. Instead of sending them to hospitals if they don’t really belong there, the nursing homes have agreed to send COVID patients to one of the three local homes that have dedicated COVID wards. Non-COVID patients may possibly be traded to the smaller homes.

However, the briefing didn’t start this way. The CE walked out to the podium and delivered the stunning news that it’s now believed that 19 deaths that occurred inside nursing homes were not communicated to the county health department by the state. This would put Onondaga County’s death total at 60 (for reference, yesterday’s total was 41). “We are looking for clarifications from the state” on what they are reporting on the state’s data releases. The state is also still not sharing total numbers of tests being conducted on nursing home patients (just the positive results), which continues to hobble the accuracy of data related to overall positive test rates.

The communication with the state health department related to nursing homes has been problematic. We now know information that we did not know… and I think we’re a little surprised that we didn’t know this information. I don’t know how to say anything, except that we found out we lost 19 people in our community that I thought were in our [previous] number. And now we’re under the belief, it’s going to be confirmed tomorrow, we’re 99% sure that they were not in our 41 individuals that we’ve been talking about… I want to be wrong. But I’m under the impression that I’m not wrong, so I’m going to talk to the public about it and report it. If I’m wrong tomorrow, we’ll have a very happy retraction.

When asked if he had spoken to other county leaders about the apparent confusion in state data on nursing home deaths, he said, “Certain counties are going to have their numbers changed.” However, he seemed reluctant to name any one county that would. Clearly, now that he’s brought this issue up, we need to have a better understanding of how deaths get reported by the state, by local hospitals, and who is collating them — not just on the state side, but on the county side too. (It’s not impossible that this was a county screwup, is what I’m saying. I personally don’t understand why you can’t just go to the hospitals and ask them to re-report their own COVID deaths. Then you’ll know for sure.)

A reporter tried to get McMahon to diss Cuomo, which was a fruitless exercise because this politician is very careful never to leave incriminating quotes behind. Trying to coax public emotional outbursts out of him only leads to long, highly diplomatic explications of how everyone everywhere is struggling, from Cuomo on down, punctuated by pleas for federal help.

McMahon expressed continued confidence that the state sees Central New York as being poised to reopen. Elective surgeries have resumed at Crouse Hospital. (It’s fascinating how last week’s vital issues of the moment seem so mundane after just a few days have passed.) However, the Green Empire Farms situation is no joke, and some of the plant workers did live in Onondaga County and will have to be quarantined and traced. The Utica OD has more.

The workers have all been in [Madison] county for months and must have caught COVID-19 in Central New York, officials said.  [A county spokeswoman] described a message from one caller, though, who said, “These people need to go back to where they came from. Why haven’t you shipped them out yet?”Another email worried that a Latino family having a picnic was going to spread COVID-19 based on the assumption that they’re linked to Green Empire Farms. But not all the workers who have gotten sick are migrants, and their ethnicity has no connection to the illness, she said.  “We want to make sure people understand that everybody’s human,” she said. “Nobody came here wanting to get sick or spread the disease around.”

By tomorrow, we should know more about how many local active cases have come out of the plant, and also if there indeed was a misreporting of nursing home deaths (and hopefully an understanding of why).

The other major topic covered in today’s briefing was a report on sales tax received by the county for the period ending in March. This was even before the brunt of the shutdown happened, and the numbers were still absolutely grim: where the county had been running a more than 4% surplus in sales tax revenue since last year, this has now gone down to more than 3% negative growth. After June (next quarter), the real pain begins.